I used to (and sometimes still do) spend my thoughts on all kinds of distractions related to earning approval. This means I once routinely filtered everything through a subconscious prism that first asked how I might impress the people whom I believed were important to my happiness, whatever that means. I say, “whatever that means” because nowadays happiness has become a right. I don’t get that.
Anyway, for me happiness once mainly meant security: job security, financial security, fair treatment, predictability, and valid assumptions about what kind of behavior to expect from my fellow human beings given life in a civilized society. Another way of putting it is “peace of mind.” That definition is still valid, but it now sits demoted as secondary criteria. Oh yes, all facets are still important, but no longer do they occupy the driver’s seat, steering my thoughts down murky paths in the pursuit of happiness via the approval of others. However, if someone wanted to give me a compliment, I would gladly accept.
What would happen if all of the people and circumstances of your life suddenly changed and you no longer received the affirming responses that once told you that in other people’s eyes you were doing well, you were a “somebody,” and you had a bright future? What would happen if you were suddenly stripped of your “seal of approval?”
I don’t actually know the answer to that, but I have a theory. Aside from those who struggle to accept change and as a result fall into all kinds of resistive behaviors that make things worse, the rest of us might gain substantial benefit.
Here’s why. When you sit still, no longer worried and anxious about your standing with the crowd, your awareness of real life becomes acute, increasingly dense, and eventually turns inward. Then, you thirst. Wholeness becomes the new delight you crave. To get to wholeness, you must be quiet and patient, watching and waiting, and most importantly, listening. You must not speak of it. It is a secret. What you learn as you move from a state of fragmentation to wholeness cannot be spoken of because when you do, you invite worry and anxiety to enter in and the cat is out of the bag. This isn’t only because you shared something with an “other” that should have remained a private concern between you and God. It’s also because when you share, the reaction of the hearer will affect your confidence for the journey. You’re not yet whole enough to deal with it in the best way.
So you then must begin again, repeating the practice of holding the secret until it becomes a part of your nature while, ironically, enabling you to more authentically love and connect with “the others.” Connecting with “the others” is only possible when you yourself have reached a greater state of wholeness, and are no longer investing in the approval-seeking image of the former days. The good news is that when we return to try again, He enables us to get further along than we had through the previous try. Eventually, we will find out what it means to live more of the time in His presence and less time playing to the demanding audience of “the others.” Inner wholeness satisfies the appetite for approval.
So when the children of the kingdom pray, they may even disappear from sight, for they have learned to be indifferent to whether others know of their prayer or not. They enter a private room and close the door. There they pray to their Father, who not only sees in secret, but, Jesus here says, is in secret (v. 6). This is very significant. The secret place is where God is. There we stand “under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91).
Prayer, it is rightly said, is the method of genuine theological research, the method of understanding what and who God is. God is spirit and exists at the level of reality where the human heart, or spirit, also exists, serving as the foundation and source of our visible life. It is there that the individual meets with God “in spirit and in truth.”
The effect is, once again, a remarkable difference in the life of the believer. “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (v. 6). The visible side of your life will involve highly significant events that cannot be explained in terms of the visible world. The “spiritual” person is understood by no one, as Paul says (1 Cor. 2:15). That is because they are operating from the reality that is “in secret.”
 Willard, Dallas (2009-02-06). The Divine Conspiracy (pp. 193-194). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.