A Time to Heal

“Time heals all wounds.” Dozens of well-meaning people have said this to us since our oldest son, Christopher, died in a car accident over two-and-a-half years ago. The intensity of emotions and shock do lessen over time but are diminished feelings really the measure of true healing? I have met countless people in my law enforcement career drowning their sorrow and pain from decades-old trauma with drugs, alcohol, sex, suicidal behaviors, etc. Time had indeed marched on for them since the initial tragedy, but they were far from healed. The tremors radiating from their wounds had cratered their souls, bruised their emotions, and crushed their spirits. No amount of time will heal the damage to our spirit from trauma or extreme grief. Only God can.Time

In John Eldredge’s book Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, he states: “Scripture is abundant and clear: Christ came not only to pardon us, but also to heal us. He wants the glory restored . . . let this sink in: Jesus can, and wants to, heal your heart.”

Healing for the Christian is not merely numbed feelings or receding sorrow, but God’s glory, purpose, and mercies fully restored in us. In my own rocky journey, I’ve found three crucial components to a God-centered healing and restoration.

Surrender the heart. The largest obstacle to healing often isn’t the circumstance or events, but our unwillingness to fully open our wounded spirits to God, those deep, hidden, and most broken areas of our hearts. Fear of reliving the trauma and anguish keeps us from letting God do the necessary heart restoration—like a child with a broken arm desperately clinging to it, not allowing the physician to touch it. Yes, letting God work in those areas can elicit strong emotions, but like the setting of a bone, the temporary pain is necessary for the healing to begin.

I struggled with this for quite a while. I wasn’t ready to let God into the most injured parts of my soul after losing Chris. Thankfully, the Lord was patient and gently brought me to the point of surrender. Allowing God into these guarded wounds, which look different for each of us, must be an intentional act. We need to lay down the defenses, excuses, and anxieties at the Lord’s feet, understanding our Heavenly Father wants to heal us. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3 NIV)

Keep a godly perspective. Why did this have to happen to me? Why did my son have to die? It simply isn’t fair. Ultimately, the cry of injustice invades our thinking when tragedy strikes. God can’t possibly understand. Or worse, he’s indifferent to our suffering. Anger and disillusionment set another obstacle to healing. Does God truly understand or care? Aside from being our Creator and knowing us intimately, Jesus left the Throne of Heaven, surrounded by legions of angels worshiping him day and night in perfection and glory, to come to the sin-saturated Earth and experience all the pain of humanity—catastrophic loss and suffering. He was rejected by his creation, tortured, and brutally murdered, and yet, he loves us so much that he still chose to suffer all these things for our blessing and benefit (Hebrews 2:9-10). Jesus understands perfectly our pain, loss, and suffering because he lived it, and he’s asking us to walk with him through our trials as he walked with the Father through his.

God not only understands our pain, but He has purpose in it. As the often-quoted scripture says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Pastor Rick Warren, after his son’s heartbreaking suicide, said in a sermon series, “Don’t waste your pain, let God heal it, recycle it, utilize it and use it to bless other people”

Since Chris’s passing, the Lord has opened multiple opportunities for our family to minister to those who have lost loved ones, and my capacity to empathize with the hurting and broken has grown exponentially through this process. No one can speak into the life of a wounded person like someone with a similar experience. Allow God to use your pain and your story to help those around you.

Choose to live again. When treading water in a sea of despair and heartache, it’s hard to imagine living life again. Smiling. Laughing. Looking forward to the future. Experiencing the joy of the Lord. Trauma and extreme grief cast a thick pall over any such hope. God instructs us to “patiently endure” through trials (James 1:12), which we should do, but there comes a point when He also calls us to much more than simply “enduring.” He wants us to live a Spirit-filled and abundant life (John 10:10). If we’re so crippled by the wounds of the past that we focus only on ourselves—our pain, our scars—we will never fully experience the blessed life and mission God has for us. I’m still working on this one, but His light is slowly piercing the darkness like the first brilliant rays of a new dawn.

We cannot return to the life we lived before the tragedy, no matter how much we may wish it. The wound will always be there, but God desires to restore our souls and walk with us all our days (Psalm 23), so it’s incumbent upon us to let Him.

If you’ve ever suffered trauma or extreme grief and are still struggling, please consider seeking out a licensed Christian counselor or your pastor to walk with you through the healing process, and pray and ask the Lord to open the closed areas of your heart, to give you a godly perspective, and to pour out His spirit, purpose, and joy on your life as you move forward.

God in the Pit of Despair

Five months have passed since the tragic events of July 11, 2017, when our beloved oldest son Christopher was killed in a car crash on the way home from work. Those first moments and hours were chaotic, confusing, and excruciating as we struggled to come to grips with what had happened. Nothing can adequately prepare a parent for the loss of a child. The closest I can come to describing it is this: I liken it to being cast headfirst into the deepest, darkest pit imaginable—and then your soul implodes. I never knew there could be that much pain in this world.

I had told my children many times from an early age that if something ever happened to me, I didn’t want them to be angry with God. As a police officer and Christian father, I felt I was doing my due diligence preparing them for a fallen, broken world and to the realities of police work. We talked often that tragedy, adversity, and trials don’t change the fact that God is still God (John 16:33). The essence and core tenants of our faith in Christ were not dependent on our situation, and, yes, sometimes bad things, horrible things, can happen to good people—but, of course, it was all theory until that day. Reality had come crashing down hard on us. I never dreamed my words would boomerang back to me with the loss of one of our children.

Almost immediately after receiving the news, I was overwhelmed with the sense that Chris was standing with Jesus, watching us and wondering if we would remain faithful through this tragedy. The fact that Jesus was watching should have been enough, but the added pressure of Chris, our amazing son who loved the Lord, looking on from Heaven shook me. I did not want to disappoint or embarrass my Lord or my son by crumbling under such a catastrophic trial and abandoning everything I had believed or said I believed, but I could only muster the guttural cry of my heart, “God help us.”

Family and friends arrived at our house that night to console, grieve, and pray with us. I would love to say that God immediately lifted us out of our pit of despair and gave us instant peace and clarity. He didn’t. He did, though, reach his loving hand down into that pit and held fast to us, as He has been doing every day since. He anchored us during the emotional storms of anger, sadness, and anguish. He gave us the strength to rely on Him and pray, thanking Him for Chris’ life and praising Him amid gut-wrenching sorrow. We witnessed God’s power displayed in Justin and Shannon as they stood at Chris’ Celebration of Life, honoring their brother and God with passion and authority that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

I’ve wondered a thousand times if I could continue to press forward, endure, and walk in faith. At each juncture, when the pain and doubt were at their worst, Jesus would show up at just the right moment in miraculous ways, and He gently restored me when my faith faltered or waned. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” 2 Timothy 2:13.

We are still in the pit, although more and more light is piercing the darkness with each new day. Waves of grief wash over our family at different times and in different ways, and the spiritual battles have been real and intense. But the Lord’s hold on us has not wavered one iota. I don’t know if we’ll ever be drawn from this pit, but the one thing that has made it bearable is knowing that the Creator and Sustainer of All Things has been and continues to be with us, here, in the darkest, most challenging time of our lives.