A friend once told me that we heal in layers. I wish I could remember who told me this. I want to thank them for giving me a metaphor to hold onto, one that has helped me process and move through many difficult times over the last several years. It is so simple, yet I find I have to remind myself of this concept every time I am faced with the need for healing in my life. Maybe because I am, in many ways, a linear person. I like to imagine things moving in a particular direction, preferably forward and in a relatively straight manner. I want to see progress. I want to know that I am moving toward the goal, whatever it might be and whenever I might reach it. I want to feel as though I am further along today than I was yesterday or last week.
But the process of grieving and healing is not like that. Not even a little. In fact, it doesn't really feel much like a process at all. More like a muddled mess of emotions and thoughts. More like falling backward, straining forward, and going nowhere all at the same time. At least that's how it seems until I wrap my mind around these four words: We heal in layers.
I used to think about this in terms of the long haul—this life-long journey of being refined into the image of my Savior. As I've mentioned before, it is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day reality of this growing business, feeling as though I will never be the person I was created to be, wondering why God hasn't thrown up His hands in exasperation at the slowness and the mess of my progress. How often it seems I am struggling with the same imperfections, fighting the same battles, facing the same fears, learning the same lessons over and over again. But when I am tempted to give up, I find much hope in knowing that I am healing, growing, and changing in layers. It is rarely a once-for-all victory. Little by little, each time I face the same giants, I become just a little stronger, just a little more humble, just a little more like Christ. And layer by painstaking layer, the woman I was born to be is slowly being unearthed.
Over the last few weeks, I have been frustrated, discouraged, and, yes, rather angry with the so-called grieving process in which I find myself. Much of the time, it feels as if God is playing some kind of cruel game of bait-and-switch. He points out something that needs to be processed, worked through, and overcome—and I throw myself headlong into it, wrestling, feeling, thinking, giving every ounce of strength. Only to find in the end that what I labored so hard to resolve is no longer relevant; it has merely revealed something completely different that must be dealt with. And so the story goes, over and over again. I feel defeated, outmatched by a God who is constantly changing what He wants from me. After seven awful months, it seems as though I am no closer to healing than when I began.
But then I remember: We heal in layers.
And finally I understand. These four words hold an even greater power than I realized. It seems to me that when we suffer a deep wound—death of a loved one, loss of relationship, betrayal, stolen dreams, and the like—our heart, the center of our being, becomes surrounded by layer upon layer of brokenness. And as much as I would like to jump straight to the center and heal what lies at the root of all this brokenness, I am beginning to understand that it doesn't work that way. I must start at the outside and work my way in, one layer at a time. In my linear mindset, I expect this process to get easier, less messy, more understandable with each step I take. I expect it to look and feel as though I am making progress. In reality, each layer I tackle brings me closer to the deepest part of my wound. Each layer intensifies the hurt, the anger, the loss, the confusion. And though I am moving forward, it feels as if I am going backward. I am more hurt, not less. I am more angry, not less. I feel the loss more deeply, not less. I have more questions without answers, not less.
But now I understand. I am healing in layers. And after seven awful months, I am closer to healing than when I began. I am hurt, I am angry, I am lost, and I am tired. But layer by painstaking layer, I am healing.