Song lyrics are a melodic window into the soul of universal emotions and experiences. ‘It must have been love, but it's over now.’ [Roxette] ‘Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I'm only falling apart.’ [Bonnie Tyler] ‘Think it's best we go our separate ways.’ [Usher]
Sinead O’ Connor captured it like this: ‘It's been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song. Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling. Tell me baby, where did I go wrong?’
Toni Braxton’s lyrics reflect it this way: ‘Un-break my heart. Say you'll love me again. Undo this hurt you caused when you walked out the door and walked out of my life.’
But it is probably Neil Sedaka who captured it best in a nutshell: ‘Don't take your love away from me. Don't you leave my heart in misery. If you go then I'll be blue. Cause breaking up is hard to do.’
Breaking up is hard to do.
We live in a world of brokenness. Things break. People hurt. It goes without saying that dating or courting are likely to be fraught with roadblocks and hiccups. The world of relationships is never smooth sailing.
Matt Chandler’s suggests that you choose someone you want to fight with for the rest of your life. His practical wisdom is a dose of reality in a world gone mad over self-centered romance and narcissistic idealism fuelled by Hollywood.
Young people date, and sometimes that means they will break up. ‘Kissing dating goodbye’ might be a self-protective solution, and was certainly a bandwagon conservative churches jumped onto for a season, but even Joshua Harris has humbly recognised that his youthful arrogance and zeal formed a faulty premise for his bestseller.
My premise is not to analyse dating principles; the hows and wherefores, but to rather address the reality of breaking up and to recognise that it is hard to do.
In the Church, breaking up needs to look different to the world.
Just as our dating practices need to look different from the world and
be counter-cultural, so should our breaking up practices.
Whether a break up is mutual, or if you are the dumper or the dumped, I am hoping that these suggestions might transform your thinking and your hearts. I also recognise that each dating relationship and each individual are unique, so this is not an 8-step ‘one size fits all programme,’ but rather a way of thinking and renewing our minds which will hopefully have an impact on relationships and hearts going forward.
Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 1:3 that ‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness’ and that would include the reality of breaking up and a dating relationship ending.
The starting point for my Biblical ‘breaking up advice’ is the same as my starting point for beginning a dating relationship and it will hopefully colour all interactions with a beautiful testimony of grace.
It is simply this: Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink (or date or break up), do all to the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]
[Just to avoid any confusion, when I talk about dating, I am not talking about the sinful and worldly practice of emotionally immature young people seeking to have their own selfish (and sexual) needs met by others through a culture of hooking up. I use the term dating with a Christian understanding of young people submitting to Christ’s lordship over their desires, purposes and motives and to see if this is someone they could marry and to navigate that by always putting the interests of the other before their own and serving one another sacrificially. This is done in the context of the broader oversight and gentle accountability of the Church family]
#1 Breaking up does not mean breaking off:
This might just sound like clever semantics, but if a relationship was between two believers, then at its core, the foundation of that relationship is family. You are brothers and sisters in Christ and as such, are to serve one another and treat one another out of purity of heart.
Neither are to defraud one another but to act honourably and in holiness. This will affect how you dated and it will affect how you break up. In fact it will impact the break up with the least amount of heartache.
I am not saying hearts won’t feel crushed and broken; that would be naïve. We are made to connect with others and dating is intentionally building to something deeper, but not that deep that worlds will have ended should a break up occur.
Dating is never a marriage.
So even though two people have ended a dating relationship, in the Church that cannot mean that they have ended a relationship. Practically and wisely that restoration may take time and will look different. Finding a new normal might be awkward, but that must be the intention.
#2 Breaking up does not mean breaking down:
Before a relationship, as two people are getting to know one another and then on into a dating relationship, both parties are careful about their speech. Effort is made to speak kindly and considerately and to encourage and build one another up. It is beautiful to watch.
When a decision is made to no longer pursue a dating relationship, whatever the reason might be, godly speech must still prevail. This is not a matter of taking the cowardly approach and not dealing with issues by saying. ‘It’s not you, it’s me…’
It is putting Ephesians 4:29 into practice: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’
No matter what the issues may be, our speech should be gracious and seasoned with salt. Truth can be spoken in love and with kindness. This should be the case during the break up conversation as well as afterwards. No matter the reasons for the break up, one party should never be broken down in front of others. They are still your brother or sister in Christ.
In a break up we should be building up.
Instead of breaking up and blaming and accusing, we need to be building one another up with our words and speech. Neither party is faultless or perfect.
#3 Breaking up demands holding safe:
When two people share in each other’s lives on a more intimate level, they begin to drop their guard and reveal things about themselves, based on an assumption of confidentiality and trust. You may have shared hurts or things that reveal personal insecurities and vulnerabilities.
When a dating relationship ends, this trust is to be maintained, with confidentiality unbroken so that both parties are protected. Integrity, sensitivity and honour are shown in this.
#4 Breaking up requires looking within:
When two young people decide to end a dating relationship, there should be a time for personal introspection instead of pointing fingers. A relationship will inevitably bring out issues that are in our hearts. Character issues. Patterns of behaviour and habits that are unhealthy.
Self-awareness is a good thing. When our hearts are exposed, the Holy Spirit can help us change and grow. This is painful; but necessary.
As we look back we will realise how beneficial it was to look within.
It is the promise of Romans 8:28-29: ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.’
#5 Breaking up results in growing up:
A break up results in us maturing. It is often immaturity in one or more areas that is a primary reason for a dating relationship to end. This could be emotional immaturity, immaturity in the way one spends discretionary time, spiritual immaturity etc.
Any relationship that progresses will highlight these areas pretty quickly and for this relationship to lead to marriage, immaturity must to be dealt with.
The Apostle Paul’s testimony was this: ‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.’ [1 Corinthians 13:11]
#6 Breaking up means grieving over:
Breaking up means a loss. Two people have shared fun, time, hearts, stories and memories in a special way. They have connected. There have been shared hopes and goals. When there is a break up, that means an ending and that is painful.
Take time to cry over what is lost, then get up and trust in your heavenly Father who cares for you. Being stoic is not helpful. Be open and honest about your feelings with those who love you and can weep with you and encourage you. Be prepared to forgive where necessary. Do not hold on to hurt and bitterness. Pack those memories in a box and then put one foot in front of the next.
The Psalmist reminds us of this comforting promise: ‘You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?’ [Psalm 56:8]
#7 Breaking up requires pressing in:
Our natural instinct and default when we are hurting is to withdraw and isolate ourselves from many means of grace available to us. This often results in self- pity and wrong thinking.
Press in to Christ in prayer. ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.’ [1 Peter 5:7]
Press in to brothers or sisters in Christ who can pray with you, counsel you and encourage you. Press in to God’s Word where we get comfort and assurance and truth to renew our minds.
‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom.’ [Isaiah 41:11]
Instead of isolating ourselves we should be reaching out to others, not only to be served but also to serve. That is the antidote to isolation and self-pity.
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’ [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]
#8 Breaking up does not mean giving up:
I am aware that a break up can feel like the end of the world and the temptation to feel like a failure is real. The melodramatic response is often to become a monk or nun. Our instinct is to run away. You are not alone.
There are those who have gone before you and those who will come after you and you will survive this.
You may feel battered and bruised, but in God’s sovereign providence, you are better because of this relationship even if it doesn’t feel like it.
This is part of your story and because God is the author of your story, it is a good story. Your boyfriend or girlfriend has enriched your life, for however long that time was.
Don’t dismiss that.
A ‘failed’ relationship does not mean you are a failure and it doesn’t define you.
You are not a pariah or a Christian social outcast. Often the church’s silence in openly addressing this implies shame.
Some Christian sub-cultures might peddle that breaking up is not legitimate as it goes against their prescriptive dating model which they believe will ensure success.
In the church context, this is a road that needs to be walked with those who are hurting and working through the issues and the pain, gentle and sensitively, weeping with those who weep.
But realise this; another person was never meant to be your whole world and another person was never meant to be the source of your breathing and joy.
Looking to a relationship for your identity or status will only disappoint and end in misery.
There is, however, a relationship with One who is the source of all joy and love and hope.
His name is Jesus Christ.
Long for Him. Seek after Him. Meditate on Him. Consider Him. Pursue Him.
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’
And then, as you look to your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend after a break up, you will see them through eyes of grace and forgiveness and you will be able to be grateful to God for how they were used in your life and you will be able to lift them up to God in prayer.
This not how the world responds to a break up but it should be a believer’s approach and attitude. This is radical, but even a break up can be a testimony of the Gospel.