The Hidden Years

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Life Advice, Wisdom

When I was in my 20s, I almost opened a tiny art gallery and gift shop once to showcase my work in an empty loft space made available to me. It felt too daunting at the time, so I didn’t pursue it. Instead, I spent my days off from a retail job watching Oprah grant wishes and make dreams come true from a small television screen. I felt simultaneously so happy for those who were about to realize their dreams and yet so defeated, wondering if my creative pursuits would ever come out of hiding. I was twenty- four, newly married, with a fine arts degree and an unfinished seminary degree.

A few years later, I was in full-time ministry with Troy and expecting our first son, kicking off that ambitious decade-plus of bootstrapping, kickstarting, and ministry-building in the Simons household. I was honored to stand with and work alongside Troy in all our public endeavors, but I couldn’t help seeing the glaring disparity in our realities: his life was full of visible ministry while my life felt entirely hidden.

Hidden from public ministry, hidden from my potential, hidden at home with laundry and meal prep, hidden by the limitations of a season that felt like closed doors instead of big opportunities. Sure, I had giftings. And, oh, did I long to see them flourish in big ways for God’s kingdom. Missions! Leadership! The arts! Business! I was ready to pursue that tiny art gallery and wished I had when given the chance. I had big ideas for impacting the world with my passion and skills, but the opportunities God was giving me at that time were ones in obscurity, away from the limelight, grand openings, or the internet success I imagined as meaningful.

Perhaps your hiddenness stems from an unending list of tasks: perpetual meetings, clearing emails, filing taxes, driving in traffic, doing your job, and all the domestic to-dos that pile up day after day. Some of us feel hidden due to caring for elderly parents or young children who require most of our time and energy. Maybe you’ve experienced health limitations that leave you feeling benched. Or perhaps your life story just isn’t turning out the way you hoped or expected, and the hidden season you’re in feels fruitless.

But what if the hidden years—the seasons when we think our labors go unnoticed, when we feel benched by our limitations, when doors we expect to be open are shut instead, or when our giftings seem forgotten, wasted, or entirely invisible while our contributions feel small, insignificant, and simply hidden—proved more purposeful than we could ever imagine? What if we embraced the hidden years?

What if we welcomed hiddenness as much as we pursued visibility?

Visibility, multiplication, and platform aren’t the only roads that lead to impact. Embracing hiddenness may seem like a countercultural and counterintuitive path toward significance in our present age, but God has regularly used hidden years as a tool for his redemptive purposes in the lives of his people.

It’s easy to believe that, in order for God to use us, our trajectory must go from small to big, from unrecognized to widely familiar, from obscurity to fame. And if we believe that large followings, big stages, or bestselling books are required for a life of impact, we’ll spend our days trying to pull ourselves out of hiddenness and into the limelight.

This brings me back to the question: What if we embraced the hidden years because our lives are hidden in Christ? What if we welcomed hiddenness as much as we pursued visibility? What if God is raising up leaders who will influence and change the world without the biggest stages, away from the bright lights, and unaided by social media platforms, viral content, or attractive skills and talents because their lives in Christ set them apart? What if God can accomplish all that he wills without bowing to algorithms, the best hair and makeup, or a bajillion subscribers?

At this point, maybe you’re thinking, That’s a beautiful perspective, Ruth, but I get so discouraged when I’m not getting anywhere with my endeavors, when I feel like my work doesn’t matter, and when I feel like I have to play the social media game to get my message out to the world.

Friend, it may not seem like it, but I’m preaching to my very own heart here as well. It’s not lost on me that I’m sharing these thoughts in a traditionally published book that will be distributed across the globe. Or that I have influence through the social media and internet platforms I’ve created. I see that and understand the irony of talking to you about hiddenness when a part of my life is known and public.

But don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not trying to convince you that visibility is wrong or that obscurity is some- how more holy. I’m not encouraging us to forfeit God-given opportunities for an elusive “greater reach.” I’m simply suggesting that if we’re hoping for our lives to have true impact, there’s a place for both visibility and obscurity—in the big picture and sweeping seasons of our lives and in how we steward the daily rhythms of our day-to-day lives.

Here are a few questions I ask myself regularly that might help you too:

1. Am I intentionally cultivating the hidden places of my life as much as I am cultivating the public places?

2. Do I worship in secret through prayer and study of God’s Word, or am I only worshiping in public?

3. Do I invest time in soul care or care only for my physical body?

We must view hiddenness and visibility the way God does—as equally fruitful in the capable hands of a God who doesn’t need human resources or cunning moves to accomplish his work. God may choose to use obscurity on the path to raising up leaders, voices of influence, and great men and women of God, but he may just as purposefully employ the faithful and quiet work of Christ followers whose names we’ll never know this side of heaven. Since God accomplishes his will through both the visible and the invisible, we need a paradigm shift in how we see and embrace the hidden years of our lives.

Taken from Now and Not Yet by Ruth Chou Simons. Copyright © 2024 by Ruth Chou Simons. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

Ruth Chou Simons is a Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning author of several books and Bible studies, including Now and Not Yet, GraceLaced, Beholding and Becoming, When Strivings Cease, and TruthFilled. She is an artist, entrepreneur, podcaster, and speaker, using each of these platforms to sow the Word of God into people’s hearts. Through social media, and her online shoppe at GraceLaced.com, Simons shares her journey of God’s grace intersecting daily life with word and art. Ruth and her husband, Troy, are grateful parents to six boys—their greatest adventure.

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