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How to be a witness


I stand at the bottom of the steps listening to what I can only describe as death. Struggling to find words or direction I feel the chaos and immeasurable fear rising above me. In me. Every beat of my racing heart counts the cost. Weighs the words. Measuring all that has already been lost, I struggle to hope for what could be regained. It’s a risk, either way.

But I’m a witness.

I learned a long time ago that research tells us witnesses rarely stand up. Far too often they cower and watch. Silent, bystanders hang in the shadows or the sidelines and do nothing. Afraid to fight for those unable to stand up for themselves, they silently condone what is happening by inaction. Unwittingly, we become perpetrators by default.

Sitting with my friend in a coffee shop, she leans against the high back chair as the most beautiful smile stretches across her radiant face. She looks me in the eyes and says “I cannot tell you what a joy it has been to watch you, this last year, be a witness to your life.” Her words fall upon me like rain.

A witness. To my own life.

No longer content to react to the story of my past, I choose to hold up the whole of my life and bear witness to it. The light, the dark, the fears, uncertainties, failures and pain. All of it. My mission over the last decade, and more determinedly the last five years, was to discover who I am. To uncover the things that have driven me..and the things that still drive me now. To design a life I love, not one that just feels like my past.

Being a witness has been brutally, beautifully, painful work. Honestly, it still is.

In a moment I’m back on the scene and I realize that a witness does not remain silent. She does not watch or listen. Instinct forces upon me the weight of it’s truth that a witness acts. She moves. In many ways it’s been a long walk in the wilderness. A wandering. An unknowable path through a desert I didn’t dare to hope would birth redemption. An imperfect response to a single prompting: Follow me. Alone on the trail I savor the sorrow and joy, the suffering and deep gladness of my life. The depth of the place where the chasms meet.

Pouring myself into the pages of a past riddled with rejection, unworthiness and fear I come face to face with surrender. My mind wholly incapable of understanding the mystery of a grace that would seek to find me, and refuse to leave me the same.

It’s a delicate balance, this life. When to go and when to stay. When to speak and when to stay quiet. But we’re a witness of our life. And we’re also called to be a witness in this life. And sometimes the potential cost far outweighs the risk. Life, worthy of sacrifice.

The tongue has the power of life an death, and those who love it will eat it’s fruit. -Proverbs 18:21

The most lethal of all weapons is our words. Once spoken they can never be taken back. Only forgiven. But sometimes an apology never comes. Sometimes the death only escalates.

If we let them; fear, shame and insecurity will drive our lives. Fueling our fears and addictions, we clamber for importance. We search for approval and acceptance not out of mercy but demand. We persecute and punish and posture ourselves superior. If only we can get them to obey. Slowly, unknowingly, we’ve become our god.

Often the ones with the strongest swords are the ones most badly wounded.

Back in the coffee shop our steaming mugs stand between us. It’s about all that’s between us, as words and life and story pour out. Each sip reaching deeper into us. Our story, our suffering and the unspeakable joy interwoven in all the pain.

As we stumble through details and messiness and ever-present darkness we revel in the mystery that there is still so much light. That the darkness that threatens to swallow us whole just doesn’t see it.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. -John 1:5

You are a witness. You’re a witness of your own life, a witness to the world by the way you choose to live your life, and a witness to those who do not know life. A witness to the life that is the light of all mankind.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. -John 1:6-11

His own did not receive Him. 

Do you struggle to convince your own family, or the people you love to see the life that is the light of all mankind? Do you struggle and strive to reach them in the pursuit to save them from suffering?

Suddenly in the midst of my struggling and striving, and the chaos that causes me to be afraid, I find peace. Peace in the comfort not one is mine to save. I’m only called to be a witness.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:7-9

May we have the courage to be a witness. To continue bearing light and truth in the midst of a world that is so threateningly dark; knowing God cannot be mocked, and we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Here are five ways to be a witness in this dark world:

1. Focus on your own life: You cannot control the actions of others. You cannot make them see the light that is in this world. But if you live your own life to the standards of which you speak, someday they might see it in yours.

2. Do not shrink from the darkness: The darkness is all around us. Sometimes it rises up in us. But do not be afraid. In this life you will face trouble, but God has already overcome. Be strong and courageous.

3. Be strong in the Lord and His power: Put on the full armor of God, so that when the time comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. See Ephesians 6:13-17

4. Surrender: Ultimately you are not responsible to save anyone else, no matter how much you love them. Faith is believing that God will protect, He will provide, He will restore, and He will save. *Note: If someone is in danger, ask for help. Do not look away or try to bear the weight alone. Sometimes being a witness is literally bearing witness to what you know.

5. Love: We have been given no greater or more difficult commandment, than to love. Whether that is loving others or sometimes even loving ourselves, it’s one of the hardest things we will ever do.

Not one of us are called to save. We are merely called to bear witness to the one who can. While that may mean stepping out from the shadows, standing up for those who cannot speak, or bearing witness to what you know, it does not require you to save someone by yourself. Be a witness. Surrender your fear and your desire for control, and let God take care of the rest.

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