What to do about loose lips

"Loose lips sink ships!"

That's a slogan from World War II, when our Government wanted everyone on the "Home Front" to stop "loose talk," that is, inadvertently revealing some sort of military info they had picked up from a conversation or a letter sent home from the War.

Blog. Two women. cafe. 7.15The phrase hangs around because it so aptly describes how the thoughtless words of one person can "sink" what's important to another.

As when we're with a good friend and mindlessly blurt out something like, “Well, I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but ...."                

Such tasty little tidbits may taste sweet. For a moment or two.

Then our stomach drops as we realize we passed on something we had no right to share. Perhaps it's something another person trusted us with, trusted us enough to feel sure we would keep it to ourselves. 


We thought we were better than that! We thought we had personal integrity!

Now it hits us. We can't unsay the words we weren't supposed to share. The person we said it to cannot unremember it. And who knows where it goes from here?    

Sometimes we try to rebuild our own sense of who we are by telling ourselves, "Well, at least I'm not a gossip!" 

Or are we?

I’ve learned gossip usually starts with one of these phrases:

  • “Now, don’t tell anybody, but . .
  • “This is not for publication, but . . . 
  • “I don’t know if this is true, but . .

Any time we start a sentence with one of those phrases a big red flag should start waving in our minds. A clue that signals we are wandering into dangerous territory.  

Even when we're "only listening," we have a responsibility to interrupt whatever words the other person wants to pass on.  

After all, gossip is like the tango: It takes two. 

Nothing has changed since Solomon warned against it centuries ago:  

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.  –Proverbs 26:20  NIV

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man [woman] keeps a secret.  –Proverbs 11:13  NIV

And don't we all want to be known as trust-worthy?

Shut off the flow

By now you've figured out that I must have firsthand experience in all this--and I plead guilty.

It shocked me because never before had I used the word "gossip" about myself. Now I had to face the fact I, too, could be labeled a gossip--and I deserved that I.D.

Right then I didn't like myself very much and I truly wanted to change, so I turned to the Bible. I found Psalm 141:3, which hit home: 

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!  ESV

This became my prayer. For a long time after, any time I was to be with friends I asked God beforehand to guide my words and to make me worthy if anyone chose to open up about their lives.  

Thoughtless words matter, too 

Words matter because words can cut deep.  

I remember the time "Laurie," a good friend much younger than I, confided why she harbored some hurt feelings about a mutual friend. It seemed to me she went on and on about it.

So I, the self-appointed all-knowing one, replied, “Laurie, you just need a thicker skin. You need to learn not to be so sensitive. Besides, you’re probably making too much of it.” 

A few minutes later I walked away congratulating myself for my wise advice.

Every friend of Laurie had heard her declare she was "too sensitive," so at the time I thought I just reminded her of that. Besides, she nodded her head and said, "You're right."

The rest of the story 

Months later Laurie friend told me how those words stung. “I knew you loved me, so I let it pass. All my life people have been telling me not to be so sensitive and my mom always said I was 'tenderhearted.'

"It took me years to work it through that God made me who I am. Eventually I came to understand that’s not a bad thing. In fact, hurting people often tell me it helped them than I'm a good listener and I really care. 

“Good or bad, yes, I am ‘sensitive’—and finally, finally, I know that’s okay.” 

Yes, I knew Laurie has a gentle spirit, but I hadn't stopped to think my glib words could sound uncaring to her. 

That's when I understood how deeply I had wounded this person I loved. 

It reminded me of another truth. Any of us may complain about our own weaknesses, or even poke fun of them. But when another person repeats our same words back to us it can feel like an arrow to the heart. I don't like it and I'm guessing you don't, either. 

It's another reminder of Luke 6:31:

Do to others as you would like them to do to you.  LNT

Watching our words 

Forget all the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” stuff.

Not true. Words can inflict wounds that never heal. 

Friendships die. Marriages fall apart. Parents and children become alienated from each other, all because one or the other vents their feelings in a moment of heat.  

Blaise Pascal sums it up perfectly and points us to the better way: 

Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful. Kind words also produce their image on [people’s] souls; and a beautiful image it is. They smooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer.

Doesn't that paint a lovely picture of how we're meant to relate to each other?

Pascal's words simply echo what we know by faith

Throughout the Bible we pick up the same thread, like this, from the Apostle Paul.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Ephesians 4:29  NIV

Can you imagine the ripple effects if we took Paul's words to heart?

It would transform our lives--and our relationships.

Where do we start?

For most of us, changing and growing is a gradual process. For Christians it's also a matter of praying, asking God to make us new and to show us how to live.   

We resolve to think before we speak and to listen to our own words. We remember how often we fail at that so we ask God to help us. To indeed, set a guard over our mouth and to keep watch over our lips. 

And always, we remember we are not on our own. Jesus is always with us and enabling us to carry out what he asks of us. Even zip up our loose lips.

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Trusting, too,


April 19, 2017


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