Listening to weeks’ worth of famous break-up albums after you’ve been dumped isn’t necessarily healthy, but amid my own fresh heartbreak, it felt like the most appropriate, and potentially cathartic, thing to do. Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats played as I got dressed in the morning. I cooked dinner to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. About a week after I last spoke to my ex-boyfriend, I accidentally texted him an eight-minute recording from Adele’s 21, probably the most obvious break-up music of my generation.
The various heartsick albums I compiled all seemed to ask one question: How could love possibly end like this? In breathtaking pain. In betrayal. Sometimes seemingly out of the blue. I directed this question to God and saw soon enough not only how far back my heartbreak went, but also how deeply God felt it.
The Origin of Heartbreak
No one was meant to experience the hurt of broken relationships. We were created in God’s image, to live in union with God and in relationship with each other. But with “original sin,” we quickly forgot who we are and whose we are, setting us up to suffer in the bonds we form. While we are capable of intimacy and commitment, we are also susceptible to false promises, disappointments, arguments, and other marks that indicate we’ve lost touch with our true identity in God.
The Bible reminds us several times, starting from Adam’s wonder at the person fashioned from his rib, that husbands and wives join and become one person, or in some translations, “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The pain of losing someone you love can feel as gut-wrenching as having part of yourself ripped away. And this level of heartache doesn’t come just from romantic fallouts—it stems from loss in all types of relationships. In Scripture, we see Naomi despondent after losing her husband and two sons, changing her name to “Mara,” meaning “bitter” (Ruth 1:20). David tears his clothes in grief when he hears of the death of Jonathan, his dearest friend (2 Samuel 1:11-12). Even Jesus weeps over Lazarus moments before raising him from the dead (John 11:38-44). Whether we are separated from a loved one by their misdeeds, our own, or something as heart-rending as death or another fateful event, our sorrow is as old as sin.
“I Wonder If You’re Ever Coming Home…”
Although I understood that relationships end every day because of our brokenness, I still couldn’t comprehend why, despite claiming that I had done nothing wrong, the person who had pursued me so passionately and to whom I felt such closeness had left me. Then I played a mix CD my ex had given me. I realized that one of the songs, which, at first listen, sounded like a folksy yet impassioned plea for a wayward lover’s return, was actually written from the point of view of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: Don’t you know, son, that I love you/And I don’t care where you’ve been, so please come home…
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father isn’t shown during his son’s quest for independence and decadence, but his overjoyed response to his son’s return, running and embracing him, is enough to show us how devastated he was that his son had departed. “…let us celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found,” he exclaims twice (Luke 15:23b-24).
Reflecting on the father and once-lost son, who represent God and God’s rebellious children, I saw that just as I cared for someone who did not want to receive my love any longer, God loves the people who want to pursue their own path apart from their Creator. Our brokenness separates us from the God who hates to see us lost, but even when those in whom we put our hope let us down, our Father welcomes us home with open arms.
We don’t always get the chance to reconcile with those we hurt or those who hurt us. But because Christ faced the truest heartbreak as he died on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (Matthew 27:45-46), we are to able have a whole relationship with the God who unconditionally draws us back and empathizes with our relational pain from all sides. There is joy in the truth that while love may bring suffering, experiencing that suffering with Christ by our side transforms us into people who love more like he does (2 Corinthians 3:18). Jesus reconnects us to God—and ourselves and others—through modeling that perfect wholeness in his own life.
Our human relationships are cracked reflections of the one we have with God, and when we pursue that relationship—uncovering our identity in God, staying connected to God in all parts of our lives—we find healing and rest for our hearts (Psalm 147:3, Matthew 11:28-30), the strength to love again, and the trust that God will use our relationships, even in their brokenness, for God’s glory.
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