But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, Matthew 6:3
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with doing things in secret. As humans, we are wired to be affirmed at what we do. It’s positive reinforcement and sometimes it lets us know that what we are doing for the kingdom is valuable. But it can also be a subtle hindrance.
Perhaps the best story I know about doing something “in secret” comes from my wife’s childhood. She was a gifted athlete, both then and now. As a teenager, she loved to play baseball, but because she was a girl, she couldn’t play on a boys’ team even though she was quite capable of holding her own.
She grew up in Shelby, a small rural town in the western part of North Carolina. In those days, textiles were a big part of the local economy. The town had five different mills that produced lots of textile products. The mills all had women softball teams, so my wife, started to play on a team that was close to her home.
Her mother, a teacher, did not approve, partly because she was young, and partly because the women who played were often a little rough around the edges. As in all small towns, the local newspaper was always searching for local news stories. Every game was covered in the paper giving all the names of the players.
She invited her mother to come and watch a game hoping that she might relent and let her play. It was a disaster. When she came to bat, she hit a hard ground ball that hit the pitcher in the shin, and the pitcher reacted by swearing at her and throwing the ball at her. Her brief career at women’s softball was over.
Maybe not. Her Dad loved her participation in sports, so he went to the newspaper and told the reporters that his daughter’s name was never to be used in any article. Instead, they were to use the name “Sally O’Conner”.
For years afterwards, Sally O’Conner was a star of the local mill leagues. My wife’s aunts collected the many newspaper clippings of Sally O’Conner’s exploits and made a scrapbook out of it. My wife never told her mother about her “secret” until her mother was in her last year of life dealing with terminal cancer some 30 years later.
Then, and only then, did she show her the scrapbook of her secret career to her mother. That’s what living a life “in secret” looks like. Even now, some 50+ years later, she is a little embarrassed by her athletic exploits.
One of the lessons of the above story is that it is entirely possible to live a life “in secret”. In my wife’s case, she kept her secret from her mother for decades. There are two uses of being “in secret”. One is positive and the other not so much.
The term “in secret” is used frequently by Jesus, often in context with the Pharisees who made a show of everything so that others could observe their actions. That’s a positive use where Jesus says to pray and give in secret.
What God desires is to have an “secret” relationship with us. He does not want us to play to the expectations of others. That’s harder said than done, I admit. Only when we are tuned in to Him can we find the courage to act in our ministry.
The other use of “in secret” is on the dark side. It’s what we do in secret. Ephesians 5:12 puts it this way: It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. In this day and time, digital access to pornography and “dating” sites that are nothing more than arranging hookups are commonplace.
How does one combat our propensity to do things in secret? Not an easy question, I’ll admit. The first step is, of course, recognizing that you have a chink in your armor and are willing to try and get it fixed with God’s help. It’s a little like alcoholism: there is no cure until you admit you have a problem.
Step two can take several routes. Depending on the severity of your issues, you might need counseling. But for most of us, developing a relationship with another – either a mentor or a friend – who can and will hold you accountable.
This is biblical – sharing our sins with another is in 1 Timothy 5:12(a). This is often overlooked because the second part of the 1 Timothy passage is quoted more frequently. The passage starts with the admonition: “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…”
As mentors, our role is to help our mentees address their weaknesses, first by helping them identify them and then giving them counsel on ways to help them. That’s what integrity is. A simple definition of integrity is what you do when no one is watching. In other words, integrity is what you do in secret.
Everyone’s challenge is to have integrity in all aspects of our life so that what we do in secret matches who we are. We fool ourselves into thinking we can do this on our own. Christianity was and is a team sport – we need each other to maintain a high moral character. That’s what mentors are for.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: You can be a powerful influence for others by helping them identify their weaknesses that might not have exposed before. You can also help your mentee to learn to avoid playing to other’s expectations in their actions.
WORSHIP: Amy Grant sings “Better than a Hallelujah” where the lyrics say, “Beautiful the mess we are.”
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