We sat in silence for a few moments. We looked at each other and she asked me “Are you breaking up with me?” Time seemed to stop. The next word broke through the deafening silence: “Yes.”
Everything that happened next is forever engrained in my mind: her tears; the hurt in her eyes; and the long days, weeks, and months that followed. I left with an aching pain. I was undone. A few days later, she gave the ring back. It was surreal. I knew ending our engagement would be hard, but I thought that doing the right thing would make it easier. I was wrong. I was a broken man and I was left in a perpetual state of worry and anxiety. It felt like my whole world had collapsed around me. The picture-perfect vision I once held of my future instantly crumbled. On top of that, I started to lose any hope for the future. The grief was too real.
Break-ups are hard.
Breaking up was not what God meant to be the norm for humans. I am not saying breaking up is sinful; I am saying the effects – pain, grief, sorrow – are results of Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden-fruit, disobeying God. Break-ups are a result of the Fall, which helps explain why they feel like death.
It has not been easy to walk through my broken engagement, but it has been one of the means through which God has humbled me to trust and lean on him.
Here are some things that I have learned from my experience:
- Take Ownership. Do not act like it did not happen. Covering up the past and trying to forget the other person does not eliminate the hurt and pain. In doing so, it will only hurt you and those around you. Your break-up is now a part of your story. God has written this as a part of your story it has a purpose.
- Failure does not define Christians; Jesus does. In the words of Sinclair Ferguson: “The determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past.” I had to realize that I had failed to love my ex–fiancée well and I cannot simply sweep my failure under the rug of “irresponsibility” or “immaturity.” It was my responsibility and I failed, but Jesus’ defining work speaks louder. His blood speaks louder than my failure to love and lead her well (Hebrews 12:24). In the same way, as she trusts in Jesus, the same proclamation is over her. Our failed-relationship, our golden-days as a couple, nor our devastated hopes for a future together are what finally define either of us.
- Have a realistic view of healing . One of the reasons that I thought that my break-up would not hurt was because I assumed that if I prayed harder and longer, healing would come quicker. Can God instantly remove our sorrows and turn our mourning into dancing? Yes! However, I don’t think that we should expect it. Instead, we should look for ways that God is supernaturally at work in the things we often consider “mundane.” Instead of asking God why he hasn’t healed you in the way you expected him to heal you, look at the means of grace that he has given you: your local church, the Bible, and prayer. God uses all three, together, for healing.
- Grieve. Do not hold in or hide your grief. Whether you initiated the break-up or not—mutual or not—do not try to act like everything is okay.“It hurts just as much as its worth.” Take time to let what has happened set-in and think through what was good and bad from the relationship. If you lack the words to pray, turn to the Psalms. I promise, there’s something there that will give voice to your grief.
- Find good support. One of the worst things to do is to run away from your problems and from the people who care about you. We need people who will not only comfort us but wisely and winsomely correct us (to name a few: Clayton, Nick, Micah, Jonathan, Bryan, Joe – Thank you). God was healing me through the people I’d previously taken for granted. They were tangible graces of my Father’s tender care. If it were not for these men, I don’t know where I would be. It was through the counsel of my pastors and friends in the local church that drove me to seek Jesus in his Word and prayer. It was this way that I realized that Jesus was healing me, just not the way I expected. He was showing me his care through the local church.
- Hope. For me, hope is one of the hardest things to believe. Hope calls us to look beyond our present sorrows and look ahead. Hope does not say to forget your sorrows, but to look at your sorrow in light of eternity. Hope is a call to faith in Jesus, to trust that he will return and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Hope is a call to stand firmly upon Jesus, The Rock of Ages, and believe that he is everything that he says he is. Hope is fighting for faith in Jesus, even when it’s tempting to give up.
I am thankful that God uses break-ups and broken people. I am thankful that even in the hard things that feel like death, we serve a God who raises the dead. He is faithful through the hardship brought about by living in this fallen world.
Romans 8:28–30 (NIV): “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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”