What is the advantage of a hidden life? Why should I resist the siren call of self-promotion for the sake of consciously keeping quiet, small, hidden?
In these days of the selfie and multiplied platforms for self-publicizing our lives, there is pressure to play along. We’re taunted to tell our story, toot our horn, and signal our virtue, whether on the right or the left.
I know you feel the pressure. I feel it, too.
As a writer, I feel pressured to get my name out there. Naturally, I want people to read what I write, to be encouraged or challenged or both. So I find myself faced with two tasks. The first is the private fight for clarity so that what I write is worth reading. The second is the public foray into social media so that my audience includes more than my mother and loyal friends.
These two tasks don’t play well together. I constantly feel the tension between maintaining a private space where I can hear the quiet voice of God in Scripture, and continuing to build a public platform where my voice can be heard. A writer friend calls the second task, “Feeding the Beast.” Sounds dangerous. I might get eaten!
My guess is you feel the tension between your private and public life, too. The times when vacation quits being vacation and becomes all about staging Facebook moments. Or when your private journal turns into a regular Instagram post.
Today I want to examine this constant pressure to to promote ourselves, our story, our opinions. What are the advantages of keeping a private space? What wisdom is there in embracing, instead of resisting, our hiddenness?
The Advantage of Being a Lizard
“Four things are small, but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in summer;
the rock badger are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
the locusts have no king; yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.”
Why does the wise man call the lizard “exceedingly wise”?
It’s high summer, and in Tennessee where I grew up, the frogs are making themselves heard. Their loud, rhythmic croaks fill the air, singing us to sleep. I’m told their song isn’t just a lullaby, but a mating call. “Froggie Went A-Courting…he did ride, um hum,” my mother used to croon while she rubbed my back to help me sleep.
Whatever their motive, frogs give themselves away with their noisy croaks. They are self-promoters. These days we all want to be frogs—loud, brash, calling for attention. But the wise man shakes his head and points to the lizard.
By contrast, instead of announcing his presence, the lizard slips in silently. In Arizona where I now live, I often see a lizard clinging to the backyard wall. Occasionally, despite our best efforts to close screen doors, I find one inside. How did this happen?
Frogs announce their arrival, but lizards are sneaky. And that’s their superpower. It lets them inside all sorts of places, including the palace of the king. We could use that superpower in this noisy election year, especially when we have conversations at work or with our neighbor.
In the Palace of a King
What does it look like to sneak under the radar?
It was 1989 in Manila. At the Second International Congress on World Evangelization one of the speakers, a Chinese businessman, posed this question, how can the good news of Jesus Christ reach the corners of the world that were stilled closed to it? Lizards were his answer, the ordinary Christian in ordinary—even constricting—circumstances. He called it “A Theology of the Laity.”
Sometime after that my husband heard the story of one such lizard. She was a British woman, with special training in occupational therapy. She was also a Christian. A king, the ruler of a country that was closed to the message about Jesus, was looking for help for his disabled son. Somehow his aides found her, sent for her, and brought her to the royal palace.
She did her job skillfully, helping the disabled prince navigate his disability. Slowly he improved under her tutelage, gaining life skills and growing stronger. Although she knew the limits of her role in the palace, her faith couldn’t help being on display. The beauty of her Christ like character, the very fruit of the Holy Spirit, made her patient, kind, faithful, and joyful. Her service shaped that prince into the king he later became.
We’ll have to wait until eternity to know the end of that story, but we can apply some of its principles immediately.
The Lizard’s Advantage in a Posturing World
You see, politicians are frogs. Croaking promises. Pastors are frogs, too. My husband is one such frog. The fact that he’s called to proclaim the gospel from the pulpit makes it hard for him to fly below the radar. Consequently, even when he travels, conversation falters. He starts well enough, “What do you do for work?” Inevitably his seat mate volleys back the same question. His words “I’m a pastor” produce a visible withdrawal. That’s nice … they mutter and bury their nose in the airline magazine.
But occupational therapists? Accountants? Real Estate agents? Housewives and mothers and retired folks? You? Me? We get to be lizards. We get to carry our faith quietly into the places where we live and serve and play.
We get to slip in unnoticed, so we can:
- Serve instead of posturing
- Blend in instead of standing out
- Observe needs instead of pontificating opinions
- Ask questions instead of talking about ourselves
- Choose words that build up instead of flinging words that tear down
- Offer help instead of demanding attention
The advantage of living a hidden life is that it gives us the chance to make the gospel beautiful with our actions before we ever open our mouths. We can slip across political fault lines without being noticed. We can slide out from under the labels of our current cultural discussion and speak personally.
In short, as lizards we don’t just get inside kings’ palaces, we get to represent the King Himself, who laid aside his crown so he could come among us. We get to model our lives on the one and only King who laid down his life so he could save us.
And then we get to tell his story.