The sanctity of secrets in a public world

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'a fly in the hand' photo (c) 2003, Jorge - license:

I’ve decided that I want more secrets in my life—

Not the ugly kinds of secrets that corrode the heart with rust of unspoken truths, but the lovely, quiet kinds of secrets that remind me I exist apart from what I share. 

I’ve been reading through the Gospels again, and this time around, I’ve noticed how often Jesus praises secrecy—in giving, praying, fasting, healing, obeying, and living. 

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus told his first followers in the Sermon on the Mount, “for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

“Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others,” he said. “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” 

“And whenever you pray,” he said, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” 

Even when Jesus himself performed miracles, he told many of those whom he had healed to keep their experience a secret. He found places of seclusion in which to pray. He wrote words in the dust that will forever remain a mystery. 

We like to think that if we don’t have a record of Jesus’ teachings on a matter, he must not have said anything about it, but we forget that Jesus healed, blessed, taught, and shared meals with people whose names we will never know, whose stories will never be immortalized in stained glass. 

Even when God became flesh, not every detail was shared. Some things remain a secret. 

As a girl who makes her living (and finds so much joy in) sharing her questions, ideas, insights, and experiences online and in books, the value that Jesus places on secrecy can be a bit disconcerting. All writers struggle with this, I think, but with our access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and You Tube, it’s easier than ever before to slip into the assumption that unless something is shared, it didn’t really happen, it didn’t really matter. 

I know for some, the only solution is to abandon the online world entirely and keep out of the public eye. But as I’ve been thinking about how to apply these teachings to my own life, I’ve realized that perhaps the trick to reclaiming the value of secrecy is not so much to share less, but to keep more—to pay more attention, to hide more in our hearts.

To name something a secret, and then honor it as such, is something of a sacrament, a holy moment set apart as sacred. Perhaps to stay truly human in this digital world, we need to reclaim that sacrament, to get better at naming and keeping our secrets. 

To keep a secret is to see something beautiful—a fistful of yellow poppies in a little girl’s hand—and to relish it, without taking a picture to upload to Instagram. 

To keep a secret is to be touched by a poem, a prayer, or a passage of scripture, and to scribble your thoughts in a journal, unpublished, to revisit later. 

To keep a secret is to keep that witty dialog between you and your spouse your own— an inside joke for just the two of you and nobody else. 

To keep a secret is to engage in a random act of kindness without getting credit. 

To keep a secret is to talk to God beneath a starry night sky and not tell anyone what God said back. 

To keep a secret is to make a special meal as a gift for your family or your friends, resisting the urge to share it on Pinterest.  

To keep a secret is to wait before you speak, to choose not to win an argument even though you could. 

To keep a secret is to allow truth to work is way into your life slowly, stubbornly, bearing good fruit before bearing good words. 

Not everything needs to remain a secret of course, but some things—more things—do. 

I’ve only just started to collect more secrets, but already they have made me kinder to myself, more giving, more mindful, less likely to work after dinner, less concerned about what other people think, happier, and healthier. Each time I decide to keep a secret, I affirm the value of my own experience, independent of what others know about me, and that can be incredibly liberating. 

Jesus warned the Pharisees to be careful of uttering “careless words.” 

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure.” 

Perhaps I need to work on storing up that treasure so that when I speak, my words flow from the abundance of a full heart. 


What about you? Anyone else have trouble keeping secrets these days?

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