Never before in the history of mankind has so much information about any individual is available on the Internet to those who know how to search for it. Similarly, never before are there so many platforms for individual to self-disclose or reveal themselves in a frequent or even the minute to minute moments of her/his life. Such platforms such as Facebook, Tumbr, Twitter, Linked In, Youtube, Whatsapp, blogs, and websites are receiving a continuous stream of really personal information, some of which should be kept private and confidential. There are many reasons why people do this. Some of these reasons are connecting with others, self-affirmation, seeking affirmation, marketing and boasting. In this climate of apparent ‘openness’ how does the spiritual discipline of secrecy fits in?
The spiritual discipline of secrecy is to keep some of our actions private and confidential. Some of these actions may be what we do in public in the presence of other people while others are what we do in private when no one else is around and watching. This discipline helps us to develop a spiritual habit that acts again spiritual pride and develop trustworthiness.
Jesus highlights three actions that need the spiritual discipline of secrecy: giving, prayer, fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)
On giving (Matt. 6: 1-4)
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
On prayer (Matt. 6:5-6)
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
On fasting (Matt. 6:16-18)
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The idea is not to trumpet our good deeds or piety before other people because we want them to think well of us. This is spiritual pride. This is also a delusion because most people do not think about us at all! They are too busy thinking about themselves. Jesus teaches us that not all our actions need to be made public or share to be ‘like’ on Facebook!
The spiritual discipline of secrecy is a covenant to keeps secrets entrusted to us and to stop gossips by controlling our tongue. Our relationship with others is based on trust. This trust has to be earned. The fact that you are able to keep secrets offers a safe place where others can share their personal stuff with you. The opposite of this is gossip. Christians are great gossips. Under the guise of sharing ‘prayer request’ we are often spreading gossips thus breaking the sacred trust in relationships. Sometimes, even public prayers are means to share gossip “Lord, please help Johnny with his gambling problem”.
Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
The spiritual discipline of secrecy not only develop spiritual habits for when we are with people but also when we are alone. We should guard against impure thoughts and actions when we are alone. Who we are in private should be who we are when we are with people. This is because we are never alone. Even in our most secluded moments God is present. We should seek to focus more on what God thinks of us than what other people does.
1. Examine your giving, prayer and fasting practices. Do you do it so that others can see how generous and pious you are? If so, refrain from doing it for others but seek to do it with anonymity
2. Decide before the Lord that you will keep the secrets that is entrusted to you. When you are tempted to share these secrets, pray for strength to control your tongue
3. Do not tell others that you are keeping secrets
4. Try to behave the same when you are alone as when you are with other people. Keep your focus and try to please God. Do not try to please others to fit in. If you fail, confess and try again
5. When alone, keep your thoughts and action pure
6. Do something good for someone this week anonymously (pay for someone’s dinner at the restaurant when you are leaving, leave a gift for your colleague, write a letter of encouragement to someone etc)
The spiritual discipline of secrecy helps us develop spiritual habit against spiritual pride. It also helps us to control our tongue to keep secrets and avoid gossips. God is with us in our secret lives as He is with us in our public ones.