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I was walking along the river trail in Central Oregon on a snowy January day not too long ago when I admitted those words out loud to a friend. I remember she looked at me, processed what I’d just said, got a little wide-eyed for a second and then replied, “Oh… wait. I think I might do that too.”
We spent the rest of that walk processing what that meant for the both of us, confessing the spiritual apathy we’d each been wrestling with, and wondered aloud what we were missing, what actual intimacy with Jesus might look like. We both admitted that when we felt He had spoken something to us, we were quick to text a friend or update our Instagrams as a result, and less likely to just sit with what He had spoken and receive it for ourselves. Had we cheapened our relationship with God by only talking about Him, and not to Him?
We realized the answer to that difficult question was yes. At the end of that river walk we very seriously pinky-promised to be better at keeping our secrets with Him, and to be better about creating space to pursue the secret place. Looking back on that moment in retrospect, I now realize that was the start of an incredibly beautiful season of my walk with the Lord, and the beginning of my understanding of what it meant to be good at the art of secret keeping.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:5-8
In all honesty, this particular passage always felt a little bit odd to me; the instructions directly contradict all the other things I had been taught a believer should be; unabashedly and unashamed about the good news of the Gospel. Yet over the course of eighteen verses in this passage, it’s emphasized three different times that the Father values what is done in secret. So if my Father values what is done in secret, then why don’t I value it too?
I’m the girl that wants to be the boldest in the room, the most passionate, most fired-up, most outspoken, the most honest… you name it. I’m confident in leading the conversation, comfortable being the girl on the stage, in the very middle of the dance floor… you get the picture. And there is time and space for that, amen? But the Jesus that I know and love keeps beckoning me into something deeper, leading me into an understanding that I was made for more. A few years ago I came across this quote from Thomas a’ Kempis in the pages of a commentary, and it rings true especially now:
“If you are to live an interior life you must learn to enjoy His intimacy, unhampered by any interruption from the world outside.” – Thomas a’ Kempis
To be honest, I’m no stranger to holding things close, or to living an interior life that few had insight into. Growing up, it felt like secret keeping was all I knew how to do, delivering carefully manicured responses and answers when questioned about the stability of my home life or the status of my parents’ marriage. Unknowingly, I had named myself the sole architect of my life, building walls around the vulnerable places of my heart, desperately trying to hide the shame of the broken situation I had found myself in. But eventually, the love of Jesus came crashing in, spilling like sunlight over all of those walls, and washing over the barricades I had carefully constructed around my brokenness. I finally tasted freedom and realized I didn’t have to keep those things inside anymore, and that I didn’t have to live in secret. It took time, and people who have been ridiculously patient with me, people who still have to be patient with me, to unravel all of those hidden parts of my heart. I didn’t feel safe for such a very long time, and when I finally did feel safe, I didn’t want to keep secrets anymore. Yet I now find myself currently arriving in a completely new season, and I hear His voice ever so clearly, calling me back to secret keeping once more, but just with Him this time.
I’m not talking about the kind of secret keeping that builds walls that shut out, or carves wounds into our hearts because we’ve held onto things for too long. Rather, the kind of secret-keeping that builds a foundation, where independence leads to more dependence on the Father. We weren’t made to keep secrets that shame us, hurt us, or keep us bound. Rather, we were made for the secret place, to live in communion and deep intimacy with our Creator. We weren’t made to be independent of needing healing, or community, but I do believe we were made to be independent in our need for Jesus, a unique and specific longing in our hearts for Him and only Him, unaided by anything else.
Independence has always been one of those tricky things in my life, something I’ve never quite been able to figure out if it was a good or a bad thing. It’s been painted in both a negative and positive light; as something that needs to be tamed, or maybe contained, but simultaneously something to be admired and grateful for. One thing I do know: my independence means nothing if it fails to lead me to more dependence on the Father. In addition, my self-sufficiency means little if I fail to learn how to cultivate my own spirituality on an individual basis on the all-sufficient One.
This truth became the clearest to me last August when I packed up all of my things into my car and moved to the greater Seattle area. I had just made the necessary, but heavy decision to transfer schools, and my best friend and I hauled all my belongings up the stairwell of my new dorm building, a little half-heartedly. After skipping mostly all of student orientation and indulging ourselves in overpriced brunch that week, I dropped her off at the airport and found myself sitting in the mess of my emotions that I had been holding at bay for a bit too long. I sat there on the 405, in Seattle traffic, holding back tears and admitted to the Lord in full how I felt: a bit heartbroken and a little untrusting of this new adventure that stretched out before me like a blank page.
For the first time in my life after moving someplace new, I didn’t immediately fill up my schedule with coffee dates and every church event ever in attempts to directly insert myself into community. Most days I just simply went down by the waterfront and sat with the Lord, told Him I felt like I didn’t know how to dream anymore, how apprehensive I felt towards school, that I really missed my friends and the place I had just left. In fact, I just let myself feel incredibly nameless and strange to the surroundings around me because I knew that would fade within a matter of weeks. I sensed this sacred, fleeting season, where Jesus was truly the only one who really knew me in a shiny new city. I found myself lying on my dorm room floor, when my roommate happened to be gone, weeping because I was realizing how much I really loved Him. That September of self-prescribed anonymity was one that I will never forget, and it drove me to the secret place, day after day. In fact, it’s from that span of four-ish weeks that I often find myself in conversation saying: “He taught me this in the secret place, He showed me this in secret.”
Prone to move to big cities or not, I was always made to be moving in the direction of my Father. Self-sufficient or not, I was always made to rely on the all-sufficient One. I was created to have the confidence to stride boldly into the secret place because I know there are no secrets between me and King Jesus. I want to know for myself what fervency and reverence actually is: something sacred and secret and holy. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life mastering the art of secret keeping with the Father, experiencing a living, breathing relationship with Him. I want my days to be intent on the moments that I get to sneak away and be with Him, where once more He aligns my own tattered, wandering heart to His own steady, unchanging, Fatherly one. I want the best of me, my time, my words, my attention, my laughter and my love to be daily heaped at His feet. The best, the only, way I know how to begin is to seek out the secret place, and to learn the art of secret keeping, to keep chasing after a fervent, reverent, real love.
I’m learning that I don’t just sit at His feet to feel filled, or solely because I can encourage a friend, or write a pretty-sounding Instagram post or a blog for a particular audience. I’m learning to sense when He desires to tell me things that might just be meant for me, shared between just the two of us. I’m realizing the beauty of building a rich history with Him. I’m setting up landmarks of faithfulness all over (up and down every state on the west coast at this point) and keeping a handwritten record of all the moments He’s proven faithful, over and over again.
There are days that I feel that I’m ‘for real’ and there are days that I don’t. But if there is anything I know for sure, it’s that He is. He’s the only thing I’ve ever really been sure of, and He’s worth every minute of my attention, my affection, my time. Beyond all the goals I could ever think or dream up, beyond all the degrees I’d like to attain and all the titles I’d proudly wear – it’s Him I see in the long run. He’s the One I always want to keep coming back to. King Jesus, the One who has good and wild plans for the duration of my days. He waits for us in the secret, where all things are laid bare, His Spirit runs rampant and where His love is unconcealed and unmistakable.
Emma is a 22-year-old college student that cares deeply about breakfast food, her agricultural roots, and kitchen dance parties. She’s passionate about creating space for people to be seen and heard, and strives to weave words together that draw people deeper into the company of Jesus. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministries with an emphasis in Church Leadership at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA. Her free time is best spent with the people who know her best, especially when that time is spent on the Oregon Coast, particularly when it’s storming. You can read more of her words at: emmaselene.com
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