The soft chimes on my phone alarm sounded on the nightstand next to me. I opened my eyes long enough to find the phone, slide the alarm to snooze, and set it back down. For one blissful second, life felt good and normal. But just as quickly, the bleak reality of my life rushed in like a bad Groundhog Day, sinking my emotions and wrenching my heart with familiar pain.
Weeks earlier, my husband had died suddenly on the pillow next to mine. Time was now marked by how many days had passed since his death.
Day 51, I wrote at the top of my journal that morning. Dan’s death created a fulcrum, dividing my life into a before and after. It became the reference point for my adult life. For our family life. “That was before Daddy died” or “that was the first Christmas after Dad died,” I’d remark to my kids trying to place a memory.
The Incongruity of Time
Time warped altogether that first year. In the bubble of my own broken heart, time slowed and the rest of the world faded away. But it also incongruously sped up, as the fog of grief made sports practices and doctors appointments and birthday celebrations run together.
I longed to leap forward a few years, to bypass the excruciating physical ache I carried. It won’t always feel like this, I assured myself. But what did I know about this kind of grief? I could only trust that God was faithful and that, though I could barely imagine how, I’d get to a place at some point where life felt good again.
“Time heals all wounds,” it is said.
And that was my hope initially.
But I now know this adage, consoling as it sounds, isn’t true.
If time healed all wounds there would never be any bitterness. No one would simmer in unforgiveness. There would be no PTSD, no looking for love in all the wrong places, no unresolved fear or overprotective hearts. No one would get stuck in their grief.
No, time doesn’t hold any magical capabilities. Time itself is neutral. It’s not time that heals all wounds but what we do with the time after the wound.
The myth that time heals all wounds leads to two problems for the griever. First, it causes culture to hurry grievers through their pain. Shouldn’t they be over that by now? Why is she still talking about it?
It also causes the griever to question their lingering hard emotions. Is it okay to feel like this? Shouldn’t I be doing better by now?
The Reality of Lingering Loss
Secondly, the time-heals-all-wounds formula perpetuates the myth that every griever will ultimately get over every loss. That we will reach a point where we’re all better, where the loss—brutal as it was—is tied up with a tidy bow, and where we can all just move on.
This kind of cultural thinking makes me cross my arms, raise an eyebrow and start in with some questions.
How long exactly does it take to finish grieving the death of your child? When do you get over the divorce of your parents and the breakup of your family at eight years old? When does one stop missing the spouse who became one flesh with you?
Only in my own grief did I begin to understand that time doesn’t magically erase all pain.
I saw this in the book of Job. After all of Job’s suffering and his layers of deep loss, God blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former. He gave Job double the livestock and ten more children. For years, I closed the book, thinking—voila! What a happy ending. But I get it now. As full as Job’s life became, he must have forever missed his ten oldest children.
Time does not heal all wounds; God does.
Psalm 147 says God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, ESV).
The Hebrew word for “heal” in this verse is rapha which means “to heal, to heal completely, to be made whole.” One of the names God reveals for himself is Jehovah Rapha—the Lord your healer (Exodus 15:26, ESV).
Most of our healing, the acute raw pain, will soften and lessen in our lifetime if we do the hard work of processing our pain and hard emotion. But time alone may never heal all of the pain from every loss this side of heaven.
We will not be fully healed and made whole until eternity. It is normal and right to miss our loved ones and the life we had with them.
It is not time that heals all wounds. It is the God of time who will heal every wound in eternity.