“Time heals all wounds.” We know it’s a cliche, and we mostly think it has some truth (but not very much). It can be offensive to say it to someone in deep pain. And it implies that the wounded person does not have to do anything while waiting for the healing to come. Unfortunately, healing usually does happen over a period of time, sometimes very long and painful. But once in a while, God surprises you with healing that doesn’t take time.
When someone comes to counseling for the first time, he may be wondering “how long is this going to take,” or “when am I going to be better?” I heard recently from a friend who sought counseling. Her husband asked her how many sessions she was going to need to be fixed. In the therapy world, we know that’s not how it works. I cannot predict how long it will take someone to heal because there are so many factors that are individual to the person. All I know is that it’s not really a quick process. (There are actually some options out there that offer accelerated results, but those tend to be rare and specialized.)
In the same way, as a life-long Christian, I have some expectations about how sanctification works, too. Sanctification is the process of being made holy and Christlike. It takes your whole life, and its pace is likewise determined by a lot of personal factors. I have known people that have grown up in the church and seem to be taking their sweet time becoming like Jesus. There are others that had a more radical encounter with Jesus and began transforming immediately. Overall, we know that God can perform miracles in healing and changing people. But we’ve come to expect that He will mostly use the natural processes of living and time to do it.
Where Scripture Shows the Process
Looking at the Old and New Testaments, we can see some examples of God using time and natural processes to change and heal people. Take for example Naaman, the Aramean general who suffered from leprosy in 2 Kings 5. His expectation was that Elisha could produce a miracle from God for the right price. But Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan River seven times to receive his healing. If God planned on healing Naaman, why didn’t he just do it immediately?
Then in the New Testament, we see Jesus using a combination of methods, short and long, to enact miracles. One man needed mud made from spit on his eyelids (John 9:6), while a girl simply needed to be invited to get up (Mark 5:41). A woman merely touched His hem and professed her faith (Mark 5:25). On the longer end, we see Jesus feeding thousands on a hillside. When the disciples came to Him to tell him to send the people home, Jesus could have snapped His fingers and banished any hunger pains that the crowd was feeling. But instead of removing their hunger, Jesus asked for participation in the miracle. The boy brought the bread and fish, the people divided into groups, the disciples passed out lunch after Jesus blessed it (Mark 6).
The process does not just apply to physical change and healing. It is also internal in the Bible. Take an example from the Old Testament. David was anointed king, but returned to the fields as a shepherd where he developed the skills and heart he would need to lead God’s people (1 Samuel 16:13). In the New Testament, Paul had an immediate heart change when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, but it was during his years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) that he developed into an apostle. God works in both the instant and in the process.
Surprises in Counseling
There is really very little that can surprise me in a counseling session at this point. I’ve heard some doozies. But lest my heart become cynical, God still surprises me. When I look at the process that I’m expecting for recovery from a mental illness, the loss of a relationship, or a major trauma, I’m in it for the long haul. But once in a while God surprises me with little turbo boosts of grace.
Recently, a client came on screen during a session. Visually, she was a different person than I saw the week before. When I asked what was different, she had no other explanation than to acknowledge that God heard her cry. The Psalms are full of refrains in which the psalmist declares that he cried out to God and God answered him. You hear about people being able to give up drugs cold turkey. Similarly, some people stop being anxious or depressed. Some people stop being triggered by trauma. It’s rare and it’s amazing, so when you see it right in front of your face you want to jump for joy.
Surprises for Me
A few months ago I blogged about the church hurt I experienced last year. It is only recently that I can make it through a Sunday without crying. There were a lot of hurt feelings, resentment, and even anger I was holding onto in regards to my previous pastors. One tiny little thing that shouldn’t have mattered was that my husband and I gave a financial gift to our pastors that was never acknowledged. I know that you don’t give in order to be thanked, but it just seemed like another piece of the heartbreak at the time.
In April, I went into my office and found in a large stack of mail a bulging envelope with several letters inside. It was from my old landlord. Typically, when I get mail to my old address, he’ll text me and ask me to come pick up my mail. This time (maybe it was a COVID thing), he gathered six months of mail and sent it to me. In this stack, there was a card. The postmark was October 2020. Six months prior. It was a thank you note.
The emotions I felt immediately were bewildering and chaotic. Here was the token I had been wanting, the lack of which added fuel to my fire of hurt. It took me a few days to process the emotions I was feeling, but then I started to feel the ice thawing. When that happened, I yelled at God in my mind: “But I’m not done being mad yet!” Nevertheless, ready or not, the healing had whooshed in. I tested it out over the next few weeks. Kind of like when you get a cast off, you test the broken bone to see if it still hurts or if it will give out on you. Nope. It didn’t hurt like it used to. Weird. This is grace. I spent so much time nursing wounds over the last year. I will need a new hobby.
How Do You Know When God Will Surprise You?
You don’t know when God will surprise you. Just know that He will. Sometimes it will be with a physical or emotional healing. You might go on hurting for a long time. We don’t know why God chooses His timing, or why some people get healing on earth while other people get it in Heaven.
While mopping the floor yesterday, an old song by Kari Jobe came on my device. It’s called The More I Seek You, and here are some of the lyrics:
The more I seek you
The more I find you
The more I find you
The more I love you
In my experience, when I seek God, He is there. When I find Him, He delights to give me little surprises that tickle me. It’s usually an insight about Him, about people, or about life that makes me smile. It makes me want to tell people about it.
So you can’t know when God will surprise you, but knowing that He will can give you hope. This week when I talked to a suicidal woman, it was the tiniest thread of hope that was keeping her going day after day. We have a much greater hope–it’s the anticipation of a surprise from our Heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts. May He surprise you with grace and healing today.