Every year, like many other people, I get birthday greetings from people on Facebook. Birthday greetings are lovely, of course: it’s wonderful to know people wish you well. But my brain makes them a challenge to process. How should I respond? To each individually? To a few select greetings? To all in a single post? Will the volume of greetings overwhelm me? Etc. Etc.

This year, for various reasons, I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. So I went into my Facebook settings and reset my birthday to Private. In doing so, without thinking about it, I finally heeded the wise advice of two writers from years ago.

Here’s where some of the vulnerability comes from: Over the past two years my writing has taken a sharp turn toward the personal, even the intimate. (If you want an example, check out Outside/Inside.) It includes elements of my heart I do not share easily—some of which I thought would remain secret forever. Like my earlier writing, this level of intimacy has the earmarks of a calling: a nudge from the One I call God to put this stuff into the world for reasons I can barely glimpse.

Talk about feeling exposed.

This is exactly why the words of those two wise writers—including the marvelous, gone-way-too-soon Rachel Held Evans—have come to mind. I heard Rachel speak on her experiences at a writer’s workshop some years ago, and she said it’s critical for spiritual writers to preserve a sphere of privacy around themselves, especially if their writing hits close to home.

I’m just starting to understand why it’s important. Privacy is where we can go when the world is too much for us. Privacy is where ideas start to germinate, plans of action get processed, random feelings come and go and get discarded or get attention. Privacy is where things form—not just articles and essays and whatnot, but my response to the world in general: to friends, to the folks I see in spiritual direction, to the dark age we find ourselves in.

This is doubly true for me as a contemplative. I can’t process anything without stepping back, taking it into my heart, and pondering it for a while. (This makes for some goofy social interactions—like when someone greets me with “Hi! How are you?” and it takes me 10 seconds to think through my response.)

I imagine that some people don’t need this sphere of privacy. What about you? How much privacy might you need, and for what reasons?