Could there be any greater wound to our heart, soul, and spirit than the death of one we love? No, surely not. No disappointment or betrayal in life has the same brute force, the crushing power to wound us as death.
I spent several weeks this summer cleaning out my mother’s house. When I finished I inspected the self-inflicted wounds on my body that happened in the normal course of lifting and toting. I realized with more than a little dismay that there was hardly a square inch on my extremities – and a few places in between – that did not have a bruise, a scrape, a bump, or a scratch. My vanity chafed at my own clumsiness – could I blame my wounds on the number and size of the boxes I moved rather than my self-perception as a bit of a klutz? Yes, I must redeem my dignity and claim the satisfaction of the accomplishment.
I knew it would take a week or two for the bruises to fade and the scratches to heal. I hoped there wouldn’t be any scars to remind me of the grief and sense of loss associated with the task. In addition to my visible and hidden wounds, when I finished there was a kind of emotional hangover that lingered in my mind and heart for several days. I realized that, despite my ability to sort and dispose with remarkable objectivity, really the job had been a very subjective, emotion-laden part of my grief for a less than ideal relationship and a mother’s unconditional love that never was.
The psalmist offers us this assurance, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3 NRSV). It’s enlightening, astounding really, to consider the sequence of the promise - God first heals then binds up our wounds. Perhaps this is the spiritual order of life – when we grieve we long for healing in our heart and soul, then we tend to our wounds.
When one we love dies all we know is that we want the pain to go away. We’re hurting, yet often we have no idea how to access God’s presence and power to heal our broken heart. Some of us ask whether it’s even possible to be healed from grief. For a while we may not really want to be healed - we’d rather stay in our place of loss and pain because it’s comfortable there, it feels like we’re closer to our loved one.
The best analogy for healing is the human body. If we’re physically injured, our wound is usually finite – over time we expect the body to heal. But death wounds our inmost soul and spirit. For some the wound is so immeasurable that, at least for a time, healing seems impossible. The greater our love for the one we've lost, the larger and deeper our wound. It’s the wound of death that causes us to grieve.
The second part of the promise, to “bind up our wounds”, implies an intentional partnership with God. There’s a self-help component to our healing. We need to do our part, otherwise healing will be incomplete - grief will leave us emotionally handicapped for life. God more easily binds up our wounds when we affirmatively abandon the resentments of the past, the pain of unfulfilled hopes, the dreams of what will never be again. There may be a scar where the emotional adversities of life have found space in our heart to live and grow, but when we do the work of self-care within our very soul, the scar slowly fades. It remains in our heart as but a faint reminder of our pain and sorrow, our love and loss.
God’s healing for us, the brokenhearted, is gradual restoration to spiritual wholeness and fullness of life. Sometimes we know we’re healed when we find someone new to love, when life again returns to peace and joy. And if we believe the promise, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”, we move forward in faith ready to receive the gift of healing. With unshakeable hope and belief in the future we live again, our wounds of heart, mind, soul, and spirit healed by God’s triumphant grace.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord.
Jeremiah 30:17 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the promise of your healing. Amen.