Bearing Witness

In the context of a compassionate embrace, our brokenness may appear beautiful, but our brokenness has no other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it. – Henri Nouwen


The other night, Steve and I stayed in and we were casually flipping through channels, hoping to find something good to watch. I’ve come to feel blasé about television lately.  I haven’t found much of it compelling to watch.  I watch the news, some sports and maybe some late night talk shows if I feel up to it.  So as we channel-surfed and paused on Law & Order: SVU, you can imagine, I wasn’t too excited about it.  But Steve watches the show every now and then, so I decided to give it a shot.

Needless to say, it was a disturbing episode (I’m thinking most, if not all, of the subject matter in this show is quite disturbing). Without getting into specific detail, the character who was represented as the victim brought her alleged perpetrator to court and testified about the night of the crime. After all the turmoil of trial, the defendant was eventually found not guilty. Upon adjournment, the victim became furious that she had to disclose to the public and, essentially, relive the horrible experience, and directed her anger at the detective who had urged her to testify. The conversation went something like this:

“You told me this was going to work out if I came forward about it! This was all pointless!” the victim exclaimed.

The detective then looked straight into the her eyes and said,

“Healing begins when someone bears witness.”


Some terms lose their meaning over time when they’re used too frequently.  “Bearing witness” has a lot of grandiose connotation to me.  It’s a term that was used often as I grew up in the Christian church.  But I realize it simply means to tell one’s story. A few years back when I tried to be more intentional about inner healing, one of the first things I felt inclined to do was to tell my story to people I trusted.  Being honest with other people helped me to be honest with myself.  It also helped me to see that they accepted me for who I am which helped me to accept myself.  I had begun a journey toward healing.

But then somewhere along the way, I stopped telling my story. Honestly, it’s easier not to. It’s less awkward and less heart-wrenching.  It also lacks depth and truth. It takes intentionality and effort to tell our story.  I wonder how many relationships I lost because I stopped telling my story.  I wonder how often I am quick to assume and judge because I have not heard someone’s story.  I wonder how many people out there are hurting because they haven’t told their story.

Telling our story moves us from isolation and loneliness to companionship and community. We see each other as altogether human, creating opportunities for compassion and connection. 

I won’t be watching Law & Order again any time soon, but I did learn a valuable lesson.

Tell your story. And let the healing begin.


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