|Yeah...this is the kind of thing that I am talking about.|
So, that said, let me pick on one of the worst parts of being Baptist—testimonies. Man, I hated testimony time growing up. Say what you will about sharing your testimony in a small group, at church camp or the first week at BSM in college, testimony time was just unbearable for me. And here’s why: we all sound the same…and we are using a formula to share certain things about ourselves. In some ways it is quite efficient, in some ways it is like indecent exposure. You think to yourself, “Okay, this is guys group. That means I need to confess lust, pretend I don’t struggle with it anymore. Mention a story of how I overcame it, and encourage that brother across from me that he will be free someday…like I wish I was…oops, make sure not to say that last part out loud.” Or, if I am in a co-ed BSM group getting to know you setting, I say something like, “Well, I was raised in the church, but I had this experience in summer camp my sophomore year where I understood God was real. And I remember I cried and raised my hands. It was so good. But recently, I have been struggling with my quiet times (true!). I’m only getting like two hours a day (untrue, I actually know that my last quiet time was March 24th, 1976), and I know the Lord is calling me to more (again, true), because there is so much more for me.”
That was why I hated testimony day. It’s not that I hated the principle behind it, or wanted to reject Scripture concerning the power of the word of our testimonies. It’s just that testimonies have become, how do I say this, more about us than about Jesus in us. Our testimonies have become vaingloriousness instead of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into real life. Look at the testimony I shared. “…Mention a story of how ‘I’ overcame it…” That is really what we have replaced things with. We often add a phrase like, “And God helped (showed) me,” or “And then I prayed, and I guess God just…” to cover it up, but really the stories are about how we have overcome things on our own, and shared in a specific preapproved formula.
|Yeah...we've all sat in this circle before.|
And here’s the deal. That is real life. And that is important. But when our testimony boils down to a rote formula where we plug in the details, we aren’t really sharing our story. We aren’t really testifying what God has done in us…what we have lived. So, in other words we are using a bunch of words that do not communicate the reality of our existence and experience in relation to the actual spiritual journey that we are in and have been through.
It would be akin to going to therapy (or counseling for you good Southern folk, since therapy sounds so scary!) and only sharing the generalized concerns of humankind. Sure, that is a good thing. But you came to therapy for you. You came to get help with your ish (issues for those of you older than 50). By sharing the generalized, “Well, the economy is bad, and a lot of people have to choose between bread and health care,” is a good thought, but it doesn’t address, “But the reason I was sent here is I am a rage-aholic who yells at my kids, ran someone off the road and my wife no longer feels safe around me. Also, I have been binge drinking for two years because of the stresses of work, but can’t tell anyone, because I am a Baptist deacon, and no one can know because it would bring public shame and scorn.” See. Our testimony loses its power, because of formula. And it can separate us from what we really desire, and more importantly…really need.
But there is hope for change. If you have been around me long you probably here me ask: What’s your story? That’s what I say instead of testimony. It’s basically the same thing, but it loses a lot of the baggage and says, “Forget the formula…share what you want to share, don’t share what you don’t.” And the truth is for me it recaptures the intention of what we are after in the first place. We come to a place of understanding who this beautiful stranger in front of us really is, not a list of “appropriate to share sins” that are on a checklist. It also lets me gauge and understand what to share with this person versus that person.
Henri Nouwen talks about the allure of revealing yourself little by little…of maintaining a mystery about you instead of vomiting your life story in the first sitting. For instance, my friend John Moore knows a lot more about me than my friend Jon Quitt. John and I have lived more life together. We have lived more intentional life together. As such, I have shared things with John that I have not with Jon. But, there are certain things of my heart that I have shared with Jon that John still does not know because they are relative to the relationship. And that is the importance of destroying the formula. It allows you the space to be who you are, be safe in the relationship and experience the grace of God as it is today in your life. It is the true testimony of you and me and God today…not a sin confessed 46 times since 1943, because that was expected during testimony time.
So, what’s your story? Where is God intervening today? Where do you need help now? What are the actual significant markers that changed you…not just the ones that make the best story? Those are the things that I want to know. Those are the things that in sharing can change hearts…and reveal who you are and what God is doing. And those are the things that really have the power to change lives. So, next time testimony hour comes about, throw people for a loop. Tell your story. It might be awkward at first, but I bet, can almost guarantee you that it will change the dynamics and may help you make a new friend. And if you’re first, may allow people space to be their genuine selves.