I’ll always remember the exact moment I realized that the relationship I’d poured myself into for three and a half years was over.
The end had been a long time coming. I’d seen the fracture lines. I’d felt down somewhere in the depths of my heart for more than a year that there would not be the kind of ending that we–he and I–had once planned for and dreamed of together. I had kept hoping. I had kept trying to believe that the mess would become beautiful and perfect somehow. I had always kept willing that one way or another, something would flip, and it’d all work out in the end. I knew the warning signs, but I just didn’t know how to let go. But one day, I knew. I knew that I had to say goodbye. I had to walk away from what I thought I wanted more than anything else. That broke my heart.
That very weekend, I watched my beautiful best friend glow as she walked down the aisle to her groom. As the happy couple exchanged vows, I saw that they had what my relationship had lacked. I saw real love in their faces.
As I watched them pledge till death do us part, I was also watching my own hopes and dreams crash down around me. I threw flowers and laughed with our family and friends. I celebrated that day. I didn’t miss the look of tender love that I saw on the face of the groom as he looked at his bride and the face of the bride as she looked at her groom. But behind my smiles and laughter, my own heart was bleeding and broken along with the relationship that I had hoped would last forever. I felt like I only just made it through that weekend without a breakdown.
When I was finally home and the relationship was officially over, I felt the raw, jagged throbs of a broken heart so deeply that I felt physically ill. I lived far away from any of my close friends, and I keenly felt how difficult it is to be alone when your heart is breaking. Those were some of the most painful moments of my life. Right then, all I could do was tell myself to breathe and make it through the day.
In the emotional darkness, it all felt confusing. One moment, I knew that it was right and best for my relationship to end. The next moment, I desperately tried to think of what I could have done to change things, anything so something could have been different. I was exhausted. I just wanted to sleep until I could forget what the pain of heartbreak was like. Or run until all of this was a distant memory. It was too painful and I didn’t think I could make sense of the aftermath of a relationship that ended the way mine did or of all the friendships he took with him. But I couldn’t sleep for a few years. I couldn’t run away. I couldn’t alter the ending. I couldn’t even figure out the pieces of my broken heart.
Everyday life goes on, no matter what the state of your heart is. So I tried to just take it moment by moment and make my everydays good. I tried to let go of the fragments of my broken heart, so God could make something out of what was left. But I kept finding myself clutching at what use to be and feeling as if nothing would ever change again. I tried to live one day at a time and find new things to fill up the empty places. It helped. I just tried to breathe.
For a long time after the breakup, it felt like the only thing that defined me as a woman was my broken relationship and my broken heart. It felt like someone had stamped big letters on my forehead that told the world that I was a failure: at relationships, at love, and at letting go. It felt like my life was permanently marked with a tag and put into the “Broken” pile. I felt like I was going to be defined by the day that my heart was broken for the rest of my life. It seemed as if the broken relationship and my wounded heart were all that I had to show for everything I’d done up to that point in my life. I felt shame and guilt for starting the relationship in the first place, for not knowing how to “fix it”, for causing someone else pain, for feeling so broken myself, and for the fact that I had to end it.
A lot of years have gone by since the day my relationship ended. Now I know that time does heal hearts and that pain doesn’t last forever. Now I know that with that time often comes a lot of clarity and bright, new perspectives. I know that new hopes and dreams find their way into being and that sometimes dreams really do come true. Now I know for sure that, as difficult and painful as the ending of my relationship felt, it was for the best…for both of us.
The day that my heart broke was definitely a defining moment for me. It changed me and my life in ways that nothing else ever could have done. I’m not the same woman I was 10 years ago when that relationship was brand new and everything seemed so bright. But that moment of heartbreak was just one single moment of my life.
When I was eight years old, I broke my nose. I tripped in the dark and came down hard on some immovable object that was stronger than my bones. It hurt and there was blood. A lot of blood. For months, even a little tap on my face felt worse than anything I’d ever felt. The purple and green mark across my nose seemed like the only thing that defined my face and I remember thinking it would never go away. My nose would look funny and feel broken forever, I was almost sure of it. The only thing people would think of when they saw my face was that I was the girl who broke her nose in the dark. But that’s not how it goes with broken noses–or broken hearts.
Today, the day my heart broke does not define my life any more than the day I broke my nose defines anything about my face now.
I won’t forget either moment. Both were excruciatingly painful in different ways. Both took a lot of time before the pain eased and even longer before the throbbing went away. But today I am not defined as the girl with the broken heart any more than I am as the girl with the broken nose. Today, those are both just moments in my story. My nose has healed. And I can now say, so has my heart.
My life…your life…is not about the individual moments or the heart breaks so much as it is about the beautiful picture that all the moments–good and bad– make as a whole. Like a stained glass window, one piece or moment on its own is just a fragment. But all together? Even fragments can be used to make something unexpectedly breathtaking and beautiful. That’s what I believe happened with my broken heart. That’s what I believe can happen with any broken heart.
The pain you experience when your heart is broken, it’s the real thing. It hurts down into the deepest parts of your soul. It aches and consumes you. I know what it’s like.
You have to let yourself grieve. You don’t fall in love in an instant. You don’t stop loving or caring for a person the moment the relationship is over. Give yourself time. As much time as you need to clear your head a little. It’s okay to feel the pain. Just take it one moment at a time, one breath at a time.
But I’m here on the other side of the dark valley of broken hearts to tell you that healing doesn’t happen in a day. But it does happen. And that is what matters.
We may not be able to see the end of the pain today. It’s easy to feel like these moments of heartache are the only ones there will ever be. But don’t let your broken heart be how you define your life. You are so much more than this one moment.
Maybe right now, all you might be able to see is the brokenness of this experience, this breakup, this disappointment, this dream that won’t come true. It’s all you can feel. That’s okay. Learning to let go of the broken pieces takes time. A lot of time. I know this is true.
But please don’t give up on feeling whole again. God does heal broken things. And He specializes in healing broken hearts most of all.
When God defines your life, it’s not by who has known heartbreak and who hasn’t. He defines you by how you are in His eyes: Precious. Rejoiced over. Beautiful. Loved. Whole. You aren’t defined by brokenness to Him, but by the perfect, wonderful person He created you to be.
Because that is who you always are.