“Time heals all wounds.”
We stitch it on pillows. We write it in condolence cards. We post it as our Facebook status when we’re really feeling down.
It’s turned into one of those hollow statements we say out of obligation. It’s like when you accidentally say, “you too” even when you’re not supposed to. Like when the waitress tells you to enjoy your food and you mindlessly reply, “you too” only to realize she won’t be enjoying any meals on your watch. It’s just a conditioned response. It’s a phrase we offer up when we have nothing left to say, when we’re grasping in the dark for something to hold on to.
We think we’re helping. But I’m starting to wonder if “time heals all wounds” might be wounding us even more. What if it’s not exactly helping and actually hurting?
What if time doesn’t really heal all wounds?
At first, hearing that time would heal my wounds offered me a little comfort. But I found myself wishing the clock would tick at warp speed. I found myself staring as the minutes crept by and I still felt pangs of hurt piercing my heart. I looked ahead at my calendar and flipped past month after month hoping that surely the next calendar year would offer me a respite from the pain. Surely the next week would be better. Surely each passing month would stitch me up. Eventually I wouldn’t hurt anymore and I would be perfectly healed as I looked back on the weeks, months, and years I spent so wounded. My pain would be a distant memory. I wouldn't care I lost my dad.
I kept thinking time would be some Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and would slowly scrape the hurt away. But then it didn't.
Time failed me. Just as most things do.
Why didn’t the rising and setting suns save me? Why did I still burst into tears at weddings? Why would I find myself sitting in the bathtub sobbing uncontrollably? Why would conversations elicit fear and pain? Why did the memories flood me in the night? What was this pounding on my chest and this burning in my sides? Wasn’t it supposed to go away with the seasons?
Then I started to feel ashamed. Because I had grown up hearing that time would heal my wounds I felt like a failure. I found myself angry that I had spent so much precious time waiting on time. I was hurt that I was still hurt. I started to feel like a freak because I was still so wounded. If people say time heals all wounds, then what’s wrong with me that I’m still grieving?
So instead of hurting I started hiding.
I didn’t want anyone to know that time’s magical touch had escaped me. I felt passed over and forgotten by Father Time. I decided to pretend the pain wasn’t there anymore. Surely if you will yourself out of your wounds then you won’t be so injured, right?
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Time just gives us perspective.
When we tell people time heals their wounds we’re doing a few things. We’re offering them the false expectation that one day they won’t grieve anymore. That one day, after enough days have passed they’ll finally feel restored. They won’t wish or want or hurt or cry. They’ll simply be “over it” and whatever funeral they’ve attended, metaphorical or otherwise, won’t matter anymore. It’s not fair to tell people that time will heal their wounds.
We’re promising them far too much out of time. It’s not fair to time and it’s not fair to our friends. The truth is it’s always going to hurt. It will always be tough to go to those places, see those faces, and relive those memories. It will be gruesome to make new memories to layer on top of the old ones.
But time does offer us perspective. It gives us new things to focus on, new problems to face. It has this funny way of allowing us to look back and see the bigger picture. It won’t heal us but it will give us a glimpse of some sort of master plan. If we look very hard we’re able not to redeem our pain, but to grasp a redemptive perspective on what happened to us. We will connect. We will say "me too."
Time allows us to stop saying, “why me” and start saying “now what?”
Secondly, when we tell people time will heal their wounds we’re trivializing their future pain. It doesn’t free our friends up to feel what they’re truly feeling because they’re convinced that they shouldn’t feel anymore. I think we have good intentions, most people do, but instead of reaching for a cliché it might be time to reach for each other.
It’s really easy to want to offer up words of encouragement when someone’s at a loss or in a loss. But maybe it’s time to stop talking about time. We want to brush off the pain because it’s uncomfortable. No one wants to sit in discomfort. Phrases like “time heals all wounds” help us escape the awkward silence and put a band-aid on said wound. But I don’t think our friends need a band-aid. They need a hug. They need the space to breathe. They need to know that it’s okay to revisit the pain when it cripples them in a few months or years.
People need to know that grieving is a lifelong art that very few people practice.
When we tell people time heals all wounds we discount a wounded Healer who came to restore the deepest parts of our stories. We look to time to save us instead of a God who so graciously already did.
We look at our clocks and ask them to wipe our tears away when we have a Savior who promises He will.
Time can’t heal me. Time can’t make me better. But there is Someone who can. I can’t keep putting my hope in time. It will continue to fail me and continue to rip open the tender places in my heart. But I do believe in a God who was wounded so He could heal me. That is something that won’t disappoint.