I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “Time heals” after my baby boy died. I know people have good intentions, but that cliche hurts. Each time it came fumbling out of someone’s mouth I’d smile and say “thank you,” but internally I’d cringe. As I reflect on this idea, almost 10 years later, here are a few things I’ve learned about healing, pain, and the role of time:
Time has not healed the pain and heartbreak of losing my son. Loss doesn’t work that way. I am still caught off guard by sudden stabs of longing. I still have moments when I sit and cry alone as old memories of his life flood my mind. Time has never made me forget. We will only begin to heal when Jesus is our guide and companion along the journey. The journey is long and winding, but we’re not alone. The truth is time-gone-by has not healed me, God has. And the form that healing takes is different than I assumed. Healing doesn’t mean He’s extracted every ounce of pain out my heart but rather He’s purifying my heart. Suffering can be so much more than heartbreak, it can be the catalyst for transformation.
It’s an inescapable truth: How we respond to suffering will significantly shape the person we become. In my journey through suffering, I discovered my participation in the healing process was vital. We can’t go through-the-motions of life hoping we’ll magically feel stronger or better tomorrow. Healing can’t happen if we check-out of our lives. I realized I needed to be active not passive. I started to use my time to read God’s Word. As I read about Jesus’s suffering in the gospels I realized He understood my own suffering—and in some mysterious sense, I was participating in His (Phil 3:10). And as I read the Psalms, I was relieved to discover that God could handle my anger and frustration. I was comforted by His love and tenderness and acceptance. I also used my time to journal and pray. Before long I was surprised to see how the pages filled with heartache and grief ended with sentences of praise and adoration. My time actively pursuing God through my suffering proved what Scripture has promised all along, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
As I continue this journey, time allows me to see the fullness of my story. It illuminates my history of transformation. I can see beauty from ashes and dry fields watered by my tears. I now have three children; an 8-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old daughter we recently adopted from China. A few years before traveling to China for the adoption, during a weekend trip with friends, I began to grieve the fact that I couldn’t have any more children. I felt guilty. I had been blessed with two little miracles but I longed for more and was angry my child bearing years were cut short. My friends encouraged me, prayed with me, and gave me permission to grieve. God used this as another profound healing moment. Little did I know, on the other side of the world, on that very same weekend, my daughter Liv was born. Like I said at the beginning, time doesn’t heal, but it does allow us a glimpse into God’s plans to turn all things for our good.
My son Smith weighed 1 pound 8 ounces. He had dark hair like mine. His tiny toes were perfectly stair-stepped like his dad’s. He came four months too early. We weren’t prepared for his arrival or departure. And at times the pain feels as real now as it did then. It’s hard to believe we’ll soon celebrate his 10th birthday. I want to do something special to mark the occasion. Will I cry? Yes. Will it be painful? Yes. Will I celebrate the fact that God changed my life through Smith’s? Absolutely. Time passes and offers us much in our suffering, but only God heals.