The Spiritual Friend as Witness

Musician and singer Marc Cohn has me thinking this week about the spiritual value of friends who do more than “hang out” or spend time with us.  An important role in any spiritual friendship is the role of witness.  Someone who allows us to name our struggles, explore their interior, and testify to the efforts we have made to live with faith, courage, and integrity.

That can be a lonely journey and it is easy to lose our way:

  • We can be tempted to surrender to darker forces.
  • We can lose track of the issues at stake.
  • We can be driven and overcome by fear.
  • We can despair.

And, even if we continue to live in a courageous fashion, it can be easy to forget the details of the journey — minimizing the work of grace in our lives.

In times like that a friend can witness to our journey, reinforcing our commitments, strengthening our resolve, and reminding us of God’s love along the way.  That kind of care is an extension of the Incarnation — the experience of God’s presence made possible by the living presence of one who shares that space with us.

If you have a spiritual friend of that kind, give thanks — to him, to her, to God.

If you have yet to find a friend like that, begin to look and remember that one of the best ways to cultivate that kind of friendship is to begin by being that kind of friend to someone else.


The lyrics of Cohn’s music and a link to his performance can be found below:

When your longest night is coming down
When pieces of you hit the ground
When every word they say about you is a lie
When they put your soul up for review
When they’re set on turning every screw
Call on me and I will testify

Let me be your witness
Let me be your witness
Let me be your witness

When no one sees and no one hears
Your secret heart
Your bitter tears
When it feels like you’re just sinking in the sand
When you cant remember who you are
When you wonder how you came this far
Call my name and put me on the stand

Let me be your witness…

To your mystery
To your ecstasy
To the tears you cry
I will testify
To your longest night
To how hard you fight
To your inner light
A higher place
Your grace
To where you are
And to who you’ve been—
To your heaven
To your hell
Let me be your witness
Let me be your witness.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.