Guest Post: She Said
Corktree is an emerging feminist struggling to find peace as she seeks truth. She has three strong headed daughters, an infant son and a patiently supportive husband. Aside from her family, she is passionate about science and natural health practices and hopes to merge those with her feminist vision by going into practice as a midwife when her children are all in school.
I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where we either needed to know something or needed to tell. For legitimate reasons. But then, there are also times where the need to know and the need to share can be misplaced or misused or misinterpreted. Is there truly a difference? How do we know?
For example; I recently attended a book group. The collection of women is from before my previous ward split and I don’t see half of them on a regular basis anymore. And in this group is a woman that I am used to feeling concern for. I used to be her visiting teacher. We’ll call her Sister A.
But even though I haven’t been officially assigned to care for her for some time now, I still wonder how she’s doing and I worry about her. I know things that no one else knows and I am acquainted with her struggles. But so is someone else in the book group. My old visiting teacher (we’ll call her Sister B) is now Sister A’s visiting teacher, and in the past, we have had conversations in private about how Sister A is doing and how she is managing her issues.
So when I noticed the withdrawn attitude and dejected posture of Sister A at our recent meeting, I became concerned. She had been so much more positive in the last few months and I worried about what would have happened to cause a return to her negativity. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her during book group (and she didn’t say a word to anyone the whole evening), so in an email to discuss a different matter to my old visiting teacher (Sister B), I casually asked if she knew how Sister A was doing and mentioned that I had noticed how she distanced herself.
When I didn’t get a response to the email, I worried that I had overstepped in my inquiry. Of course, I was overreacting to not getting a response (it turned out to be nothing) but it got me thinking. Was my concern for this sister bordering on gossip? Was my level of interest justified because I used to be her visiting teacher? Was talking about her behind her back harmless because we cared about her?
My intentions were pure. I care about Sister A and I want to continue to be her friend and help her with her trials. I can hear the advice already that I should just go directly to the source when I want to know something sensitive. But in some cases, that just isn’t possible or helpful without causing extra stress for the person in need. So what do you do in these types of cases?
We are admonished, and some would say even commanded to take our callings as visiting teachers seriously. It is God’s divinely appointed method of using us to bless the lives of those around us and make certain that no one gets left unnoticed. It can be viewed as one of the most important things we do as members of this church. To support and serve our fellow men and women whole-heartedly and without judgment or reservation is, in my opinion, the best way for us to show our gratitude and commitment to God. Indeed, to learn how to love those we serve can be the greatest lesson we learn in this life and can also be one of our greatest blessings and achievements.
But does that sense of responsibility and love just end when we get new assignments? Do we have only enough room in our hearts for so many? Can we justify sharing necessary information even if we’ve never been officially assigned to someone that we know needs help? Supporting those in great need can be hard. It is a burden that we can gladly accept, but it’s often not one that we can manage alone. So is it acceptable to share the burdens with others that may be in a position to provide support?
It seems safe to say that talking about any third party outside of a visiting teaching partnership is gossip. From this and other experiences, I’ve concluded that I disagree. If we are to become a Zion people, we need to start showing more concern for those around us, not less. I know gossip is a real and damaging thing. A whole post could be written on the dangers of hurting our fellow sisters with words. So I’m aware of what a problem it can be for some people – and that only God can know our hearts and intentions. But I think we also can’t hide behind our fear of appearing as a gossip to avoid getting and giving people the real help and support that they may need. Sometimes we just need to circle the wagons, and we can’t do that if we’re afraid to open our mouths and call out to others.
What do you think? Is it ever acceptable to share our concerns about individuals with others that may also be able to help them or care for them? How do you draw the line between a genuine need to share and gossip? How would you feel if people that you knew cared about you, were talking about you, even if you knew it was out of love and a desire to help? Does this apply to neighbors and anyone outside of our church relationships?