Bearing Witness to One Another’s Lives

In the movie Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s character offers the following thoughts about marriage: “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.” When I watched the movie with my mom several years ago, she asked me to find and copy the quote for her.  Sarandon’s words stood out because they spoke about marriage in a profound and realistic way rarely heard in our culture (much less from Hollywood!).*

This post is not about marriage–although a marriage relationship is a relevant context.  What the quote captures, and what I do want to get across in this post, is this reality: We all need other people to witness our lives for us.  We need people to see us live our lives and acknowledge we are living them.  People to help us connect the dots from one season to the next–to know we exist, have existed, and will continue to exist.


Living alone, it’s strange to realize how rare it is someone else actually knows what I am doing at any given moment.  To realize that if something happened to me, it would take some time for anyone to know.  Or be excited about something or find something funny and not have anyone around to tell.  Or to not even remember how to share about my day because I’m so used to not telling anyone about it.

I don’t mean to be depressing by describing this reality, but rather to explain how it is in the absence of having witnesses I have realized their importance.  I have come to treasure the ways others are a witness for me and the opportunities I have had to witness for them.  I wrote about some of these people that do this for me in my post, What Feels Like Family?

Someone not on that list–although mentioned elsewhere throughout my blog–is my counselor.  His simple presence in my ever-shifting life of the past few years has been a source of both strength and solace for me. As I considered this topic, I was reminded of what therapist Dr. Eckert recently wrote as part of her piece on therapy for The Well (I wrote a connected piece about my own experience in therapy):
“I think a huge part of counseling is being a witness to your story ā€” standing next to you and helping you see and acknowledge and understand your pain and your journey. My job is not to judge or condemn, but to bear witness. To say ā€” Yes, this happened. You felt this. You did that. You had that done to you. And Iā€™m so sorry. Now let me help you unravel what it means and how this thing has woven itself throughout your everyday, walking-around life.” 
(To read her entire piece, follow this link: Walking With You to Hope: A Therapist’s View).
A counselor can be one witness for you, but regardless of whether therapy is part of our lives, we need to practice the simple act of witnessing for one another.  I love the way Hebrews 12 describes the way  “cloud of witnesses” made up of heroes of the faith:
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
May heaven help us be witnesses for one another on earth, the kind of witnesses that help to free us from that which holds us back so we may run our race with endurance.



*I know, reading my introductory quote, you may have thought, “Did she really just say something positive about marriage?”  If you did, let me just point out that I’ve actually not said anything negative about marriage.  What I have addressed are destructive cultural attitudes towards marriage, married people, singleness, and single people (here’s a list, for starters: pieces on marriage and singleness). But… that’s not what this post was about. šŸ™‚

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One Response to Bearing Witness to One Another’s Lives

  1. josh.lequieu says:

    I liked this post. I also appreciated the footnote šŸ™‚

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