The atmosphere in my 11th grade classroom was tense and expectant. I left my usual spot in the front of the room and settled myself in a desk in the middle back instead. It was speech day. The persuasive speeches were supposed to be a light-hearted look at rhetoric, giving the students an opportunity to display their knowledge of ethos, pathos, and logos. But something entirely different happened in that classroom, something as beautiful and unexpected as it was unplanned.
One student after another took the front of the room and displayed amazing courage in sharing personal life experiences. We had discussed at length the fact that the best speeches are the ones that touch genuine emotion. I knew it would be difficult for the students to speak in front of their peers, so my expectations were low. So I was not prepared to see the classroom transform into a platform of emotional courage. One student told a story of a pregnancy scare that left her so full of shame that she attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized. She teared up as she described how music helped her through that dark time. As I looked around the room, other eyes were full of tears at her honest admissions. She told me later that it was the first time she had ever told anyone that story.
Another student, a quiet, polite young man, was persuading us that hunting was a useful, practical use of recreational time. As he began to share about how much hunting meant to his family, he related a story about a death in the family, his uncle. In the public telling of the story, he also became choked up. “I’ve never cried about this before,” he told us, “It’s never hit me like this.” But something about sharing real emotion publicly makes us experience it more keenly than even when the moment occurs. When we pass on our most human stories to a kind audience, something about that touches us deep inside. For this student, he found that he had never actually grieved his uncle’s death.
After sharing with the class her experience of bullying, another student stayed after class to relate to me more tragic history in her family: rape, abuse, and heartache. She told me how she had found more healing recently in going to church than she had in her whole life.
I learned that day about the power of testimony, bearing witness in the presence of others and owning our own unique story. Revelation 12:11 tells us, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” The word of testimony from the saints of God overcomes the power of the evil one. Jesus asks us to confess Him before men, and promises to confess us before His Father in Heaven. Our public confession is powerful. We open ourselves up to tell the truth in the presence of many witnesses, and here we find moments of such tender humanity that our eyes spill over with the emotions.
Many people struggle with confessing Christ publicly in baptism. My husband, as a pastor, has had people request to be baptized privately. While he is sympathetic to the shyness felt in front of a crowd, he gently refuses to do private baptisms. Our baptism is our public confession of Christ, and it is meant to be in the presence of His holy church who rejoices to see another child enter the kingdom.
To those who struggle with this issue, I would point them to the freedom my students found that day in the classroom. To tell the whole story of who you are before others and let your heart be seen, even in a small way, is a freeing experience. God will surely give you the joy of obedience and the assurance that He is telling you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”