Whoever said time heals all wounds?

This time of year reminds me of the time five years ago when our extended family was gathered at my grandparents’ small home waiting for my grandfather to pass. It had already been a little over thirteen months since we did the same as my grandmother lost her short battle with cancer, and we knew he wouldn’t last long without his companion of over sixty years.

Various health issues, mostly heart-related, caused us to think his time would come before hers, but God knew otherwise.

In that span of a little more than a year without her, he was brought to the end of himself. He was a tough guy who didn’t mind if people were a little afraid of him, especially during my mom’s dating years. But finding his way without her made room for a know-it-all, tough guy to become pretty soft. He asked me questions about God and Heaven like a child—or a desperate old man.

My sweet grandmother, a Sunday school teacher, letter writer, slipper knitter, and dear friend to everyone, left a gaping hole when she died. If it were true that one member of a family could save the rest, we would all be in good shape.

He, on the other hand, felt as if he didn’t belong in the church. Fully aware of his brokenness, but unaware of the real gospel, he thought the church was just for those who had already gotten it together. My siblings and I were baptized as infants in my grandmother’s Methodist church and at one of the events—I’m not sure which—the minister joked as my grandfather entered the sanctuary that the roof would cave in or lightning would strike. “Only joking, only joking,” my grandfather re-enacted. But he carried that judgment with him.

In the last year of his life we talked about these themes often, but as his body grew weaker and weaker in the October days near the end, he really wanted to talk about pain he carried with him from his childhood. Our conversations all pointed back to his father and his father’s father and their sin and anger. And it was all released just in time for him to move on—or perhaps God kept him earth side until he got to the root of it, for the sake of grace. There’s no way to be certain.

Whoever started the notion, time heals all wounds, probably died from a festering infection. The thing is, we need to deal with our brokenness—the wounds caused by others and the ones we’ve brought on ourselves—because it will all rise to the surface eventually.

It’s never convenient to do the hard work of healing, but it is crucial as a process if you want your life to bear fruit. Here are some strategies that may help.

Set aside regular time for silence and solitude. I’ve known several people over the years who have neglected this practice or used busyness to hold the surface together over their brokenness. Eventually a time comes when they find themselves alone and the old stuff they’ve worked to bury, rises to the surface uncontrollably. It’s far less painful to schedule time.

Open your heart for healing. God’s intention is for us to be emotionally healthy people who can do the work he has for us, but he doesn’t go where he’s not invited. It is not the nature of God to invade the places of your life you’re keeping from him. Pray and invite God to begin his work where he sees fit. Be specific and patient in your prayers. Expect miracles.

Make an exchange with God. One of my pastors, Danny Meyer, has been preaching on this for years. We get to take our broken, fragmented life and give it to God. In return, he gives us wholeness. That looks like grace to forgive ourselves and others, peace we can’t even understand, and a life that can be used to bring the kingdom of God to this crazy world. Sounds like a good deal.

Talk to someone. In my grandfather’s case, the minister from the Methodist church began checking on him after my grandma passed away. The minister didn’t exactly meet the legalistic criteria of the older congregation he served, but his openness with my grandfather literally brought miracles. His simple confession to my grandfather that he sometimes experienced anger literally broke a century of generational sin. If you don’t have a wise, trusted friend, peer-counselor through a local church, or other counselor, pray for God to send you someone.

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with old wounds? Add to the conversation in the comments.