This post, this truth, this resolution—they pain me. This year, I am trying to embrace grace by keeping my mouth shut. I feel that, in typing that sentence, I have completed the easiest part of this journey.
At recess my first day at a new school on the sidelines of an eighth –grade basketball court, I stood awkwardly against the wall in my oversized men’s rugby shirt and poufy bangs. A lanky girl I had met in homeroom smiled and waved me over. Grateful for a friendly face, I talked with her for a few minutes. When I walked away, another girl nodded at me to join her. The second girl wore enormous Doc Martens and too much eyeliner—she was clearly cool. “Don’t talk to those girls,” she said, gesturing across the field. “It’s social suicide.” I cringed, said I understood and never really talked to her much after that.
From then on, through high school, I flitted across cliques without ever being a member of one. I didn’t really belong anywhere which, of course, can be lonely. In college I had my close friends, and I remember feeling pretty oblivious to whatever cliques there might have been. If they were there, we were outside them, and we liked it just fine.
As an adult, I quickly realized that my clique avoidance had served me well—cliques don’t work well anywhere, least of all with mature adults. My preschool daughter sings a song each school day about inclusion that rightly states, “The greatest job that we know is to make our circle grow,” and I believe it and teach it in my home.
All of which brings me to my challenge to embrace grace. Again I’m a relative new girl, having only lived in my town and region of the country for six months. Often I find myself standing on the sidelines of conversations with people I don’t yet know well and wanting to make friends. Inevitably, gossip comes up. I used to be the one who started it; I have often been one who furthered it, and now I’m trying to find a way to get out of the game altogether. Which is hard, and here’s why.
Especially as a new girl, choosing not to participate in gossip necessitates awkward silences. And while I sometimes love witnessing awkwardness involving others, it pains me to be a party to it, much less the reason for it. Oftentimes the person the others are talking about is about the only thing we have in common just yet. So sometimes, I just have to sit quietly while everyone else speaks or find subtle ways to change the subject or, if all else fails, I have to leave the room. With a goal for this year of making friends where I live, this could be tricky.
Then there’s managing to avoid gossip while also avoiding the dreaded high horse. I’m sure this hasn’t ever happened to you, but I can tell you that being shut down by a non-gossiper isn’t fun and usually feels like judgment. Judging my new acquaintances seems about as successful a friendship tactic as gossiping about them, so that won’t work. I will have to say things like, “I hadn’t noticed that,” or, “We all have our quirks,” or, “I’m so sorry you feel that way;” I will have to continue the conversation without actually contributing to it. I will have to encourage the gossip to stop without actually being part of it. This takes a level of finesse I feel relatively sure I do not possess.
And yet, I feel this pull, this call to shut my mouth and be inclusive. Because how can I say I believe all people are worthy of love if I don’t give it with abandon? How can I say, so publicly and loudly, that God’s love is for all– even those we find hard to love—if I talk about them to others? I just can’t.
It sneaks in. I never intend to do it, and I do not like to inflict pain. And yet, flippantly, casually, for the sake of being part of a group and a conversation, I have spewed venom about a person I might have smiled at five minutes prior. Even with this goal in my heart and these words on my tongue, I found myself on the phone recently speaking hateful words about a mutual acquaintance. But that actually happened, I might have justified it, or, she deserves it, I might have said. It doesn’t matter.
I am resolving to stop, to listen to the voice that tells me— even midsentence, sometimes— to just stop talking. I am resolving to love, not just with my actions, not just with my innermost feelings, but with my words. And if I can’t do that, then I’ll just shut it.