It may be odd to think of secrecy as a spiritual discipline. After all, shouldn’t we be transparent and confessional? Yes. We should. Especially in areas of our lives that are drawing us further from God and one another. But secrecy is about following the example of Christ through humility, anonymity, and keeping confidences. While we may need a practice of confession and letting go of secrets to help us overcome an addiction, for example, we need the practice of secrecy to let go of our addiction of managing our self-image.
While none of us want to be known as a bragger or a one-upper, most of us want others to think that we are good, kind, smart, put-together, generous, etc. So we find ways to subtly tell others about our good works without actually saying it. We drop it into conversation. We visibly display our generosity. When others share about themselves, we are quick to say “Well, I…”. And in this age of social media, sharing our good deeds has never been easier. We post a picture of how we helped that homeless person or share that we have given up carbs for lent and then wait for the “likes” to come in. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with sharing about our good deeds. In fact, sometimes when I see stories about random generosity posted on Facebook or hear my friend talk about how rich her prayer life has been, I’m encouraged to follow suit. But if the reason that we are sharing is to glorify ourselves, and not to glorify God, then we have a problem.
Jesus had something to say about this in Matthew 6. One of the themes of the Sermon on the Mount is that actions are important, but not as much as the heart behind the act. So Jesus tells his followers that they should give, but when they do, they should do so in secret. So secret, in fact, that the left hand should not know what the right is doing. And when they pray, they shouldn’t stand in the streets or at the doors of the synagogue praying verbose prayers, but they should pray in secret. And when they fast, they shouldn’t draw attention to themselves so that others know they are fasting. In other words, if you are praying, or giving, or fasting so that others will see you and give YOU glory, you’ve already gotten your reward. Instead, your prayers, your fasting, and your giving should all be done to glorify GOD.
This season of Lent might be the perfect time to practice secrecy. Some of us may want to give up the need to share our good deeds with others for Lent. For others, maybe this means keeping to yourself what you are giving up for Lent. Don’t post on social media that you are fasting from social media, or tell your co-workers that you gave up gossip or sugar for the next forty days. At the end of the day, your worth does not come from how talented and competent your boss thinks you are, or how kind and generous your friends think you are, or how successful and put-together your family thinks you are. Your worth comes from knowing that your Creator, who knows you intimately (even those parts that you would rather hide), loves you anyway and relentlessly pursues relationship with YOU.
You can let go of the need to manage your own self-image, because you were made in the image of God.