It was pitch black but for the faint light of glow-in-the-dark stickers above my bed.
Why am I in Jon’s bed?
I shouldn’t have been at my parents’ house in my youngest brother’s empty bed. My head felt fuzzy and my mouth dry. I groaned as the memory of the previous night came crashing in like a tidal wave. My body ached.
So this is what a broken heart feels like, I thought. No wonder people die from this.
I had taken on the role of girlfriend for the first time five months earlier; now I woke to a new identity. I had become ex-girlfriend.
That night was the darkest of my life thus far. Had I realized what I was fading into, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed that next day. Or the next. I found myself living in a new reality, and I had no idea what to do, how to move forward. The old version of myself had been replaced with a new version, and I didn’t know how to go back.
Pointing Back to Jesus
At some level, I realized that people had been living with heartbreaks, breakups, and rejection since the beginning of time. But I hadn’t. I felt lost and afraid. People offered good wishes and advice, but they couldn’t penetrate the shell of numbness surrounding my shattered heart. I started to look for anything that would make sense of my new world, and what I found was shockingly sparse.
Sure, the Internet was full of articles and books on how to get back at him or how to mend a broken heart, and top-ten lists of coping mechanisms. But I couldn’t find anything that pointed me back to Jesus. I couldn’t find anything that helped me as a Christian woman wrestle through my sense of forgiveness and anger and betrayal and loss of hope in a dating relationship.
Over time and with the help of a counselor and friends, I discovered a few lessons from my heartbreak.
1. Destructive Behavior Doesn’t Heal Wounds
When the dust settled, I found myself straddling the line between the ways I was told I’m allowed to cope and the ways I should walk in obedience to God. It was an exhausting, heart-wrenching journey, and I didn’t always do it well.
Excessive amounts of ice cream, talking badly about my ex, and keying his car would provide instant gratification; they would numb my pain, validate my feelings, and allow me to hurt him in some way. However, I learned that any coping behavior that wasn’t fully surrendered to the Lord only led me further into captivity to my brokenness. I felt a little bit like the Israelites; they were told the Promised Land was waiting for them, yet they kept whining about how much they missed Egypt.
When we choose destructive behaviors, we resist God’s effort to move us into Canaan. We tell God we didn’t believe he had something good in store for us; we tell him that we know better—that we’ve decided to put ourselves on the throne and worship a god who looks suspiciously similar to us.
I had to take intentional steps to counterculturally choose forgiveness, gentleness, and kindness toward my ex. I had to be aware of the thoughts in my heart so that they didn’t inevitably lead to words from my mouth—because healing doesn’t come from doing destructive behaviors.
2. Your Feelings Are Valid
Breaking up is awful, and it hurts. One day that person is in your life and everything is normal . . . and the next he doesn’t exist. It feels like death but worse, somehow, because you know he’s still out there somewhere. And if you’re like me, you assume he is doing fine and moving on and that you’re suffering alone—which makes you feel even worse.
But you also lose hope. You lose the plans for what could have been, a life you were building, the feelings that it might finally be your turn. That loss of hope might be the toughest thing you have to work through.
All of this weighs down your heart, like a cloak you cannot remove. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m sorry your heart is broken. I’m sorry many people will say the wrong thing and make it hurt more. I’m sorry you’ll bump into memories of him at unexpected times and waves of heartbreak will crash into you again. I’m sorry that it feels hopeless. I understand. I feel your pain. I see you. Your feelings are valid.
Yet my prayer is that you won’t allow yourself to stay in those feelings forever. Give yourself time and space, but don’t allow your emotions to hold you captive in the land of the ex-girlfriend. You are in the desert now, but that means you’re moving toward Canaan.
3. The Grief Will End
For many months I was convinced I would never not feel pain. Everywhere I went memories of him or us would crowd into my vision, and I couldn’t see anything but the instant replay of our moments together. It was awful.
I had never gone through a breakup before, let alone been dumped, so when people told me time heals all wounds I wanted to shake my fist and yell mean words. My pain was different. My love was special. My broken heart could never be healed. Nothing in my life made me believe I would get over this devastation, so I put a wall around my heart and accepted my new reality of sadness.
Of course the pain did fade, slowly but surely. I went from crying myself to sleep every night to crying a few times a week to crying only occasionally to not crying at all. Along the way, I learned to sort out which emotions stemmed from the loss of my ex and which came from the loss of what I hoped for, and then grieved appropriately. I began to think objectively about who he is, who I am, who we were together, and if we actually were better for the kingdom together than we are apart.
And I can honestly say I don’t miss him anymore.
In the time that has passed since that dark night of the soul, I’ve experienced more breakups, and I’ve had to remind myself that time really will heal this pain. I eat a little ice cream and give myself space to feel all the emotions—but I don’t lose hope.
You lose a lot when you end a relationship, but you gain so much by choosing forgiveness, gentleness, and kindness. I can tell you that I found extraordinary love from a Father who desired to give it to me. I found a strength inside myself I didn’t know existed. I found compassion and love and vulnerability. I found hope.
And I would relive all the experiences again if it meant I would get to know Jesus the way I know him today.
Rachel Mueller is a 20something who blogs about life, love, her misadventures in dating, and how to find Jesus in the middle of it. She can be found at RachelMueller.net or tweeting at @rachelmueller.