The Training Table: The Compartmentalized and Secretive Heart
Welcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing chow, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race (1 Corinthians 9:24)! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race?
A Feast of the Heart
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)
Shadowy Secrets Swelling Within
“My grief all lies within; and these external manners of laments are merely shadows of the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul.” (William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 4, Scene 1)
Right off the top: We’re not talking about the ability to keep a confidence here, right? Betraying a confidence, gossip, slander, backbiting is a whole other issue… In the Garden of Eden a good while back (Genesis 3), Eve made a grievous error that Adam became complicit in as he stood nearby in SILENCE. The silence of Adam has mushroomed [kinda like the cloud from a nuclear blast…] into a much bigger problem since then!
Ministering to a Compartmentalized, Swollen, Bloated People
If there is a plight common to EveryMan, but never more prevalent than in our Western, secularized, privatized, and relativistic culture today; it’s secret-keeping. At the most fundamental level, secret-keeping [the polar opposite of using God-given words to freely, lovingly, truthfully, and transparently express ourselves] is due to The Fall (Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32), a hardened and depraved heart, and the resultant worldliness, pride and egotism (Galatians 6:3; Ephesians 2:3) common to us all: Mankind’s inheritance of the fig leaf Adam used to cover his ________… which was only a symbol of his “base alienation” from God, his covering the shame, his sin, and the first form of hardening and hiding all humans are now desperately prone to.
Secret-keeping—just one of the vast array of consequences of attempting to compartmentalize our heart, emotions, psychology, and physical selves—is a “killer application” of all sorts of things in our horribly broken world. “Our society is so fragmented, our family lives so sundered by physical and emotional distance, our friendships so sporadic, our intimacies so ‘in-between’ things and often so utilitarian, that there are few places where we can feel truly safe.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World)
An Aim to Be Authentic: The Heart of the Matter is a Matter of the Heart
Even though God desires some things be done “in secret” [below], far too many even in the church have become far too worldly by way of living in the untenable fashion of “secret-keeping hypocrisy” so roundly condemned by Jesus Christ—condemned as an idol standing in the way of loving the one True God, but also as a form of spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical suicide that harms all people who God dearly loves! The Bible is 1000% clear about God’s desire that the outflow of our heart match the actions of our lives… and are a reflection of His Love and Truth. (Matthew 5:18; Mark 7:20-21; James 3:6)
“It is altogether possible to practice an outward display of piety—to “talk the talk”—without demonstrating any inner reality of godliness. This is true of every professing Christian, and it is especially true of those engaged in Christian ministry. Authentic Christianity requires an outward and discernible “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). But it also requires genuine godly affections and an inner discipline of the heart.
There is a manner of ministry that is more about self-service than self-sacrifice, self-indulgence than self-discipline, and self-promotion than self-denial. There is also giving that is designed for recognition—plaques on walls intended to be read by generations to come, or press releases informing the world of “generous donations”; prayers in pristine Cranmer-like language of the sixteenth century suggesting depths of personal piety; fasting that is shown via open-necked T-shirts revealing a ribbed torso.
But all these outward demonstrations of piety may be no more than mere hypocrisy. The Greek word translated “hypocrites” (Matt. 6:2, 5) refers to the masks worn by ancient actors as symbols of pretense and show. Thus, give with fanfare; pray with pride; fast with notice. This ministry is inauthentic. It is a sham.” (Derek Thomas, “In Secret”)
- Give “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).
- Pray “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6).
- Fast “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 18).
God did not design and create humankind to keep secrets and partition off the various parts of each of our own persona… and/or the innumerable, other lives who we come into contact each and every day. Secrets, between me and God, and me and myself, is the start of all other damning, delusional, and divisive secrets between all mankind.
“We were created perfect in a perfect world. Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s rule, which resulted in sin, shame, and nakedness. Ever since, we have been trying to cover our nakedness and hide our true selves from God, ourselves, and other people. We can never adequately deal with our nakedness, but God has come into our wrecked world to provide a perfect cover for us.” (Tim Keller, “Nakedness & the Holiness of God“)
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
In my experience, one major, God-ordained, Christ-provided, and Spirit-awakened antidote for this common malady of a fallen heart-spirit relationship is found in St. Peter’s first letter to first-century followers of Christ. This process to “lance the boil of unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul” is to constantly and proactively share what each of us has inherited under the cross: a) the elimination of shame and b) an adoption into a new family.
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16; Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 2:15; Psalm 3:3)
Ministering to another hurting secret-keeper requires we allow others to see how we have been [really!] set free by the cross [no shame, a new family]—in very practical, relevant, soul-bearing, humble, and yet bold ways. The silence must broken by humble and healing words that are meaningful to both parties, right?
Can we… can you… begin a meaningful conversation with another fallen, secret-keeping, and hurting Image Bearer of God by saying something such as, “The best, most meritorious and true thing I can say about myself is that I am a sinner saved by grace.”? It is pretty damned hard to close-off our heart and life story to another person after we have thankfully, freely, humbly, lovingly, transparently, and truthfully admitted our life story has been fully seen and yet radically redeemed by God in Christ… for all mankind to see if needed to glorify God and bless other Image Bearers.
As it says in The Good Book, we are, with careful and mature discernment, to be an Open Book to anyone who needs to see their own life’s brokenness and God’s offer for redemption… in me… and in you.
Shattered, Scattered, Re-Assembled, and Redeemed!
One of God’s most important and strategic aims in allowing suffering to occur is to free secret-keepers of “the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul”. Redemptive suffering is first experienced as a heart-shattering experience whereby the careful, sinful, and strategic compartmentalization of our heart is deconstructed, laid bare, and lay in pieces all around us. This is a most dreadful and disastrous condition to find ourselves in, right?
BUT, [insert a way-huge “BUT!“] when we avail ourselves to the God of the Bible’s Way, Truth, and Life of putting the shattered and scattered pieces back together again, it is done in the most magnificent way imaginable: “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:17-20 ESV)
Redeemed, sanctified suffering is absolutely needed and necessary in the process of moving anyone from a secret-keeper to a wounded healer. [And this is one of the main reasons I wrote about redemptive suffering with the exact target audience in mind that I did: “Christians living in a culture of comfort.” If God’s people live like the world—avoiding DIS-comfort of any kind—it’s a very big problem!]
Redemptive suffering is one of the primary ways God will use the unavoidable brokenness of this world to free us from the deadliness of living a compartmentalized, secretive, bitter, shameful, hide-and-seek, fearful, isolated, worry- and anxiety-based, and despairing life.
When we are utterly secure in Christ, there are no secrets or insecurities capable of keeping us in bondage to compartmentalization, shame, abandonment, and anonymity.
The shape of the cross is command and all the direction and hope we need: “Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27)
A Personal and Universal Heart Dis-Ease
Don’t for a moment think that I speak of this malicious malady of the heart purely from an outsider’s perspective, my fellow marathoners for Christ! As mentioned again just last week, my own story of childhood shame, criticism, and anonymity was the perfect greenhouse for growing me into the consummate secret- keeper, liar, hypocrite, and “social chameleon” [adapting to everyone’s needs so I could be accepted]… that one could imagine.
And yes, it was hell on earth; it’s far better now; but a “thorn in the flesh” that I pray each day I will be more and more sanctified and delivered from. Secret-keeping is a habit of the hard and hiding heart that is deeply rooted… UP-rooting it is a daily reliance on The Trinity, a community of sanctifying Saints, and service to others in Jesus’ name.
This is the sense of C.S. Lewis’ marvelous quote, [Jesus is saying] “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self… in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” (Mere Christianity, emphasis added)
Whenever any child’s existence, identity, or unique contributions to mankind are ignored, shamed, criticized, or twisted to mirror any parent’s preferences, regrets, aspirations, or shortcomings… The child will desperately suppress his or her special traits to appease the parent’s vision of the child. Children want to be loved no matter what the cost… Even if it’s the death of his or her own self. Satan, The Accuser, The Father of Lies, The Murderer, The Chief Architect of Deception, is more than happy to be hired as the contractor: Compartment after compartment—truths, falsehoods, and their complementary emotions, strategically sealed off from one another—is constructed within the heart of such a child. This is the only means of survival for a child; but living in this way as an adult [or even a child] WILL DESTROY A LIFE and many other lives as collateral damage.
Do you know and trust God enough [by means of a vital relationship with His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit living within your heart] have at least one person who you feel you can be completely free to talk about ANYTHING with? We must first be secure with God so that we can begin to be free to live free to share our hearts.
The Key to the Secret-Keeping Heart: Freedom and Life in the Spirit
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-5)
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:11-14)
There is little doubt that the “negative version of secret-keeping” we’ve been chowing down on here at The Training Table flows first from a shame-filled, hardened, and worldly heart… and domino’s from there to our attempts to live a compartmentalized life. This is diametrically opposite of how God designed and created us. And a life of this kind will not function. It cannot… It will fall apart.
Please… oh please… if this matter of the heart is true of you or someone you love, do not mistake your ability to distance yourself from the problem, deny it exists, squeak by with just a smattering of compartmentalization, secret-keeping, and hypocrisy, or mark it up to being resilient and capable of dealing with this heart dis-ease.
The reason God has not allowed the problem to justifiably take any of us out is due to His unfathomable and manifold and long-suffering mercies. God can forgive ANY sin is we turn to Him; but He cannot forgive ANY sin if we do not. (Matthew 12:31-32)
“Father God, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, it’s no secret that You have called me Beloved. And even though I can so easily slip back into my sinful and fleshly past by compartmentalizing my heart, keeping secrets, and orphaning myself, remind me each day of exactly who I am in Christ: Utterly seen by You and completely loved just the same! As I awake each day, before I even step foot out of bed, would you, by God the Father’s sovereignty, by God the Son’s atoning death and resurrection, and by God the Spirit’s enlivening power and counsel, please help me to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks me to give the reason for the hope that You have given me in Christ Jesus. For, in fact, this is the only reason You have given me “TODAY…” (Psalm 95:7-8)!”
The Power of Secrets, Psychology Today
The Secret of Sanctification, by Nicholas Batzig
The Eyes of the Heart, by Frederick Buechner
Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival, by Victoria Leatham
Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul [Revised & Updated], by John Eldredge
The Healing Path, by Dan Allender