A young boy cries out, “Hey Dad! Watch this!” as he makes his first attempt at catching the baseball with his new glove. He wants to know that his efforts are worthy of his father’s attention. No one else’s attention will do; it is his father’s attention he longs for. We all love to be loved!
Everyone has a longing to be valued by others. When this longing is met, we feel significant because others view us as helpful or useful. This in turn builds healthy self-esteem in us. Indeed, we know that without a good measure of self-esteem we can become psychologically or socially handicapped. In fact, when someone draws undue attention to themselves, it could be that the person has not been sufficiently esteemed by others. This can generate more need for attention, often sought in unruly ways, which creates even more social distance, resulting in losing the very thing we aim for; namely to be esteemed by others. So goes the cycle of emotional bondage and what has come to be known as the “performance trap.”
One of the ways we can break this cycle is practicing the spiritual discipline of secrecy, which involves a conscious decision not to practice our good qualities or good deeds in such a way that it draws more attention to ourselves rather than to God. Secrecy frees us from self-absorption and allows us to connect with our heavenly Father who provides deep and abiding approval and acceptance that far exceeds what humans can offer. Glorifying God through our good deeds strengthens our relationship with God and inspires a healthy sense of who we are before him. How?
- Secrecy frees us from the “approval game,” which can quickly turn into a “fame game.” The very moment we do things for the approval of others, no matter how seemingly selfless our acts may be, we lose the approval of God. Why? Because our motive is to bring glory and attention to ourselves, thus robbing God of what is rightfully his. Jesus warns “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 6:1).
- In Mt 6:1-6; 16-18 the text says “your Father, who sees what is done in secret.” It’s not that God secretly sees, but that God sees “what is done” in secret. The implication? What goes on in public may not be recognized by God, and certainly not rewarded, when motivated by self-adulation. Hence, the discipline of secrecy “enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God” (Dallas Willard).
- In Jn 7:1-9 Jesus refused to be put on public display. Is it possible John is telling us that those who seek to elevate prominent leaders before the public do so because of unbelief (cf. Jn. 7:5)? Put differently, a sign of unbelief is when the limelight conceals or obscures what God may be doing secretly. Jesus’ time had “not yet come.” Of course, Jesus did go to Judea and eventually became prominent, but not in the way his brothers expected (Jn 7:6-10). So too with the discipline of secrecy. It affords us the opportunity to see surprising and often unexpected results.
- Secrecy is the main ingredient of humility (Jm 4:10; 1 Pt 5:6). Without secrecy it’s impossible to be humble. Likewise, all those who are genuinely humble practice the discipline of secrecy.
- Most importantly, secrecy is a tacit yet wonderfully tangible expression of our deep and abiding trust in God. Secrecy redirects all our attention to God as we trust him to be the sole provider for our needs and our longings.
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.