The Candid Clergywoman: When "It's None of Your Business"

Dearly Beloved Readers: As with past posts of "The Candid Clergywoman," know that this post does not come from personal anger or frustration. My desire is simply to be honest about something that often causes unnoticed hurt. I've wanted to address this topic for a long time, and this week just feels right. Thanks for reading, learning, and listening with me...

I was sipping my double, skinny latte at Starbucks when the mother of a high school classmate came in. I was home on Christmas break from seminary, and I had not seen her in years. We chatted, and she caught me up on her daughter's career. The talk was "small," polite, and brief. She walked to the counter for a caramel macchiato, and I looked to my book. On her way out the door, she stopped and said, "I forgot to ask--what's your sister doing now?"

I filled her in on my sister and her husband.

"I didn't know she was married," the woman said. "Do they have any children?"

"No," I replied.

She seemed startled. "Why not?"

A strange sensation ran through me. She was standing a good two feet from me, but I felt like she was inches in front of my face.

"I don't know. That's none of my business," I replied.

"Well, they'd better hurry up," she laughed. "Time's a'ticking. It was so good to see you."

She opened the door, and the screech of its un-oiled hinge rang in my ears. I held my half-drunk latte in mid-air and curled up in the chair. What just happened? I thought. Had I responded too harshly? Or was I not harsh enough? Should I have added--"It's none of your business either" ?

At some point in our lives, most of us will feel the following:
1. That we've overstepped boundaries, asked too much, or said too much to someone else
2. That someone else has trespassed on our own "property" by asking questions we consider too "personal"

Our understandings of what is "personal" vary as much as our personalities. In the modern, information-driven world of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, boundaries are much harder to determine. We share so much, we tell so much, and we ask so much. Yet, we're all entitled to keep the privacy and personal space that makes us comfortable. We can have boundaries. Sometimes protecting those boundaries means saying, with a balance of love, gentleness, and firmness, "That's none of your business."

For all I know, the woman in Starbucks that day saw nothing wrong with the question of, "Why not?" Maybe she was trying to be playful. Maybe she was saw the questions as continuation of "small talk." Whatever our best intentions, certain questions can cross boundaries and dig into an unseen hurt. As a pastor, there are three questions, or variations of them, that I have seen cause more harm than help, no matter how innocent they may seem.

1. When are you going to have a baby?

Struggles with fertility plague many couples, and the heartache is great. Instead, ask about a person's work, her hobbies, or his interests. If they trust you, they'll share the struggle with you.

2. When are you going to have another baby?

Really? Really. To quote Plato, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle." Perhaps the couple is unable to have any more children. Perhaps they only want to have one child. Perhaps there is a battle we can't see. If the person trusts us, he or she will share that battle without us having to pry.

3. When are you the two of you getting married?

The young man who desperately wants to propose to his girlfriend but doesn't have the income to support her lowers his eyes at this question. The woman who doesn't feel ready to commit yet is surrounded by pressure to do so will feel even more trapped. If there are good tidings to share, and if we develop a relationship of trust with that person, the question is not necessary.

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul invites the church to restore each other "in a spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1, New Revised Standard Version). What if we exercised more gentleness in our conversations and questions? A gentle spirit is one that is sensitive to the needs of others, one that respects boundaries, one that minds its own business. May we all choose our words and inquiries carefully, in that spirit of gentleness, whose "business" is to reveal God's love in all of our words and actions.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian