It is human nature to want to present our best face to strangers, to our loved ones, and to our friends. We would like to cover up those not-so-glorious moments, the failures, the struggles, the wrong choices we have made and the consequences that came of them. There is a tendency in our hearts to tell ourselves that our mistakes are in the past and there's no reason to bring them into the present. Yet leaving out our mistakes, covering over our failures, glossing over the struggles, rob the listener (or reader, in my case) of an opportunity to learn from that experience. I can't change the past, but by sharing it with others it is possible to redeem it. It is possible to show people that no mistake is so big that God cannot pull you through it and help you overcome it.
I was reminded of this today. I wrote a blog entry a while back called In Defense of Monogamy. It's a story of my personal experiences with living in an "open" relationship where sexual fidelity was not expected, and how devastating that experience was to everyone involved. Someone read that article just after reading a book called Sex at Dawn that basically says that monogamy doesn't matter, human beings aren't built for it, etc. However, after reading my post s/he was really touched and was re-thinking the matter. This person was grateful for the honesty of my witness, and perhaps because of it will avoid the trap that I fell into when I was younger. I am not proud of the choices of my past, but in sharing them I can redeem them.
There is another temptation - to only witness during the times when things are going well in our lives. Yet this, too, is a problem. It's a problem because it sets an unrealistic expectation that believing in God means that things will always go well for us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who signs up for Christianity believing that their life will be easier for doing so has a very rude awakening coming. Yet if I am honest in witnessing about how serving God quite often means having less material goods, or showing how some choice I've made to serve God above all else meant taking a leap of faith and spending weeks or months one day at a time, and yet showing that in the midst of the hardships and uncertainties other areas of my life (such as my faith, my humility, etc) grew because of it, my witness encourages the convert to persevere in spite of the obstacles. They begin to see that hard times are often God's way of strengthening our faith, humbling our hearts, and helping us to grow. Suffering becomes a gift, rather than a punishment, and we increase our trust in the truth of God's unchanging goodness and His desire for our ultimate good.
Witness to others, but be an honest witness. Don't be afraid to tell them about those times when you made mistakes, so that you can show others that God helped you even in the midst of your worst mistakes. Don't be afraid to tell them about the times when serving God made your life more difficult, or your future even more uncertain. Those are also the times you get to talk about how God worked in those moments to teach you more and grow your strength. Your witness has power, so shout it from the mountaintops, but be careful to be honest in your witness.