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Heartbreak is a deeply emotive word. It’s the heavy ache in the chest that comes with intense disappointment, rejection and loss. Heartbreak can hit us in a variety of situations, from a dropped ice-cream cone to the end of a relationship. Regardless of the reason behind it, heartbreak is painful and when we’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to imagine ever being happy again. Do not lose hope – just as God was in the midst of Daniel and his two friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:19-29), so He is with us in our darkest moments to give us comfort, healing and peace (Psalm 46:1).

 

Be comforted

We all deal with heartbreak in our own ways. Some people swear by listening to sad music and eating chocolate cake, while others immerse themselves in their studies or work. Our God is a personal god and He provides for us according to our own needs. Let us consider how Jesus consoled Mary and Martha individually when their brother, Lazarus, had died. Each sister experienced the same heartache and approached Jesus in the same way, saying “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21&32). Jesus responded to Martha by giving her a promise of resurrection, but He responded to Mary by simply sharing in her suffering (John 11:25&35). Jesus knew that He would soon raise Lazarus from the dead and that the sisters’ grief would end, so He could have easily dismissed their pain as unimportant, but He didn’t [1]. With great compassion and tenderness, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) – the shortest verse in the Holy Bible but perhaps the most beautiful. He acknowledged their suffering and shared in it with love, gentleness and sensitivity of heart [2]. Indeed, as Jesus took on our humanity, He experienced heartbreak Himself with the betrayal of His disciple, Judas. How extraordinary it is to consider that the God, who created the entire universe, had humbly taken on same flesh as us and thus empathises with our pains and struggles (Hebrews 4:14-16). Whatever we may be going through, we can know that the Lord is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18), He comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6) and binds their wounds (Psalm 147:3).

 

Get some perspective

Heartbreak is intense. Sometimes, we can feel so enveloped by the emotional pain that we can’t see beyond it. Seeing our situation in perspective is necessary to stop us falling into despair. Let us consider Job who suffered horrific heartbreak as – within a short period of time – he lost his family, health and livelihood and became despised by his wife and community. For most of the book, Job grapples with his suffering, questioning why this has happened to him and where God’s justice is. God responded by taking Job on a virtual tour of the universe which put Job’s grief in perspective of His wisdom, goodness and sovereignty. Even though Job did not get an explanation for his pain, he found peace by trusting in God.

Likewise, Jeremiah also recognised God’s sovereignty in his suffering. Known as the weeping prophet due to his continual heartbreak for the people of Israel, Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 3:37-38, “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?”. Here Jeremiah acknowledges that God is in charge of everything and therefore whatever comes our way has been permitted by God. At first glance, our painful heartbreak and the sovereignty of our compassionate God may appear incongruent, but let us consider the words of Joseph the Righteous. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave into a foreign land and unjustly imprisoned under Pharaoh. In spite of these many sufferings, Joseph knew that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28) as he declared “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Heartbreak is not an unfortunate event that has befallen us, if the Lord has allowed it to happen then good can come of it for those who love Him.

Another way to get perspective is to recognise that our current lives are like passing shadows (Psalm 144:4) in comparison to the immortality of our souls (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This would seem nihilistic if it wasn’t for our hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8) as St Paul reminds us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:16). God promises that in heaven, He “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Meditating on God’s compassion, sovereignty and looking towards the goal of heaven is a way we can see our heartbreak in perspective.

 

Take your time but look towards the future

There is an element of grief in heartbreak. For example, being made redundant from your job may not only mark the an abrupt loss of income, but also the more nuanced loss of a career which you envisioned at that particular company – the future projects that you will not be a part of and the prospective colleagues and clients who you will never meet. Part of the healing process involves recognising this loss and mourning it. Psychologists suggest that there are five stages of grief which we must pass through to come to terms with our loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance [3]. These stages aren’t linear so we might jump between or revisit some stages several times before we come to acceptance and feel ready to move on. This takes time so we should be patient and kind to ourselves but know that the end stage of acceptance must be reached.

We cannot live in a perpetual state of heartbreak or let ourselves be overcome by it; “do not give your heart to grief; drive it away, and remember your own end” (Sirach 38:20). Speaking to the Israelites after their return from Babylon, God encouraged them to look towards the future with hope “do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isiah 42:18-19). Although we may have been betrayed, let down and hurt, be assured that He is faithful and will never forsake us (Psalm 9:10).

In the aftermath of an emotional heartbreak, we should ask ourselves why we this has caused us so much pain. I don’t mean for us to rehash the details of he-said-she-said, but rather deep introspective thought about where our hearts truly lie. Upon returning from a 4-and-a-half-year exile in 1985, H.H. Pope Shenouda III was asked if he was happy to be back. He replied,

“I am happy everywhere. I am always glad because gladness and happiness depends on the relation between man and God. It doesn’t depend on outside circumstances, but we have peace in our hearts because we feel – in faith – in relation with God Himself.”

The greatest command is to “love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). To love God with all of our hearts does not leave room for much else and so if the heartbreak has wounded us particularly deeply, we must ask whether we meet this command. Another important but somewhat difficult verse to reflect upon following heartbreak (especially that resulting from the end of a relationship) is Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”. When speaking to a widow, St John Chrysostom regarded this verse and told her, “Do not love the man more than you love God, then, you will not be a widow. Even when you do, you will not feel as such, because you have the help of the loved one who does not die.” [cited in 5].

 

Conclusion

A broken heart is a complex and painful thing to grapple with and mending it can take time. But we can take comfort in God’s sovereignty and his tender compassion for the broken hearted. Once we have mourned and are beginning to heal, let us take the opportunity to revaluate where our hearts truly lie and look towards the future with hope that there is everlasting peace, joy and love in our Lord.

 

References

[1] Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty, 2003. A Patristic Commentary: The Gospel According to St John. Alexandra : Church of St George.

[2] H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 1997. Tears in the Spiritual Life. Sydney : Coptic Orthodox Publishing and Translating.

[3] Kübler-Ross, E., 1969. On Death and Dying. New York: Scribner.

[4] H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 1985. Pope Shenouda after Exile. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQxQWCrxOzE [Accessed 08 August 2020].

[5] Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty, n.d. A Patristic Commentary: The Book of Matthew. Alexandra: Church of St George.

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