How many good deeds do you perform in secret and then allow them no voice, notice, or public arena? In conversations with friends, we easily mention our schedules, what we’ve done or plan to do, even if we don’t intentionally spotlight kindnesses we’ve done for others. Today, we consider Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) fourth rule for living humbly. You’ve probably guessed by now that it encourages doing kind deeds in secret.
Rule number four, again in the language of Taylor’s day, “Love to be concealed and little esteemed; be content to want praise, never being troubled when thou art slighted or undervalued.” I first became aware of Jeremy Taylor’s writings in Randy Harris’ book, “Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk.” In it, Harris says about Taylor’s fourth rule for living humbly: “This doing things in secrecy is one of the best ways to check our motives.”
In a weekly Bible class, my co-teacher and I staged application stories for four- and five-year-olds, encouraging them to take the Bible lesson out of the church building and put them to practice in their lives. One night, we studied about giving in secret. The skit we wrote and acted out centered around two teenage boys mowing and cleaning a widow’s yard before her return home from a hospital stay. As our students watched, Ms. Doris and I transformed into teenagers: we donned our baseball caps, pushed an imaginary lawn mower, made mower sounds, and raked an imaginary yard.
In our imaginary secret-giving scene, the two “clean-up boys” hurried to finish their job because they didn’t want any praise or thank you from people. This was to be a hush-hush act of kindness. They only wanted God to know.
Admittedly, secret acts of giving may be a bit more difficult to accomplish. A few people might know if you are a blood donor, but the recipient doesn’t ever meet the donor who gave the “gift of life.” The family home remains a prime place to give secretly: clean dust from under the bed, rake debris from gutters, keep rolls of toilet tissue on dispensers, or match socks for a family who boasts 14 feet. Giving without trumpeting the deed to all becomes secret giving.
Giving through a third person is another avenue for accomplishing an unseen kindness. Special Bank accounts offer a way to give in secret to people who have suffered tragedies and incurred unexpected medical or funeral expenses.
This past holiday season many secret Santas paid off toy lay-aways, giving families flexibility in tight budgets. Making sure that more than popcorn graces the table of the hungry expresses God’s love. When one accomplishes secret giving, the giver avoids the temptation to give a self-pat on the back or listen for applause.
A young boy named Ben came to me the following Wednesday night after our secret giving class, and in five-year-old innocence reported, “Teacher, one day in school there was paper on the floor. I didn’t even drop it there, and I picked it up and put it in the trash. Nobody saw me, and I didn’t tell my school teacher.” Oh, how I hugged Ben! He listened. He learned. He obeyed.
Secret giving is very much worth the extra effort because it helps cleanse a spirit of selfishness and reminds one to honor God. After all, God humbly gives numerous gifts to you each day without a smidgen of fanfare.
Hunger for Humility (10): “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven . . . your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).