I was reading a story in John 9 recently. As I read, I noticed that I was becoming irritated and gradually enraged with the characters in the story. You see, there was a blind man who had been blind his entire life. Suddenly a charismatic new leader, the rumored Messiah, entered the city and came to him. He rubbed mud made with his own saliva on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go wash in a nearby pool. The man went and washed and came back seeing!
Yet, the man was unrecognizable to many people in the community. They argued back and forth if it was or wasn’t him. Until he spoke up. He said, “Yes! Indeed. I am the man!” And he told them how “the man they call Jesus” had healed him. Immediately he was taken to the men in town with religious authority, and yet again the man was asked how he received sight. A second time, the man told his story; however, the Pharisees didn’t believe him either.
The Pharisees took the man to his parents and asked them what had happened. Who had healed their son? They said, “How he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” So, for a third time, they asked the man.
By this time, he was irritated that he had to explain himself again and again, but he continued to testify to the miracle. Even still, the Pharisees cast him out. When Jesus heard this, he found him and revealed himself to him. He then rebuked the Pharisees and called them out for their unbelief.
This story in John 9 might be familiar to you. It was to me; however, my rage was something new. It grew as I counted the number of times the man had to explain what had happened—not one but three times! It wasn’t enough for people to believe his words the first time, but he was taken to multiple people and given an invitation to speak up by his parents, and the Pharisees still were unconvinced.
Why is advocating for ourselves so incredibly difficult?
I’m probably the worst person to ask about being my own advocate, whether that is in my work, in my personal life, or in a restaurant if a mistake was made with my order. I don’t advocate for myself well.
There are times when I do speak up, yet it feels like I have to repeat myself like a broken record for someone to actually hear what I’m saying. I think this is especially true for women in spaces that are made up predominantly of men. We have to be invited before our voice will be heard and taken seriously.
In previous roles, I’ve asked for a component of my job to change or tried to give input in an attempt to make things better. It seemed promising at the time, but those requests were eventually pushed aside, forgotten, or I was told, “We will get to that later.” Ultimately, I left because the only solution seemed for me to try and be heard somewhere else.
I’ve only in the last few years begun to really understand the role of an advocate, and still, I struggle to get it right. This quickly became clear to me while working with college students. I encountered students who, for the majority of their lives, lived voiceless. Students from racial and ethnic minorities. Students from abuse and broken homes, who never had a choice in any part of their lives. Students who needed an advocate.
In the words of Scripture, I discovered what it means to be an advocate. Jesus engages the blind man in John 9 with tenderness and turned the Pharisees’ thinking on its head. Maybe it’s Jesus who advocates for those whose voices don’t seem to hold much weight in our society, our culture, and our world. Maybe it’s Jesus who helps us to advocate for ourselves and be better advocates for one another.
When I met with students, I pointed them first to this Jesus, who was constantly raising the voices of the oppressed and embracing them in his tender care. I told them that He was the One who would be their person when they couldn’t be their own. I told them, “This is the One that I follow, who guides me and teaches me, and who encourages me even when I’m getting it all wrong.” I told them about Jesus, the Advocate, who is teaching me how to become a competent, courageous, and compassionate advocate myself.