Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A more excellent way

Reading a blog entry by Seraphic Single on her recent breakup with her boyfriend reminds me of my own breakup, not so long ago, one that was, like hers, sudden and unexpected.

It was the first time since my pre-Christian days — back when I suffered from depression — that I went through a breakup that wasn't my idea. Many of the familiar pains and fears re-emerged, like the wholly irrational yet frighteningly convincing fear that this relationship was the Last Time Ever that I will experience reciprocal more-than-physical attraction. So too came resentments, such as anger at God because marriage has thus far been denied me.

What's changed most obviously since I suffered from depression is that sadness, resentment, and loneliness don't deprive me of the will to live. That alone is something for which I'll always be grateful; healing from hopelessness remains the most visible fruit of the faith that transformed my life.

More than that, however, I take my breakup differently then I would have in the past, in that I have a certain resolve not to force any sense out of it. I'm not trying to convince myself that I won't make the same mistakes again (though that would be nice). Nor am I trying to focus on the relationship's many joyful moments. Those joyful moments now appear like a few golden threads woven into a mourning veil; they're meaningless when detached from the relationship's decidedly unhappy ending. The closest thing to a positive message that can be derived from the experience is that I didn't marry someone who clearly was not the one God intended for me.

Once the burden of finding an instructive moral in it is removed, the breakup becomes meaningful, because my pain is reduced to its basic elements.

I need to be reminded of my dependence upon God for everything. Feeling hurt and lonely reminds me of that dependence. In order to more deeply experience God's love, I need to be loving towards others. But if I'm to be loving towards others, I can't be bitter. To not be bitter, I need to shed my resentment towards those who have hurt me, as well as my resentment towards God.

Essentially, then, for me, the major difference between experiencing romantic disappointment without faith and experiencing it with faith is a refusal to increase in bitterness. It may seem easier to slide into bitterness than to fight its onset, but I've experienced enough bitterness to know that it's not a condition in which I would want to remain — not if there's the slightest chance I might instead learn to better love my neighbor.

The other day, I spoke on the phone with an 80-year-old man who contacted me after reading an interview I gave. He told me that he and his wife were touched by what I said about God's plan for marital love.

The caller went on to tell me that his wife was bedridden following an aneurysm — one which the doctors had believed would kill her, except that it didn't. She remained the love of his life. He spoke feelingly of how he loved every moment of caring for her.

As I listened to the man, I thought about how I longed to be in a marriage fueled by that kind of love. But more than that, I realized, when I am 80, I want to be able to have that kind of love, period. Whether I am taking care of my husband or being cared for by him, or whether I am unmarried and in the company of friends, family, or strangers, I want to be able to love other people the way that Jesus loves me.

Pursuing such an ideal, in and of itself, still doesn't make the aftermath of a breakup easier. At the same time, there is something strangely comforting in the idea that, when I am feeling emotionally overburdened, I may yet withstand an additional cross.

Some of my favorite moments since my breakup are times when I was being present for others in their needs. Those times haven't been frequent enough, to be sure, but they gave me opportunities to grow more human.

Really, the most obvious reason for why one would have to go through a breakup, as with any pain, is to be better able to console others. As to why such pain should exist in the first place, well, there's the first few chapters of Genesis to explain that one. Better yet, there's the non-explanation given by the Book of Job, of which G.K. Chesterton said, "The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."