When Bernice and I visit a newly widowed friend, we will invariably be asked, “how long will it take?” No explanations needed. We know precisely what is being asked. How long before one gets over the crippling, agonising pain of loss? How long before life regains some sense of normalcy? We get asked this because Bernice and I have lost spouses in our own journeys. We often hesitate before we answer. We hesitate because we know that, though we have both experienced widowhood, each person’s journey is unique. And there are so many variables, for example was the death expected or was it a sudden death. We usually end up saying that it normally takes one to two years to get over the worst of it. This is what the experts say and it is true. We also throw in the warning to watch out for triggers like New Year, Christmas, Father’s/Mother’s day, when the pain can suddenly be very acute again.
There are other things we want to tell our newly widowed friends, but we can only allude to them when the loss is recent. For one, we want to tell them that, in time, the wounds will no longer hurt but that in some ways we will carry those wounds with us the rest of our lives. Even Jesus continued to carry the marks of His wounds in His perfect resurrected body (John 20:24-29). If all that is good in this life is taken over into the next, and since Jesus still carries the marks of His passion, we can safely assume that God has transformed those wounds into something good and that He can do the same with our wounds. If we put our wounds in the hands of God, He can heal them and make them a source of growth and healing, for ourselves and for others.
That our deepest wounds can be the source of our most significant growth and a source of significant healing for others was something I first learnt from an early book by the late Henri Nouwen. In The Wounded Healer (New York, NY: Doubleday 1972), Nouwen writes: “But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon — a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.(84)” Nouwen also understands that our wounds can be a source of healing for others. He reminds us that ” . . . he who proclaims liberation is called not only to care for his own wounds and the wounds of others, but also to make his wounds into a major source of his healing power. (83)”
I happened to be preaching from 2 Corinthians 4 last Sunday and encountered afresh this paradox of “life from death.”
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NET)
Linda L. Belleville comments:
Christian reaction to adversity has tended to be “grin and bear it” or “keep a stiff upper lip.” Paul’s approach is to make clear that it is God’s power (v.7) and the life of Jesus (v.10) that empower and sustain him, and not his own fortitude. It has been debated whether by ‘the life of Jesus’ Paul has in mind a human mode of existence or the power of the risen Christ. It need not be an either-or choice. The already/not yet character of salvation means that Christ’s resurrection power is already impacting human existence. Paul acknowledges this very thing in his summary statement, ‘So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’ While the Corinthians might have looked on hardship (death) as incompatible with a Spirit-directed ministry, it nonetheless produces a life that even now is at work, or better yet, is “energizing” (en + ergeo) them. (2 Corinthians, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, 122, 123.)
Recently we visited a friend, newly widowed. She asked, “How long?” We hesitated and then answered, “One to two years,” with the usual qualifiers. We mentioned that in time, not only would she heal, she would find herself stronger than before, uniquely equipped to minister to others. We didn’t press the point. All she can see now is the wreckage of the personal tsunami that hit her. We knew there would be no short cuts, but seeing our friend’s faith, we were also confident she will discover that ” . . . the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated his new creation” (Nouwen, 96) and that it is our deepest wounds that make possible our most significant growth, and that God will use our deepest wounds as a source of healing for others.