Do You Value Your Privacy?
HE WAS a young man who valued his privacy. Not that he was a hermit or a recluse in a monastery. No, he was a public figure. He was exposed to crowds of people almost daily. He was a teacher. The accounts we have of him agree that he was the greatest teacher ever on earth. He lived to give of himself constantly. Yet, at the same time, he managed carefully to have some time to himself.
He knew that a person, to have inward depth and personal self-sufficiency, needs time to himself—time to think and reflect and meditate and ponder. More than that, being an intensely religious man, he knew and felt the need to pray. To draw away from fellow humans for a while meant opportunity to search himself to the inmost recesses in the presence of his God, and to draw close to his heavenly Father.
His deep inner resources, which included his perfect knowledge of the Scriptures, would have made it possible for him to maintain balance and self-sufficiency in personal qualities even were he to suffer long-term solitary confinement. Various translations* of the records about him tell us that he “retired into the desert,” “kept out of the way in lonely places and prayed.” Other accounts say that “long before daylight” he “left by himself” for a lonely place to be “absorbed in prayer.”—Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35.
This young man was Jesus Christ. In spite of the constant press of crowds and the close fellowship with his intimate associates, Jesus somehow managed to have some privacy.
ARE YOU A “PRIVATE PERSON”?
What about you? Do you appreciate having some time to yourself? When you are upset, do you seek privacy? Do you “have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent”? (Ps. 4:4) A young wife and mother who had gone through a harrowing family crisis withdrew from some of her friends for a time. They felt hurt at her attitude. But her husband explained: “Mary is a very private person. Give her time. She will get her emotions and her thinking straightened out.”
Was it wrong for Mary to be a “private person” who needed time to herself to ‘sort things out’? No, not unless she used her private time to brood and to nurse resentful feelings toward others, or to withdraw in prolonged isolation to the point of becoming a warped, ingrown personality. “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Prov. 18:1) But if for a time in privacy one’s thoughts and feelings are guided by wholesome principles, it can prove to be a healthful process from which emerge clear thinking and balanced emotions.
To what extent are you a private person? Do you at times enjoy your own company? If your conscience bothers you, can you, in privacy, face the issue honestly and then seek to correct the matter? Do you benefit from reflecting on new things learned? Are you absorbed in efforts to broaden your understanding of matters? Do you like to ponder over constructive questions and problems?
Or, are you more like those persons who seem to lack the ability to think, or even feel, for themselves? Such persons would not, perhaps could not, enjoy their own private company. They seem impelled to be around others as much as possible. It would appear that if they cannot talk to someone they cannot think for themselves. Indiscriminately, they pour out everything and anything that crosses their mind and heart. What would happen to such a person if confined to solitary imprisonment? What would happen to you?
When you awaken in the small hours at night, what do you think about? Do you drift into a reverie? The psalmist David learned to benefit from times of wakefulness: “Really, during the nights my kidneys have corrected me.”—Ps. 16:7.
Many persons feel that if they search long and deep within themselves, they will eventually uncover some depository of profound truth and meaning. It might be true that deep and persistent “soul-searching” will help us better to understand our views, tendencies, attitudes, feelings, ambitions, longings and the like. But if we rely on the Bible as our guide, it will teach us that much of what we find within ourselves needs to be corrected, even discarded, yes, replaced with the makings of a new self. It informs us that we are inwardly more like a vessel or receptacle—receptive but to a great extent empty and barren. We can receive, absorb, digest and exercise knowledge and wisdom, and grow in discernment. But all such building materials of the intellect must come from a source outside ourselves. “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you,” says one inspired proverb. And another points to the one sure, safe Source of outside knowledge: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”—Prov. 2:10, 11; 3:5, 6.
DEVELOPING THINKING ABILITIES
Personal privacy can be a time to think, to study, to meditate, to develop thinking abilities. Yes, we may be born with the ability to play music or excel in athletics. Yet, what if we never trained such abilities? We might as well never have had them. The same is true with thinking abilities. The ability to think develops only to the extent that we feed upon information, experience and training.
Developing ability to think is not easy. It is real mental work. Let us say that we wish to develop some special thinking ability, for example, the ability to judge types of persons to a reliable degree. First, we think of a person, someone we know. That person can be seen, heard, touched and discerned with the physical senses. But does such discernment involve thinking? No.
Furthermore, as we begin to think about the person, do not our emotional reactions toward that person start interfering? Before we are really thinking, have we not started feeling about the person—registering likes, dislikes, respect, disrespect, trust, distrust—reacting emotionally before beginning an intellectual appraisal?
But let us say that we force ourselves simply to THINK of the person. Think of the person’s views, attitudes, behavior, abilities, accomplishments and the like. How well do we understand such qualities in anyone? Could we make logical predictions as to how the person might react under given circumstances? Appraising mental, emotional and spiritual qualities in a person requires the ability to think. We find ourselves involved with intangibles beyond discernment with mere physical senses such as sight, sound and touch. At the same time we have to make sure that feelings have not slipped in under the guise of thoughts to throw our mental processes off track.
RESOLVING THE CONFLICT BETWEEN HEART AND HEAD
The heart, or seat of emotion, tends to overrule the head, the seat of intellect. Sexual attraction, for example, can turn sound judgment, even the conscience, completely around. The mind can be set to working overtime, planning, scheming and conniving to satisfy a sensual desire. That is why the Bible counsels: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” (Prov. 4:23) The heart above all else must be disciplined and trained to respond to Bible guidance. It must be taught to appreciate spiritual qualities. These qualities spring from God’s own heart. The human heart should warm to them, because man was made in the image of his Creator. (Gen. 1:26) “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control”: these are listed as the fruitage of God’s spirit in the scripture at Galatians 5:22, 23.
With a concordance, trace those words—“love,” “joy,” “peace”—through the Scriptures. Then you begin to realize how much study and private contemplation can be spent profitably in searching for discernment. You are seeking to understand the personal qualities of your Creator with a view to taking them on as qualities of your own personality. You need His help in imitating Him. That is why prayer, along with study, is an indispensable part of the process of grasping spiritual discernment. All of this requires some privacy.
THE NEED FOR PRIVACY
When Joshua was commanded to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, Jehovah instructed him to stick closely to the “book of the law” that had been delivered through Moses. “You must in an undertone read in it day and night.” (Josh. 1:8) Joshua must spend time in private, prayerful study. As various translations put it, “keep [it] in mind day and night,” “study it day and night.”
The psalmist Asaph resolved: “With my heart I will show concern, and my spirit will carefully search.” “I meditate in my heart,” “wonder to myself in the night,” “my spirit will carefully search,” “I muse and make mental explorations,” “musing in my inward quest.”—Psalm 77:6, as rendered by different translations.
“Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them,” the apostle Paul stressed in counseling young Timothy. (1 Tim. 4:15) At another time he wrote: “Give constant thought to what I am saying.”—2 Tim. 2:7, The New English Bible.
In order to do these necessary things we, like Jesus, will benefit by making room in our lives for a reasonable degree of personal privacy; privacy for thinking and study and prayerful meditation.
Translations cited in this article include the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures; The New English Bible; The Bible in Living English; An American Translation; The New American Bible; Moffatt’s translation.