I met my cousin Henry by chance at one of the malls in the city. He and his friend had just come in and I spotted them so I went over and greeted them heartily, totally unsuspecting.
Henry returned my hello quietly, then told me, “I did get your phone call last week. The reason I didn’t call you back was… well… I was just so hurt…” I looked at him in surprise.
“I talked to Sue not long ago. She told me that you called her up one day and told her a bunch of lies that Martha had said about me.”
Now I was stunned. Shocked! My mind went back to my phone conversation with Sue, our mutual acquaintance. What had I said? I focussed on the ceiling, trying to recall how that conversation even started.
I had called Sue and mentioned visiting with Martha, but I was determined to be very careful and not pass on any of the vitriol Martha had poured out about Henry during my visit with her. It was obvious to me as I’d listened to Martha that she did not have a very good grasp on reality –if any at all– especially in relation to her ex-husband Henry. A lot of her accusations were pure imagination.
So what had I repeated to Sue? My mind was blank.
Henry went on. “You know, Martha has caused me so much trouble with the stories she has been telling everyone about me. And I was so hurt to think you would be repeating them to others.”
I looked at him again, trying to recall what I had said to Sue, but I could not recall one single word of the conversation except that, yes, Martha’s stories had been discussed. I did remember Sue saying, “You can’t believe a word Martha says.”
I knew about the deep pain and trouble he had endured throughout his marriage. A grief I certainly never wanted to add to. But what had I said?
A thought came to my mind as I stood there groping for some suitable response. Something Terry, a Church sister, had once said to her own sister, when she was caught telling a story about her.
What she’d related about her sister was true – but she should not have said it; she just blabbed it out one day when the spirit of “telling stories” came upon a group of ladies. You know how that is? She trusted the ones present to keep the story in confidence, but her trust was misplaced. Tale bearers carried it to her sister, who promptly called her up. “Did you say … about me?”
Terry could have made excuses, tried to say it had gotten distorted. She could have been angry with the tale bearers. Instead she admitted the truth. “Yes, I did say that. And all I can say now is ‘I’m sorry’.”
It must have been by God’s grace that I couldn’t remember a word of my conversation with Sue as Henry was talking to me. The Holy Spirit rather brought this sister’s experience to mind and her example of honest confession seemed very pertinent right at the moment. Whatever I’d said, I shouldn’t have.
“I’m really sorry,” I told him with all sincerity.
Our conversation ended there; we said our good-byes and each went on our way. Later, as my mind returned to that scene, I did recall my conversation with Sue. Martha had told me about several health problems that she was having, so I mentioned to Sue that I had talked to Martha –my first mistake, I suppose– and that she was going to have surgery.
That’s when Sue said, “Well, you can’t believe anything Martha says. You know she lies about everything.” Then she launched into a long explanation. “You know Martha lies so much about Henry. She said this and this and this and this.”
So that was the “bunch of lies” I told Sue. Martha said she was going to have surgery. I had not mentioned one word about Henry; Sue had rattled off that whole spiel herself. Now she was blaming me for it! Why couldn’t I think of it while I was with Henry. I could have told him…
What could I have told him. That Sue had misinformed him; that she had come up with those stories herself? Should I phone him and tell him that?
Or would He just think, “You’ve got caught telling tales and now you’re trying to wriggle out of it by blaming Sue.” He knew Sue much better than he knew me; they had been friends for years. I decided there was really no point at this time –or probably ever– trying to explain what really happened.
I did fume, though. Why had Sue even mentioned anything to him about our conversation when she knew how painful the whole subject was to him. I had to deal with “a root of bitterness springing up” right then! I was ready to throw up my hands and have nothing more to do with ANY of them!
But perhaps Sue was not being malicious. Perhaps she was trying to be helpful, telling him how she had defended him and corrected my thinking. Can I say I have never done the same thing?
Misunderstandings. Not getting the whole story. People trying to be helpful –or even mean– by informing someone, “Do you know what she said about you?” Unforgiveness. Avoiding people because we heard… Relationships damaged or destroyed. What great fires the tiny tongue can kindle!
As painful as my meeting was with Henry, I can be very thankful for it. I would likely have realized with time that he was avoiding me, but I might have never known why. He may never have come out with the story on his own if he hadn’t come face to face with me in the mall that day. Our relationship may never have recovered.
Thankfully he has a very kind nature. We did talk later and I did offer a bit of an explanation, trying not to blame Sue. But then he told me, “You know, I have enjoyed getting to know you and I like you, so I have decided that I’m just going to forgive and forget that.”
And I said, “Thank you.” And let the issue drop.
Now, if I HAD been able to remember my conversation with Sue, if I’d gotten fired up (I am quite tended that way!) and defensive when I met Henry, if I had tried to put the blame on Sue, would the matter have come to such a peaceful conclusion? Or would we have all been a little huffy ever after? Do you see why I say the Lord gave me a mental whiteout that day?
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
Proverbs 16:32: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”