No other experience can truly compare to the combined feelings of self-doubt, embarrassment, guilt and anger that have come to define a broken heart. Our pop culture understands this—at any one time, at least half of the songs on the Billboard Top 20 are either barbs aimed at ex-partners or laments over “the one that got away.” According to one study, the physiological effects of a non-mutual breakup are nearly identical to the symptoms of a person recovering from an adverse drug addiction.
But in the aftermath of a breakup, don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of that time to learn valuable insights about yourself and the nature of God. As C.S. Lewis famously said, God “shouts in our pains,” but those shouts can fall on deaf ears if we don’t know what we’re listening for.
I can relate to this, because the semester before I graduated college, the girl I’d dated for over three and half years abruptly decided to end our relationship.
For at least two months afterward, I was a complete wreck. I barely slept. I struggled through my classes. Walking around campus or driving around town became a punishment unique unto itself. I likened it traversing a minefield spring-loaded with dormant memories waiting to further perforate my soul with emotional shrapnel. Harboring hope she would realize the mistake she’d made, I clung feverishly to the false illusion of our love being restored in one romantic fell swoop of forgiveness and understanding. But that moment never came.
After two months of wallowing in self-pity, I realized my behavior was in no way a reflection of the character of Christ. As I began to evaluate my relationship with God in the aftermath of my breakup, I became more and more discouraged with what I found.
Even though I claimed to be Christian and was involved in multiple ministry organizations, for over three years my life had revolved around my relationship with my girlfriend. Pouring a majority of my passion, time, creativity and money into our relationship, I had elevated it above my relationship with God. It had become my idol, and I based my identity around the affections of another person. I was pursuing what Tim Keller refers to in his book Counterfeit Gods as “apocalyptic romance.”
God will often use the things and people we love most in this world to break us the hardest. If He doesn’t have your full attention now, He will demand it from you later. Even at the expense of great pain and heartache, God is far more concerned about our holiness than our happiness.
It hurts when God intervenes and corrects our plans, especially the plans we hold dear to our heart. But it’s supposed to. We need to be reminded that we aren’t in control. Because we inhabit a fallen world, very rarely do our plans line up with God’s plan. This is why plans of a best laid nature often go awry.
So open your ears, turn the music down and listen to what God is trying to tell you. It’s probably something you need to hear.
In the early weeks following my breakup, one of my friends told me that if I truly loved my ex-girlfriend I should continue to pursue her and attempt to win back her affections. Frankly, it’s one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Contrary to the teachings of Disney films, Top 40 Radio, and romantic comedies, don’t follow your heart, because according the prophet Jeremiah, the heart is “deceitful above all things.” Instead of following your heart, you need to follow Jesus.
According to Psalms 34:18, “the Lord will draw near to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.” But this means nothing if we don’t also attempt to draw near to Him. During life’s struggles, we should ask, “How can I best use this situation to bring You glory?”
For some of us, this may mean having an actual daily quiet time with the Lord, not just a pithy devotional reading before bed. For others, it might be volunteering in the inner city, starting a small group Bible study or going on a long-term mission trip.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that God will magically remove your pain because you start having quiet times; He shouldn’t be used as a spiritual Band-Aid for your heartache. Your motive for seeking God should always be God, not what He can do for you. My wounds still ache, and I fear the ghost of this relationship may haunt me for some time, but I’ve made peace and come to terms with what happened.
In the end, I guess you could make the argument that I did rebound quickly after my breakup. But it wasn’t with another girl. No, I fell in love with the one true God. Though it took a broken heart, I rediscovered the most vital and vibrant relationship in my life that I had been neglecting for far too long.
The greatest thing about this relationship is that my Lord will never forsake me, He will always keep His promises, and He never makes empty declarations of eternal love.