After buying our drinks and chips from the vending machine, my friends and I sat down at our usual corner table in the cafeteria. Then we started our daily routine—20 straight minutes of putting down our classmates.
"There goes Amy," Britney* said with a loud sigh.
Brooke rolled her eyes.
"Why does that girl walk so funny?" she asked as she popped open her Diet Coke. "It looks like she's got a ten-pound weight strapped to her foot!"
"Forget her walk," I added. "The real mystery is why she wears that hideous green visor to school every day."
"Hey, at least it shields that huge nose of hers!" Jessica said with a mean laugh.
Ripping apart people was something my friends and I were really good at. We commented on everything from their ugly clothes to their funky post-P.E. smell.
But then, summer came and things changed. I left Jess, Brooke and Brit behind to go on a three-week missions trip to Thailand with my youth group. This experience was far different than sitting in the lunchroom dissing people. I worked on a fish farm washing nets and flattening out the land around ponds to prevent erosion. As I worked side-by-side with kids from my youth group, I realized something: These youth group friends were a lot different than my lunch crowd. They cared for each other. And their friendships weren't built on trashing others. But if Jessica, Brooke and Britney were there, I wouldn't have hung out with these youth group kids. Instead, I would have been ripping them apart.
My stomach churned as I thought about how disappointed God must be in me. Making fun of people and putting them down—whether it was to their face or behind their back—was not right. The more I hung out with my youth group friends, the more I realized how pointless and unkind gossiping was. During that summer, I promised myself I'd quit—for good.
When I returned to school in the fall, however, I quickly fell back into my old habit of gossiping with Brit, Brooke and Jess. But thankfully, God intervened through a Christian girl named Abby. During the second week of school, Abby transferred into my history class. She was really nice to everybody, including me. And she always seemed willing to do group projects with anyone who needed a partner. It was so cool to be around someone who wanted to unite rather than divide people. My friendship with Brit, Brooke and Jess suddenly seemed so shallow.
Once again, I felt I needed to make some changes. But this time I really meant it. I told Brit, Brooke and Jess I wanted to stop gossiping. They gave me a real hard time about my decision. And no matter how much I tried not to join in when they gossiped, I discovered I really couldn't stop. It soon became clear I had to stop spending so much time with them. So I started hanging out more with Abby. At first, it was hard to pass Brooke, Brit, and Jess in the halls. They'd whisper to one another as they shot me dirty looks. Although their mean stares hurt, it reminded me of why I'd pulled away from them in the first place.
With time, it's gotten easier to avoid talking about other people. Sometimes I still slip up. When I do, Abby is great about gently stopping me before I get carried away. I'm thankful for Abby and my other Christian friends because I learn so much through them. And their kindness is definitely rubbing off on me. Instead of constantly finding fault with others, I now look for—and more easily see—the good in people.