An Observed Grief Part II: Other people

“An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t.” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I avoided church for 2 weeks following the break up. Returning was the first major hurdle. I would not be returning to the congregation I came to feel most comfortable in.

Did I want to go back to the same church?

Did would I endure the difficulties and awkwardness?

It was and is the shame speaking.

The deepest feeling of regret that followed from the break up was how it would effect the wider body at church; comprising of friends and others that celebrated our relationship with us. In my head there would be a flow-on effect that would strain relationships and possibly harm certain pursuits. It seems selfish. It probably is. I did have to seek forgiveness with some friends as they had to pick up some of the pieces left from what had happened.

It is hard not to dwell on potentially catastrophic effects and cost in these situations.

The mind is difficult to control. Anyway, back to shame.

C. S. Lewis’s quote is not entirely related to my situation. He was grieving the loss of his wife. I am grieving the loss of a relationship. However, as a companion of grief, it is an all-too-real feeling: that embarrassment of grief that those around you find awkward. It’s a blue elephant in the room. You go on to discussing milder topics like films and music, dancing around the topic you’re both aware of possibly needing to be addressed. This is the embarrassment, the shame of the situation.

Not many people actually knew about our break up and it was a little bit awkward to say that it was over to those that assumed everything was still on. The whole event had been very quiet and I am thankful to God that it was. I think people will probably just feel grief and sadness with us.

One of the kinder and more wonderful things about a situation like this is that some friends show their true care. In a position of feeling shame and forms of isolation, shame can drive us away from welcoming the love of others that care. On one of the days when I felt this way, I received several texts and a phone call from a few guys from church to ask if I was ok and that there was prayer for me. It was strengthening and encouraging and I am thankful to God for that, I really needed it.

Dating within a church context is very risky. One thing I’ve come to recognise acutely through break ups in church is that the body of Christ is incredibly close. If it is working well together, it feels almost everything amongst its members. The church is such a delicate thing that can be ruptured by what looks like the smallest of sins. This is why we are constantly admonished to bear with each others sins and forgive, to not bicker and fight and destroy God’s work.





An Observed Grief Part I: Identity and The Sovereignty of God

The purpose of what I’m writing is not to cast blame, unless it is on myself. It is not to reveal details for the sake of gossip. It is purely to help people who may now be feeling crushed or heartbroken, so that they don’t feel alone in their grief over a break up. It is also to help people turn to Jesus as their personal saviour and comforter in times of distress and in times of joy (2 Cor 1:3-4).

I have recently broken up with someone. It was the closest I’d ever gotten to considering a long future together with someone – we’d even begun the process of engagement and wedding preparations. I was nervous and excited about this; I’d watched so many others take the plunge that it was now time for me to do it!

I was the one that ended the relationship, as I experienced extreme doubts as to the compatibility of the relationship which lead to health issues and considerable anxiety. I am still processing this. I am thankful to God for our time together although it feels hard to say something like that as it currently haunts me. My ex-fiance is a kind, patient and generous woman that will truly bless her friends and family and maybe another man in the future. Yet in my heart of hearts, I knew it was the right decision long-term to end things as I could not proceed with my whole heart. I am now in the process of grieving the loss of a friend and the remorse of hurting a friend.

In the last year I’ve dated about 4 different women. When I think about this fact, it becomes more clear to me that I’ve not given myself the time to work through destructive relationship patterns that appear to be similarly present again in this situation. It looks serial. It is true though that every relationship requires risk, and there is no guarantee that things will work out even if you get married! This latest relationship though was my first attempt in a long time to be as careful as I could.

It has been a painful year and my heart is exhausted.

In moments past when a relationship hasn’t worked out, I have been prone to dwelling on my mistakes (and have been reminded of them by others) and consequently owning certain patterns of dating behaviour as a part of my identity – “I am bad at dating”, “I am a serial dater”, “people think x, y and z about me” – these sorts of thoughts. It has likely been the use of the devil to use my sin and failure to cause me not to dwell upon Jesus, but upon myself, and as a consequence make little progress in changing my patterns. Condemnation and guilt do not lead to true godly change (2 Cor 7:10). It has at times felt like a heavy weight and burden to bear.

The other way I’ve been prone to dwelling is in a place of anger and using anger to cope with my grief. Anger is a normal reaction through the grieving process, but it isn’t a healthy or godly state to be in (Matt 5:22). It only hurts you in the end.

In the midst of this terrible heartache – the worst I’ve experienced in years – I have made considerable efforts to focus upon what the Bible says and remind myself that even though I have stuffed up in certain areas of my life (and let’s face it: we are all sinners), I can find mercy, grace and acceptance in Jesus. This doesn’t automatically remove the flow-on effects of sin and brokenness in relationships. It is foolish to believe that Jesus will take away all of your pain and sorrow and difficulties in this world, but He will walk with you through the dark times (Ps. 23:4). He will remove pain and tears and sorrow forever in the future, but I will talk about that another time.

I find comfort in the passage found in John 8:1-11 with Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. He says to her accusers that those without sin can cast the first stone. They all leave. She is left with Jesus, the one without sin. He does not condemn her, but tells her to go and sin no more. How amazing it is to have no condemnation in Christ Jesus despite the sins we think are big and the sins we think are small! This new identity, in Christ, is the foundation for all behaviour and interaction by the power of God’s Holy Spirit indwelling the believer to turn from sin. It is from this position that change occurs and it is from a broken heart that God saves (Ps. 34:18).

When we lose major things like a relationship, we recognise that God is the true healer and redeemer and is the only thing that cannot be lost. I have met many elderly people who are widows. I cannot imagine anything as painful than becoming widowed. Next to this is divorce and next to this a break up (either friendship or romantic). None of us will ever know what it was like to be fully separated from perfect relationship like Jesus was from the Father at the cross when He bore our sins. It is through this and His Resurrection that we are reconciled to God.

There is hope.

We can take comfort knowing that God is constantly at work for our good and ultimately His glory in all things (Romans 8:28). It definitely doesn’t feel that way right now. These verses are easily pithy quotes or hallmark cards to give to those in sorrow, but I’ve maybe not had to really lean on them through a difficult period. I’ve not really had to trust them for some time.

I’ve also not felt the arms of God wide open to welcome me into them for a while either, with all of my mess and confusion.