Time is a Terrible Healer

By Sam Jolman | April 30, 2010

“Evil can be undone, but it cannot develop into good.  Time does not heal it.  The spell must be unwound bit by bit with backward mutters of dissevering power.  Or else not.”  C S Lewis

“There are some things that time cannot mend.”  Frodo

“You’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it.”

I should be over this by now.
  I sipped my beer, as a friend sat unaware of the thoughts brewing in my heart.  Apparently, my poker face worked better than I imagined.  I needed it today.  I was already having my bluff called.  He had asked for this meeting to intentionally confront me with the undeniable evidence that I had wronged him recently.  I spoke ill of him in a joke that told a little more truth than I wanted.  “Sam, that hurts…”  Now I gulped my beer. “…You can be so guarded in our friendship at times, like you keep me at arms length and don’t want me to come near.”  I had to admit this was all true as well as the fact that I guard myself because I am actually really threatened by him. 

And inside it suddenly felt like someone dimmed the lights and started a movie reel of several old moments in my boyhood.  Seriously.  There was the moment in 6th grade, standing in the middle of a pickup football game, I could no longer hold back the agony of realizing I never got passed the ball by my friends because I really sucked at the sport.  That powerless feeling punched my gut and doubled me over better than any bully.  From that day forward I stayed inside during recess and played chess with the nerds.

Another moment came across the screen.  Its junior high and I’m at a sleep over with a group of the guys – pizza, a movie, and an all night wrestling tournament to see who’s the strongest amongst us.  Its my first match and I have to take on Kyle.  Kyle and I had history of this kind already.  He was my 7th grade nemesis, terrorizing me constantly.  We’d sorta become friends since then.  But now in a showdown again, he had me pinned in 2 seconds flat, him giggling some sinister laugh the whole time.  He took me and my sense of strength out in one foul swoop.  

What are these doing here?
  My old wounds were surfacing as fresh as the day they were dealt.  But of course these memories were here.  These were the moments when I came to believe I could never be a match of strength with my peers.  I must be inherently weaker.  My only hope I concluded to be my ability to guard myself from them.  Apparently, I’d been living like that for some time now.

How could I still be struggling with this? It happened so long ago, what does it matter now anyway?  If I had a dollar for every time I heard this in my counseling office, I could see people free of charge.  Obviously, I feel it too.  I have those things that come back to the surface from time to time and they feel so ancient and old and forgotten. 

Most of these things are born from the painful events of our past.  It is the nature of the human heart when inflicted with pain and left without a loving embrace, to hide itself deep within, to dissociate as we say, to tune out.  Given a choice between fight or flight, most times our hearts run away.  We go numb or repress the hurt deep within.  We all do it.  Its a coping technique.  Most times, though, after we’ve escaped the danger, we don’t process the hurt.  That’s the problem.  Try and just forget about it, we tell ourselves.  We may even have others telling us to just let the balm of time do its work. 

Time alone has never healed anyone of anything.  Sorry to have to break it to you.  Even with your body, when you get a cut or break a bone, its not time all by itself that heals your injury.  Its what your body does over time, the healing processes that kick in, that repair the break or mend the wound.  The same is true for your heart.  There is a process of healing that must be entered into.  What you do with those wounds, with your heart, over a period of time – that’s what heals.  Time and attention, as my friend Joel says.  Time and attention.

Paul said famously, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  And every married couple hangs there head in shame whenever they hear this because eventually we all have a fight where we go to bed steaming hot mad.  Although its a lot easier to sleep when you’re not mad at your spouse, I don’t think Paul meant his statement as a simplistic list topper for some set of marriage “rules of engagement.”  I really don’t think this passage is about marriage or even just anger.

I think Paul’s offering more of a metaphor for time, that what we do with time is as important as what we do with our anger or anything else going on in our hearts.  I hear him pleading, “Do not let too many days pass on what’s stirring within.  Too many dusks will tempt you to forget about your anger or pain or sexual abuse or divorce and just let if fade into the shadows of memory past.”

Paul says this way of life, “…gives the devil a foothold.”  Yikes.  By letting something important in your life slip into the long forgotten past, you give the devil real estate in your inner world.  And evil would love nothing more than to dance you around like a marionette and run your life without your even knowing it.  Its the way I could unknowingly hurt a friend without realizing it.  Some old wounds in my past, long forgotten, had shaped a certain way of relating to my world, my friends.  And that was bringing harm unaware.

I sipped my beer again.  And over the rim of my glass I noticed my friends hand shaking just a little bit.  Was he actually nervous about sitting with powerless me?  The boy in me dropped his jaw in disbelief.  I apologized to my friend and let him in on the movie reel playing in my head, the boyhood wounding I’d suffered here before.  “Sam, you swing a big sword.  It makes it intimidating to come to you.  But I want to be your friend.”  He took the risk to love me.  This was not a friend to fear, but one to lean into.  He was offering a hand up to the boy. I can tell you that day brought great healing for me, started a process of paying attention to a way of relating that I have long forgotten in my boyhood past.  A part of my story came back from darkness into light.  I felt like I got more of my heart back that day.  I did. 

Don’t forsake your healing to the hands of time alone.  Your story must be told to be healed.


  • Your thoughts have given me a lot to think about today. Thanks for sharing.

  • Glenn… You are welcome. Hope its a fruitful time of reflecting.

  • I've been seeing a lot today on the subject of time healing wounds. And for no apparent reason I popped over to your blog and here it was again. You have definately given me something to think about. If time does anything it all it just makes it harder to come back around and deal with it.

    Hope you're doing well. It's getting hotter here in sunny Iraq and man I'm ready to come home.

  • Eric, I love that you just happened to be thinking about time and healing on a random day, deep man that you are.

    Hope you're homecoming is soon.

  • I’ve spend greater parts of weeks trying to forget my pain, thinking that it is what God wanted me to do so that I could get on loving him. Thannks for this post, it’s motivating me to move forward.


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