Some years ago, while, directing a retreat, a woman shared with me this story: She was a person very admired and respected within her family and circle of friends.
From all appearances, when looking at her, the outside world saw the devoted mother, the faithful wife, the dedicated Christian, the concerned citizen, the person who had her life together.
That, however, was not the full picture.
Beneath that surface of calm, stability and fidelity, she dealt with an emotional and sexual complexity that had led her, many times in her youth and several times in her more recent past, to behavior that would, she felt, surprise and scandalize, if they ever found out, her circle of family and friends who saw her as so single-minded, devoted and faithful. She was a complex person; partly grace incarnate, partly dark history with skeletons in her closet. She shared with me some thoughts about her “hidden life,” thoughts which merit a wide audience:
“Often I feel like a hypocrite, I’m so admired and, yet, there is this other side of me. I worry about what people would think, if they really knew everything about me.
“I’ve always been honest in Confession, I take consolation in that at least, but what really scares me is the passage where Jesus says, ‘Nothing that is hidden now will not be revealed.’ When I hear that, I always imagine myself standing naked, exposed, before everyone, an object of surprise and disappointment.
“But something came to me recently, reflecting on all of this, that has helped me a great deal, not so much to rationalize my own betrayals, but to live with a lot less self-pity and anger in my life. What I came to was this…
“I realized that in my life there are not only bad things that are hidden, but many good things too. If all of my darkest moments and thoughts would ever be fully exposed, those who knew me would be, I think, genuinely shocked.
“Conversely, though, if all the hidden acts of virtue, dedication, duty, kindness and charity that I have ever done (which are also hidden …and taken for-granted, not rewarded, nor properly recognized) were exposed and brought.to full light, I think, my family and circles of friends would also be genuinely shocked and surprised.
“This has helped me many ways: First, because I believe Christ’s words that ‘everything now hidden will one day be revealed,’ I try to do a lot of good things quietly, in a hidden way, without needing to be recognized or thanked for them.
“Since I have a certain hidden dark life, I want too to have a certain hidden grace life. When the great book is opened and all is revealed about me—well, there will be some surprisingly pleasant shocks as well!
“More importantly though, this has helped me eliminate much self-pity from my life. I have always been tempted towards self-pity and resentment because those closest to me rarely notice what I do for them. Most often, what I do (in general and for them in particular) goes unnoticed, unappreciated and is taken for granted.
“Worse yet, sometimes, other people take the credit for something I did. This used to make me want to scream. Now I realize that, if so much of my sin is to remain hidden, isn’t it right and fair that so much of my virtue should also remain hidden and unexposed.
“There’s something not right in wanting all our virtues and good deed trumpeted publicly and all our sin to remain hidden. Realizing that ‘everything that is now hidden will one day be brought to full light’ has helped me live with a lot less self-pity and resentment.
“I can also forgive others more easily because now I no longer need, first, to have every injustice that was done to me by them fully exposed and admitted. It doesn’t matter so much to me any more whether someone is getting away with something… since I am getting away with a lot! Injustices done to me may also lie hidden.”
There is much practical spiritual wisdom in this simple theology of the hidden life. We all have our dark side even as we have our hidden virtues.
Daily we get away with murder, even as nobody notices the many ways that cost is painfully exacted from us as we live lives of quiet heroism. God knows—and, in God’s book, the murder is forgiven and redeemed, even as the hundredfold reward is being prepared for our hidden sacrifices. Knowing this should, as this woman rightly observes, lead to a lot less self-pity.