Bella remembers as a child how disconcerting it was for her family that she would tell all. She especially loved visiting the woman across the street who lived on her own. To Bella, she was a lovely woman with pink decorations who sat at the kitchen table listening to her stories (a.k.a. family disclosures), offer her the hard candy that had the gooey inside of fake fruit and let her draw up a chair so she could wash dishes in her sink.
Her parents knew the woman as an alcoholic who had been deserted by her husband. Whether the alcoholism began before the divorce or after, Bella never found out. Bella didn’t know what alcoholism was and she certainly didn’t know anything about divorce so none of it impacted her love of this woman.
Her parents would say, “Bella, don’t go over to Mrs. ____ and tell her things about us. You need to keep quiet about what goes on in this house.” Bella did not understand why a person couldn’t tell that her family had to shut the windows sometimes because of how loud her dad yelled or her mother lost it. I mean, these were important pieces of her life. She told her parents, “Mrs. ____ doesn’t mind, she just listens to me.”
Bella couldn’t remember how it ended, or why she stopped going. The memory was too far back to bring forward. She realized though, that this circumstance was her first introduction to secrecy.
Her parent’s response made sense now, of course, because Bella had learned in living just how much people get hurt in sharing the bare bones of their lives.
Jesus talks about secrecy in a different way and Bella was a slow learner. She got the part about going into your closet, shutting the door to be alone with God and how God rewards that with intimacy with Him. Being a person who loved to share, Bella would teach or pass along most of the beautiful things God would show her. Until the day her spiritual director responded to Bella sharing a beautiful revelation and thought she could teach on it. It was a transformational moment. “Maybe this is just for you,” her spiritual director said. Bella was stopped in such a way as felt like screeching up to a stop sign at a high speed. She realized that she often “gave things away” so quickly that they weren’t able to work their beauty in her and be part of the back and forth relationship between her and God. Savouring was halted and the inner truth was taken outside before it had a chance to just be in her. Secrecy.
Then she read one day, “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man (or woman!) holds them back” (Proverbs 29:11). To hold back and wait, to not bring everything that others said to her own life but to stay with others sharing to be theirs was a big step towards the very best kind of secrecy.
There came a day for Bella when she knew that wisdom is a big part of secrecy, of not having to tell everything she learned, did or felt. She had always admired quiet people who just seemed genuinely interested in what others said. The beginnings of this were taking shape in her soul, slow to be sure, but taking shape. Through practicing stillness and silence, a new quiet space was opening up so that Bella was actually experiencing joy in letting others share without having to share herself. Imagine! To still be herself, to laugh, to share and yet have some of the words distilled into silence…maybe words that were more about nervousness, insecurity or a need to be seen to fall away. True secrecy was becoming a beautiful thing.
From the book:
We often plan special and intimate things for those we love, things we don’t share with others. Jesus invites us to do the same with him. We can do special and secret things for God alone – things that will delight his heart as pure, free gift.
Jesus was totally free. He gave gratuitously and graciously. He did not look for a return. He played to an audience of One – hi Father. Secrecy stems from the desire to share confidences with God – to play to an audience of One.
Secrecy acknowledges that not all good deeds need public recognition. Furthermore, not all information is public information or appropriate for others to hear. We all have choices about what we say and don’t say. Secrecy is a way we make distinctions that honour God and each other. It is a way we hinder the spread of gossip, slander and rumour. Through secrecy we create safe spaces where people can freely be who they are without fear or disease. Through secrecy we learn to give freely rather than for kickbacks.
How might the discipline of secrecy address an addiction to approval and image management?
What personal and secret words of love has God said to you alone?
What is it like for you to savour something you learn rather than tell someone about it the first chance you get?
Talk to God and unpack your answers together, listening to the Holy Spirit and where He might want to work with you.
Photo by Kristina Flour-Unsplash