A highlight of my week is Wednesday evenings, when about half a dozen of us ladies slip into a church basement and study the Bible together. We are an odd assortment, but we love each other. Sometimes we laugh over zany high school memories and other times we cry over present struggles.
I’m the oldest one in the bunch (scary!) but I’ve learned so much from these ladies who share without pretense and ask questions that make me stop and think.
Recently the subject of conversion came up. One person shared about a friend who had always felt like her story was so uninteresting because nothing drastic had ever happened to bring her to Jesus. She just wanted Him from a young age and has been loving Him ever since. But she finally came to peace with her story when she realized that her serene and happy childhood was a gift.
“And that’s the beauty of the Gospel,” I said. “It meets us in all sorts of different ways.”
Ever since that evening, I’ve been thinking about that story and a verse from Revelation.
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives even when faced with death.Revelation 12:11 (NASB)
This verse describes how believers overcome the assault of the devil: 1.) By the blood of the Lamb, 2.) by the word of their testimony, and 3.) by loving Jesus more than life itself.
The middle section of that verse is burning in my heart right now. I’ve noticed that often people feel inferior about their testimony. Sometimes they think it’s too ordinary and boring, so their commitment to Jesus must be shallow and not worth much. Other times they feel their story is so extreme and shameful that either nobody would believe them or nobody could ever see them as now complete in Christ.
But stories must be told. It’s how we overcome.
I believe “the word of their testimony” applies to a much wider range of life experiences than merely the initial decision to follow Jesus. The word of our testimony encompasses all of our walk toward and with Christ. Sometimes deciding to follow Jesus is a simple matter while continuing in the path to wholeness is very difficult.
Regardless what we’ve experienced, what God has done for us is important. It’s beautiful, and it needs to be shared to shatter the enemy’s ruse. Yet, we Christians spend far too much time judging and shushing each other’s stories instead of listening to them be told.
This judgment tears me up inside. Being so selective about what and how people are allowed to share is sick and sinful. What is wrong with us when we refuse to listen to people’s stories, so that they can overcome?
What is wrong with us?
I’m especially thinking about people I know who have suffered sexual abuse in their childhoods. Somehow their stories are not welcomed, their stories are quickly shushed, their stories are written off as being too extreme or too shameful or too exaggerated or too who-knows-what.
I think sometimes writing-off stories is a natural response to not understanding abuse or not knowing what to do with the reality. But not understanding doesn’t give us an excuse not to listen. We won’t grow in understanding if we don’t listen.
I remember a situation from some years ago in which someone close to me finally felt free to start sharing her story of childhood abuse. At the time, I didn’t know what to do with it. I was in a lot of those situations with her (not as the abuser) and my perception of what happened was so different. I didn’t know how to reconcile what I experienced with what she experienced.
But then I realized that I didn’t have to reconcile it. Her story was uniquely hers, just as my story is uniquely mine. I needed to listen to her and believe her. By exposing her past, she was overcoming. Who was I to say that her effort wasn’t good enough?
Whether we’ve experienced physical, emotional, spiritual, or sexual abuse, the testimonies of how Jesus is meeting us need to be told. The Christian church will not heal until this happens.
As we listen to each other’s stories, I think we will find courage to share our own. We will find strength to seek healing. We will learn what it means to be safe in Jesus. We will hear His voice as we walk through life arm-in-arm with our friends, overcoming.