or, The Most difficult thing a young person will every have to do.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”–Proverbs 13:12
In William Shakespeare’s play Two Gentlemen of Verona the Duke banishes Valentine from his kingdom. Lamenting the fact that he will never see his girlfriend again, Valentine pines,
“What light is light, if Sylvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Sylvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by
And feed upon the shadow of perfection.
Except I be by Sylvia in the night,
There is no music in the nightingale;
Unless I look on Sylvia in the day,
There is no day for me to look upon.
She is my essence.”
Breaking up is hard to do! Just listen to the oldie goldies on the radio. The Temptations sing about how the sun won’t shine and sadness fills the day “Since I Lost My Baby.” Then there is Dionne Warwick’s melancholy music, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.”
From William Shakespeare to Motown to today’s high school, youth have known the heartache, the dashed hopes of breaking up. And I’ve got to say from personal experience, and as a father, grandfather and longtime minister among young people, that breaking off a romantic relationship, picking up the pieces, and moving on with life, is one of the hardest things a young man or woman has to do.
Even the Bible agrees. Proverbs 13:12 speaks of how “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” To realize a relationship is over, to watch a lover walk away for the last time, to experience a death of dreams, aye! To have to forfeit hope that a love relationship will go the distance of marriage and lifelong intimacy – this “makes the heart sick.” If as Proverbs 13:12 soothes, “A longing fulfilled is a tree of life,” then breaking up is an “unfulfilled longing” and it is a heart sickness. Yet it is not fatal. And with the proper attitude, with the right choices, with hope and faith in God’s providence, one can move on in maturity.
The question is, how? Following are some helpful scriptural principles.
First of all, when one breaks up, it is okay to weep. It lets the hurt out.
Jesus knows the pain of unrequited love. He was a groom at his first coming, looking for his bride in Israel. But the Jews refused His love. And Luke 19:41 tells us Christ broke down and wept. “How often I would have gathered you under my wings as a hen does her chicks, but you would not.” So Christ wept over Jerusalem.
Yes, others, even Christ, have known the dashed hopes of an ended romance. And they have gone home, shut the door and cried. It’s okay. Tears are therapeutic. Have a good weep when you feel the need.
The next thing to do is to make a clean break. Return the ring, put away the pictures, don’t listen to your old songs, leave off going to your old cafes and park benches. Don’t torture yourself with reminders of the past. Put the past behind you.
The apostle Paul was perhaps a lifelong single. But he did have very special relationships. And none was more special than his own Jewish people. But they rejected Paul when he became a Christian. And you can be sure it hurt. But Paul moved on to other satisfying relationships. He wrote to us in Philippians 3:13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”
There were other golden relationships ahead of Paul. And he was not allowing the disappointments of his past to consume the wonderful appointments of his future.
After you break up, admit your situation to your friends. Say it plainly: “We broke up. We’re not seeing each other anymore.” None of this obfuscation and denial: “We broke up, but I know we’re right for each other, and I’m praying because I really believe we’ll get back together in a few weeks.”
No. No. No. No! No! None of that! Be decisive. Away with denial. Say it! Admit it! “It’s over. The relationship has gone as far as it could. It’s time to move on!”
When you publish your breakup you are also publishing your availability. Other suitors who have admired you and longed to ask you out will now find the freedom to approach you. So when you admit you’re no longer dating, you cut on a big neon sign above your head, “Available again.”
In Lynn Johnston’s comic strip, “For Better or For Worse,” the young woman says to an old male friend, “I thought about calling you after I broke up with my fiancé. I wanted to tell you I was… free… but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how you’d respond.” He said, “Well, I’d have come to see you, but it would have been pretty dangerous.” “Why?” she asks. To which he replies, “Do you know how fast I would have driven?”
Yes, breaking up is hard to do! But weeping, making a clean break, and publicly admitting it are all part of healthily moving on. Now this: know the terrific expulsive power of a new love.
The Beach Boys sang, “Help me, Rhonda! Help me get her out of my heart!” And then there is the country song that croons, “We’ll put out your old flame and build a bigger fire.”
Believe me, nothing helps one get over an old flame like a new one. How many times I crawled back to my dorm room in college, locked the door, and wept out my heart sickness to God. Life seemed so tasteless, so colorless, so empty when a love turned cold. But then, suddenly, one fine day, a new love began like a gentle breeze and life was beautiful again!
If you have a glass of muddy water and want to cleanse it, there are two methods. One is to empty the glass, wash it, and refill it. The other means is to expulse the dirty water by pouring a heavier liquid into the glass. The heavier liquid sinks to the bottom, begins to fill the glass, and the old water pours out the top and flows away. This is the expulsive power of a new love. They come into our lives, the gift of God, and the old trickles away from us.
A final tonic for breaking up is to be found in faith, that is, in the utter trust and abandonment of one’s life to Jesus Christ.
One must learn to see courtship as a series of relationships that perhaps leads to the one permanent coupling of marriage. Each date becomes like climbing a ladder. Each love is but a different rung of the ladder. God brings a person into our lives for romance to teach us good times, unselfishness, servant-hood, listening, communication, friendship, deferred gratification, the sort of personality you bond with, compatibility and more.
But be careful! For God often shows us that a relationship, good as it may be, has gone about as far as it can. Thus, it is time to break up and move on.
Often, however, we panic and cling to the courtship. Like a young woman said to me, “With Harry I don’t have all I want in a man, but without him, I don’t have anything!” I call this syndrome, “Going steady but stuck!” We are afraid to break up, afraid our date is all there is. So we cling to the good and miss the best.
In Psalm 84:11, the word promises, “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” God wants what is best for you. He is no celestial killjoy! He is the center of joy!
We have an old saying in the South: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, ’til the good is the better and the better is the best!” God, you see, brings good people into our lives to companion us, teach us, but then He moves them on to make room for someone who is better for us. And in each successive relationship we mature in our ability to give and receive nurture, until we come to, perhaps, that one marriage relationship that is best. And it lasts for a lifetime.
Ah! But my young friend! God knows! He knows! “A hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Breaking up with someone good for us, even better for us, hurts so bad! But it is a maturing pain, like the winded exhaustion of a long distance runner, it gets us in shape for the best!
There is an old poem written, I think, by a British poet whose name has long since been lost to me. It has the sort of trust in God’s provision in it that is so vital throughout life.
And God said, ‘Go to the edge!’
“No, I might fall.’
‘Go to the edge!’
‘But … but, God, I am afraid!’
‘GO TO THE EDGE!’
So I went to the edge…
And He pushed…
And we flew!
That’s how it is! The good Lord wants nothing but the best for you. And those who trust Him fully find Him wholly true.
When I was in college I dated a splendid woman. Ours was an honorable courtship, full of excitement, romance and dreams. But as I graduated and went off to divinity school in Atlanta, she began to pull away. She was not certain she could be a minister’s wife. She sensed confusion over God’s will.
I panicked and tried to cling. I marshaled all my persuasive powers to get her to remain. But still she walked away.
So I had to move to a huge city and get lost in a new academic curriculum all the while experiencing the heart sickness of a hope deferred.
I complained to God.
I sat home alone.
In loneliness I learned to be friends with myself and Jesus.
I didn’t understand.
But every day I got up and went on.
I did what had to be done.
I trusted God with blind faith.
And then I met Kathryn. She and I became best friends at first. I admired her kind eyes, easy-going ways, her servant-hood. We ate together, talked of novels, sailed the lake together, worshiped, and slowly fell in love. Now, these many years later, I see clearly. I see how God took the good and the better out of my life to bring in the best. And I am satisfied. When Kathryn and I became engaged, I wrote her and Christ a poem. Perhaps it’s not great poetry, but it makes the point.
I didn’t know this then,
But she, only visiting, left to make room for you.
The heart is room enough only for that true, true love,
And a man must look upon every exiting as an entrance to some place else.
I did not believe this then,
But still, I stepped to the door and said, ‘Next?’
And then you came.
And you stayed.
And now I have no romantic rooms for anyone else.