Secret But Not Unseen
If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? So goes the age-old metaphysical question. Does the occurrence of an event depend on it being perceived? I will leave it to philosophers to answer that one. But what I do know is that, when it comes to acts of kindness toward others or devotion toward God, no acts are unobserved.
In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father sees and rewards “what is done in secret.” Whether it be a gift given to relieve someone’s need, a moment of private prayer, or a personal discipline such as fasting, God observes our actions when others do not. He rewards us even if no one knows – especially if no one knows. Jesus warns us to safeguard the privacy of our good deeds so that we do not (even unconsciously) fall into the trap of practicing our “righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” If we slip into the habit of performing moral acts for the approval of others, we lose the lasting reward of living for the secret delight of our Savior.
In the age of internet connectivity, following Christ’s advice has become a challenge. We are encouraged by social media to post every admirable act we perform so that it can be “liked” by our “friends”. Every thought-provoking book I read, every demonstration I march in, every worship video I sing along with in praise – they all get posted. Photos of my family serving at the soup kitchen, reference to an informative podcast I heard, a picture of the garden I just planted, an announcement about the cutting-edge seminar I plan to attend – they are all on display for the world to see.
Likewise, when other people post personal news, I chime in with the chorus of replies. I would hate for them to think that I am not as considerate as others. “Praying for you.” (Am I actually praying?) “Sorry for your loss.” (Am I truly grieving?) “So happy to hear your news!” (Though, in reality, I am a little jealous.) The sincerity of my reply is not important; what matters is that I respond to your news with the appropriate emoji so that I can be numbered among the good guys.
I realize I sound like a grumpy, old curmudgeon (which is, in fact, what I am becoming.) I do not want any of us to be more self-conscious than we already are. I really do enjoy seeing pictures of your mission trip. I hope you will share more about your bike-a-thon for cancer research. And do not be surprised if you see a picture of my smiling face when I volunteer at the food pantry. I realize that social media is now the way we all stay in touch.
But my question is this: How, in this world where everything gets posted, do I preserve part of my life that is just for me and God? How do I keep the most sacred moments of life a secret?
If you know the answer, please do not reply. If you impress us with your insights, you will only spoil them. Keep your secret between yourself and God.