It is surprisingly difficult to write a piece that is helpful and uplifting, yet at the same time one you hope that your readers will never need. What is more unsurprising, is that while our hopes may remain that every relationship we enter into is a fruitful and enduring one, the reality is far more aligned to the fact that relationships falter as frequent as there are stars in the sky. And of course, while they are the focus of this piece, this isn’t unique to just romantic relationships; the same can be said for long-term friendships, estranged parents and even tension between siblings. Maintaining healthy relationships requires hard work from both parties that unfortunately, for one reason or the other, it can be hard to find that ideal equilibrium between individuals.
Whether amicable or not, the breakdown of a relationship can be painful and our faith as Christians does not absolve us of this pain, nor negate our deep longing for intimacy and dependency on others. Not only that, but the reasons for this pain are far-reaching; maybe you envisioned a long future with someone, countless memories have been accrued over the years, you’ve poured out your heart in ways you haven’t done to many/any others. Maybe you’ve shared yourselves physically with each other in ways that have built familiarity and comfort in the past. That person may have become part of your very identity and of course there’s always the reality that a number of breakups are painful simply because the relationship ended badly.
Irrespective of the source of this pain, breakups and heartbreak can come with a momentous wave of disappointment that can leave us lonely, lost and questioning the goodness of God for allowing us to go through such. However, God in his infinite love and compassion for us wants you to bring all that you’re feeling to His doorstep and let Him heal your heart. Hope can be found through the encouraging words of scripture, helping us to align our focus and heal well.
So humour me as we journey through some of the recognisable pitfalls and challenges of heartbreak, laced with some of my own personal experiences and a wealth of Bible verses and resources that will help get you started on that road to recovery and wholeness. For the sake of this piece, I particularly will not be touching on experiences of divorce or estranged marriages, while the encouragement given here will definitely still be applicable, I think the uniqueness of marriage breakdowns brings a number of differing implications that I myself am not qualified to speak on.
Why Is Heartbreak So Painful?
Okay, so let’s picture it together! Your relationship has come to an end, maybe it was this morning, maybe it was two years ago, maybe more. You’re feeling an overwhelming sense of pain and confusion. This might be your first heartbreak, maybe this is a regular occurrence by now. All of us in one way or another, will be prone to react to a breakup in a number of ways, some which are healthy and constructive; others not so much. Let me outline a few common reactions I’ve seen in my life and those around me. Some of which, on the surface may seem right and even productive but if done for the wrong reasons can be detrimental and bonding.1
- Feeling as though you are not worthy of love and will never find love again.
No surprises here but this knee jerk reaction to a breakup may seem all too familiar, and thankfully, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Nonetheless, in those moments, large amounts of guilt and insecurity over your breakup can leave your self esteem and confidence at an all-time low.
- Finding comfort in a number of different vices and uncharacteristic behaviour e.g. food, alcohol/substance abuse, salacious behaviour, pornography etc.
Now I’ll be honest, sometimes a light beer after a stressful day does feel good. A gluttonous meal after an unpleasant experience might calm my nerves in the moment. But ultimately, when we try and find comfort in pleasure seeking it’s our mind and our bodies way of simply wanting to feel *something*. It goes without saying that this is not a sustainable coping mechanism and if left unchecked can lead to issues of addiction and be damaging to others.
- Relentless pursuit of improving our physical appearance and life status
At first glance this seems like a great thing to do and an amazing way to bounce back after a breakup. Where this potentially becomes a problem is if this behaviour is driven by the need to make your ex partner feel remorseful, guilty or jealous now that the two of you are no longer together. Simply put, this is bondage to that person that is not healthy. Not only that, but it garners sub-conscious thoughts of “maybe if I were in better shape, or earned more money, or dressed better, then I’d be worthy of love”. Thoughts like these only work further to diminish our self-esteem and innate worth so that we may feel better about ourselves. Furthermore, they are a direct contradiction to all the amazing and lovable things that God says about you in scripture.
Feeling of shame and embarrassment sometimes may drive us away from the crowd altogether. Needless to say that this is incredibly unlikely to be beneficial. Solitude allows the mind to run wild with a number of dreamt up scenarios, the dreaded ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’. While community creates the space to air out our pain and receive encouragement, support and healing in return.
We’ve only named a few common reactions to heartbreak here, this list could most certainly go on. But the common theme across the four reactions mentioned above is that none of them address the real root of the pain we face and why it is so painful.
God’s Sovereignty Grants Hope
Now for a while it may feel good to wallow in your despair. Throw a pity party, woe is me , etc., etc. I get it. For a moment, experience the tears and emotions, by all means take the time that you need, and then, respectfully, pull yourself together. In our most painful moments, it is not uncommon to cry out to God and question His goodness. One thing we must remember however is that in addition to His goodness, we also find hope in His sovereignty. This is the God that knows the end from the beginning, that knew how your life would pan out before you were being finely knitted together in your mother’s womb.2 Deep trust in Him, the God who will surely do the right thing,3 is needed to believe that the future is indeed better than the past. While I’m sure it may not feel like it in the moment, we’re reminded that in ALL things, God is causing them to work out for our good4 and that He has a plan for you5.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine that your broken heart is indeed part of God’s good plan for your life. So alongside committing yourself to spending time in prayer, worship and the word of God for strength and renewal at this time; also take the time to look back and reflect on why it is this relationship may have fallen apart. Undoubtedly, at times like this there are moments when we look through the rear view mirror of our relationships with rose tinted lenses. Our minds paint the picture that the relationship was perfect and your joy was constantly overflowing when the reality can be a very different scenario altogether. It is an invaluable experience to be able to notice the flaws in your relationship that both you and the other person may be responsible for, learn from them and go into any future relationships with renewed wisdom, hope and confidence.
Pain from a break-up can leave us feeling insecure, unattractive, unwanted, broke, you name it! This period of self-loathing starts to eat away at our self-conscious thoughts and our personal standards. Truth be told, this is a space the enemy would love us to remain in, but this identity crisis is not a fight that one has to do alone.
“But he said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
Identity In Christ
Often times in relationships we may try and seek out many things in the other person that they were never responsible for providing in the first place. We’ve all been there, myself included. Acceptance, affirmation, security, peace, joy, value, the list goes on. These are all things that God himself has provided us with through His unconditional love and the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To hold someone in your life to the standard that only God himself can achieve in simple terms is idolatry, and it takes a heavily concentrated effort to pull them down from that pedestal and re-align our focus to the goodness of God and all He’s already provided.
Our true identity is never found in a relationship or significant other; but in the truth that we are God’s masterpiece6, fearfully and wonderfully made2, created in the image of God7, to do good works and loved so much that God gave His only begotten son that we may have eternal life with him.8
This detangling of our identity can be harder the longer you’ve been with somebody, maybe you even feel like God told you he/she was the one for you. The truth of the matter is that irrespective of your relationship status; your self-worth and value in God’s eyes is never tied to that of another. You are fully seen, fully known and fully loved as an individual.
There is a unique shame and embarrassment that often comes with a break-up. Whether you’re the one doing the breaking or the one broken up with, it’s rarely a pleasant experience to detail to friends and family how your seemingly loving relationship came to ruin. This instance of shame can lead us to reclusion and solitude at a time when we need companionship and support the most. Introspection is needed during any breakup, whether platonic or romantic. So take the time to put the scalpel to your heart and examine in which ways this heartache can be used to your betterment. A strong group of believers, uplifting you in prayer and communing together in love can make this all easier. I often find myself laughing over girl trouble with a good brother or two over FaceTime or accompanied by a good meal. While the content of our conversation is still relatively painful, I always leave feeling hopeful, refreshed and that little bit lighter. Allowing others to speak life into me, and I to them, leaves us both expectant of better days ahead and less shameful about the past. When your heart screams out that it just wants to be alone and your mind rages against affection; resist those urges and lean into community, for God may use the ordinary, everyday person to provide that much needed healing and encouragement.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” – Hebrews 10:25 NIV
Guard Your Heart
I’m sure as believers we’ve all heard these words time and time again: “guard your heart, guard your heart, guard your heart”, in fact, I once went to a conference based solely on these very three words. We learn through scripture that “everything you do flows through [your heart]”.9 So with that being said, the best advice I could possibly give you when navigating this journey of heartbreak is indeed to; guard your heart, guard your heart and guard your heart!
Now, on the surface, this is a lot easier said than done. At this time you probably still have a plethora of memorabilia and photos that keep you occupied during your loneliest moments. That hoodie probably still smells like him or maybe you made her your screensaver. Believe me, I get it; this is all too familiar for me too. But for the purpose of your healing, I encourage you to let it go. This will look different for everyone, maybe you’ll have to limit communication, delete some photos, unfollow on social media, donate some items of clothing to charity. Letting go may also take the form of forgiveness; pardoning someone for the disappointment or pain they may have caused you. Not because they necessarily ‘deserve it’, but to absolve your heart of the heaviness and extending that same grace we too have undeservedly received from God.10 While this sacrifice won’t be easy, it will be worth it. Sometimes our hearts cling to every ounce of hope there is, believing that maybe this is just a phase and we just need to get our lives together. Then there is my personal favourite; the beloved “maybe we’re just supposed to be friends”. And listen, maybe you are, who knows; whether you are capable of that now and can put the necessary boundaries in place is another thing.
When relationships falter amicably, this can sometimes be all the more painful. But, I encourage you that in order to heal wholly and move on, for the peace of your heart and to look ahead to everything else God is currently doing and will do in your life, guard your heart and do what needs to be done. A great Bible plan11 I recently completed, which is sited below, said it best:
“Letting go is painful because it causes you to step into the unknown again, leaving behind what is familiar and comfortable”
It is important that we forget the former things and look ahead; allowing ourselves, when the time is right, to open our hearts to love, trust and relationship again.
“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV
In closing, I ask you to be kind to yourself; this will take time. Heartbreak inevitably has the ability to change us, for better or worse, depending on how we react. Don’t go looking for love in the next available person to avoid the pain of disappointment you are going through right now. As relational beings, it is our natural disposition to seek and give love to others whether platonically or romantically. Understandably so then, not being able to fulfil this inherent need hurts, and may do so for a while longer than you want it to.
Some days you may feel great and other days you feel like giving up altogether. In these moments, I urge you to cast your burdens onto Christ12, acknowledging the fact that as believers ALL things are working for your good, even when that couldn’t feel further from the truth. Understand that in him, you stand without blemish and accepted as God’s very own masterpiece. Surround yourself with people who love and cherish you, embrace all that life still has to give. Take adequate care of your physical body while also protecting the inner-most dwellings of your heart. Be encouraged that God empathises with your pain, and that you remain fully seen, fully known and fully loved in His eyes.
Even through this pain and disappointment, there is eternal joy and peace to be found in the nearness and relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He’s here to walk with you every step of the way through your heartbreak. Through the good, the bad and the ugly; He is a God that will never leave nor forsake you.
1 Biblical Hope for Heartbreak, Desiring God – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xk_uj7oJ0UU
2 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139: 13-14 NIV
3 “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” – Genesis 18:25b NIV
4 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 NIV
5 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
6 “For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]” – Ephesians 2:10 AMP
7 “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” – Genesis 1:26 NIV
8 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16 NIV
9 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23 NIV
10 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18:21-35
11 Breaking free after a break-up Bible plan – https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/11426-breaking-free-after-a-breakup
12 “Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].” – 1 Peter 5:7 AMP
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30 NIV