Growing Edges

In the midst of our “celebrity culture,” as we like to call it, I want to put in a word for the value of anonymity. Frankly, all this hankering to get noticed runs at cross-purposes with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Besides, it is all so mindless. Many people, for example, act as if it is some kind of honor to be on television. Unfortunately, today all we have to do is act outrageous, and bingo, the media are there. (And more and more now the key is to be violently outrageous.) Friends, this is no honor; it is a sadness and a disgrace.

My counsel is that we simply turn our back to all the brouhaha of our media-soaked society. It is nothing more than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. It is cotton candy. Besides, most of us will never be “important” or “noticed” in terms of human reckoning. Even Andy Warhol’s dictum that each of us gets fifteen minutes of fame is beyond the reach of most of us. And it isn’t worth the reach anyway.

Now, being “important” and “valued” is central to our health and well-being. But it is an importance and a value that is worlds apart from the modern gushing over “the ten most sexy men of 2001.” We can and we should give and receive the honest affirmation that comes within the warm context of family and friends. We can and we should rest contented in the experiential knowledge that we are of infinite value to our heavenly Father who loves us utterly. Together these are wholly sufficient.

We are therefore free to live our lives quietly and profoundly. We are at ease in our hiddenness. We have no need for attention because we have learned to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value. In saying this I am not referring to the kind of “humble mumble” that pretends not to want attention and all the time is desperately wishing that someone … anyone … will notice. No, here we are fully satisfied. Truly. And may I just add that this way of living is not just for individuals but for groups and churches as well. To be important from a kingdom perspective we do not have to be the biggest, the best, or the most innovative. We simply do our work faithfully with all our might and we leave the rest in the hands of God. (It’s a good place to be, you know.)

Now, at times God, for his own sovereign purposes, will raise up a person for leadership or to honor in some special way. And, if this happens to us, it is a grace to receive, it is a call to serve, it is a cross to bear. If given a position of leadership, we lead as only we follow … follow our Master who leads without guile. If given honor we accept it thankfully as those who have done nothing more than receive a gift of grace. In this way our anonymity is not really given up, only extended.

Growing Together

In this issue of the Perspective we are working on the idea of anonymity or hiddenness or, as Dallas Willard calls it, “secrecy”. In The Spirit of the Disciplines (p. 172), he discusses this crucial Discipline of the spiritual life.

Question: What is secrecy?

Answer: “In the discipline of secrecy we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known.” It means “placing our public relations department entirely in the hands of God.”

Question: What is its purpose?

Answer: “To help us lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, or just the mere attention of others.”

Question: What spiritual virtues result?

Answer: “We learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misunderstanding without the loss of our peace, joy, or purpose.” “Secrecy at its best teaches love and humility before God and others.”

Now, if all this good can come from secrecy (or hiddenness or anonymity), let’s consider some practical ways we can enter into this Discipline in the midst of everyday life.

1. Look for one substantive act of service you can render this month. Then, do it without letting anyone know what you have done, or why. Next, monitor your feelings for the days and weeks that follow. Notice how often you wish others would find out what you have done or the times you hope your act of service might accidentally come up in casual conversation. As you learn to remain silent at such times, this will crucify such feelings and you will experience substantial spiritual progress.

2. Become aware of the frantic efforts of people to advertise and certify themselves. We see this everywhere in our culture, but give particular attention to religious personages and groups. Watch what such people do to advertise how good they are or how important or how valuable. Be sure that you are observing simply as a way of learning and not with a condemning or judging spirit. Note what a stunning revelation these actions are of people’s lack of substance and faith. Learn quietly by these negative examples, without any need to talk to others about them. Remember that, except for the overwhelming grace of God, what you are observing in others you just may end up seeing in the mirror.

3. As a spring and summer discipline intentionally look upon your work associates in the best possible light, even to the point of hoping they will do better and appear better than you. Whenever you are in a competitive situation, pray that they will be more outstanding, more praised, and more used of God than yourself. Pull for them and rejoice in their successes … really rejoice. If you will do this faithfully and over an extended time, you will experience the flow of divine love as never before. You will really and truly be learning to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

4. In order to keep from turning this work of hiddenness into an absurdity or, worse yet, into a soul-killing legalism, learn to receive praise and recognition well. Let others speak highly of you without needing to add any self-deprecating comments. When you are complimented, learn to say, “Thank you.” No hemming and hawing, no looking down and shuffling your feet; just “Thank you.” When an honor or award is given to you, receive it gratefully. Since your well-being does not depend upon these matters one way or the other, you can be recognized and awarded as easily as you can remain anonymous.

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