Life is full of many plot twists, and one that I didn’t see coming was the time I got dumped. It was on Monday evening at the end of my workday that after close to two years of dating, exchanging “I love you’s”, attending premarital classes at church and discussing dates for an engagement and wedding, he broke up with me. After the “we need to talk” conversation had ended, I really didn’t know what to do.
So I drove to my sister’s for a good cry. My sister just held me. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
When I finally got home, I went straight to bed. I sprawled across my mattress staring at the ceiling dazed and confused, simply trying to understand all that had just happened. I felt like I was floating on a sea of emotions, rocking me back and forth between anger and hurt and fear and shame and shock. All the waves crashing in my soul were making me seasick. The floodgates of pain had been unleashed, and I fell asleep that night fearing they might never go away.
Break-ups are hard. There’s no way around that. I was prepared for that. Knowing it wasn’t a private matter though, made it almost unbearable. I was an associate pastor and travelling preacher at the time. I wasn’t famous by any means, but within my faith community and church friendships I was somewhat of a public figure. It’s funny, some people tell you that to be well known and to have a large ‘following’ is something to aspire to. I’m pretty sure those people have never had to experience heartbreak or loss while others are watching.
I woke up the next morning, still in shock, but also newly scared to face the world. I had no idea what to tell people. I stood in front of my mirror rehearsing what I would say if someone asked if we were engaged yet, or if they asked where he was or if they heard something through the grapevine and wanted to offer their condolences. I must have rehearsed it a dozen times before being able to say without tears forming or my voice cracking, “Oh, actually, we aren’t dating anymore. He’s a great guy, but as we discussed the future, we realized we weren’t right for marriage.”
I can’t tell you how many times I recited that script to church members and pastor friends and even social media acquaintances over the next year of my life. I lost track, but at least a hundred times. I was able to deliver my lines without much visible emotion, with a smile on my face even, but internally saying those words was like pouring peroxide on an open wound. It stung every single time.
My heart was aching, and in need of some serious mending.
At the same time, work and ministry were more demanding than ever, and to be honest, I welcomed the demand. I needed it. It was an escape from the reality of my hurt. It was a shelter from being exposed as a dumped woman working through the pain of getting over her ex. That was a cliché that I chose to franticly run from. There was ministry work to be done, which meant I didn’t need to spend my nights crying or processing or being open and honest with my close friends about how I was doing. There was work to be done, which meant there was conveniently no time to be heartbroken.
If there’s not time to be heartbroken though, there’s no time to be healed.
For months I worked non-stop in the name of Jesus, all in the guise of successfully avoiding what Jesus had to say or wanted to do with my heartbreak. The night I got dumped had unearthed a surge of pain that I knew went way beyond even his rejection of me. I knew the pain I felt was exposing areas of my heart that still needed to be exposed to the light of the Holy Spirit. There were deeper wounds that the pain was revealing, like going to the doctor for a viral infection, only to discover through routine tests that there’s a tumor that needs to be removed immediately. I was open to getting a prescription for an infection, but I wasn’t ready to undergo intensive care. In short, I was afraid.
All my overworking did was leave me not only still heartbroken, but also exhausted. After a few months of continuous work, I hit a wall. And in God’s kindness, the Holy Spirit spoke to me one morning that if I kept using ministry as a means to run from pain, I would destroy myself. My heart was hurting, my soul was starving, and if I didn’t choose to do something differently, I was headed down a very self-destructive path that would not only harm myself, but also the sheep I had been entrusted to shepherd.
It was the wake up call I needed. That morning I sat on my floor, leaned up against my bed, looked out my window and got honest. I cried for a long time that day, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. But for the first time since the break-up, I was okay with that. I was no longer afraid of my tears or my pain. The Holy Spirit had given me the courage to feel, and it is a gift I haven’t let go of since that day.
Once I started letting myself feel, knowing that the Holy Spirit would guide me through every emotion and lead me to wholeness, I got to tell you, my emotions actually surprised me! And the emotion that really dominated my soul was shockingly not sadness, but anger.
I got really angry!
Perhaps the greatest contribution anger has made in my life is that it has led me to seek answers from Jesus. That’s what anger did for me while dealing with my pain: it led me to Jesus. Every time I got angry, I knew it was the beginning of a great conversation with Jesus. My prayers that began with ‘why’ would soon morph into ‘what’ as in ‘what would You have me do, Jesus?’. Sometimes the answer would be to forgive, or practice kindness or talk to someone I trust or meditate on Scripture, and sometimes the answer would simply be to do nothing- to just trust that He was taking care of me, of my heart, of my healing, of my future.
And then one day, something miraculous happened. I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t angry at my ex-boyfriend, or anyone, and oddly enough, I stopped being angry at myself. I wasn’t angry because I had become something else. I was hopeful. Somewhere along the line I had traded in my hurt for hope. I had traded in my bitterness for forgiveness. I had stopped trying to place blame for my pain, and began dreaming for my future.
I actually started to thank God that I had been dumped! It sounds weird, but I did. If I had never been through anything like that, then I wouldn’t have been becoming the woman I was becoming. I was starting to like this woman. This woman stopped caring so much about what people thought. She stopped trying to act like she had it all together. She began to have fun and not take herself so seriously. This woman was kinder than before. She saw people around her going through pain, and she felt true compassion because she could relate. This woman was more forgiving. This woman was able to look at the man who had broken her heart and strangely feel not offense, but kindness. She was able to see him for a real person who was just trying to do the best he could in life. This woman was stronger not because she became tougher, but because she became softer.
This woman wasn’t fearless; in fact, this woman was more aware of her fears than ever before. But this woman was braver than before because she stopped trying to avoid her fears and started facing them head on. This woman, believe it or not, wanted even more than before. She wanted ministry and adventure and romance. She wanted more than ever before, and she was unapologetic about it. And this woman looked in the mirror and saw something rather remarkable. She didn’t see a messed up girl anymore. She saw a wonderful and complex creation more and more reflecting the Creator.
Friends, I absolutely never want you to go through heartbreak or loss or tragedy. I want to do everything I can to keep you from it. But I can’t. You are going to get hurt. You are going to face disappointment and setbacks and even tragedy. No one is immune to pain. Quite frankly, life doesn’t always go our way. We can expect that sometimes life is just going to punch us in the face when we least expect it. I don’t believe God is the ‘pow’ behind those punches. I know God to be good, and all that He does is good. He is not the Author of your pain or mine. But He is the Healer. And He is the One who can work all things together for your good.
Even the sucker punches.
Disappointments can be the greatest thing that can ever happen to you, as odd as that sounds. There is such opportunity to get honest and draw closer to God when things don’t go as planned. It’s the devastating moments of life that if we allow, can make us and not break us. When things look like they’ve gone to poo (yes, I just said “poo”… it’s better than the alternative); just remember, flowers can blossom out of what looks and smells like manure in your life. If you let God, He will use what seems like your greatest pain to your greatest advantage.
The great disappointments can lead you to even greater depths of hope. Failures can lead to even greater faith. Just look as Lazarus. He was dead for four days- talk about disappointing! Not only did Jesus bring him back to life, Lazarus became a walking, living, breathing billboard of the glory of God. Jesus didn’t just bring Lazarus back to life; He resurrected him to an even greater life than the one he was living before!
I’m proof of this.
I have big dreams for my future… For a marriage and family that God Himself will bring together at the proper time.
My future husband, I am convinced will be a great man, a godly man, a man fueled by a deep love for Jesus. He will be my best friend, my partner in crime, my trusted leader, and truly the love of my life. He’s going to keep smiling when I walk in the room, and I’m going to keep smiling right back. We are going to laugh over the same silly inside jokes for decades. We are going to never stop dreaming together and showing up for each other and discovering new fascinating tidbits about one another. And we are going to consistently gross out our children with PDA. And yes, we will in part do it because we know how much it embarrasses them. That’s the kind of sick and twisted sense of humor we’ll have. More importantly though, we are going to love our children with all we’ve got, and our greatest joy in this life will hands down be raising them.
See, disappointment has not dwindled my dreams. By God’s grace, it’s actually ignited them. May God’s grace always do the same for you.
“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