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It wasn't my first romantic disappointment by any means. I had been through several difficult experiences in junior-high and high school. But now in college, with all the optimism of being a new Christian, I simply wasn't prepared for it. I had set my heart on winning the affection of a certain woman in our college fellowship. Finally we talked, and I shared my dreams of a serious relationship with her. When she told me firmly that we could never be more than friends, I was devastated.
I was in such a state of shock that I knew I needed help. The next morning I phoned the youth pastor at our church, who agreed to meet with me that afternoon. While I knew I needed his counsel, I dreaded talking with him. I feared he would give me a lecture on renunciation or something.
But far from putting a spiritual Band-aid on my hurt, he gave me some eminently practical advice. He expressed his counsel in a metaphor that spoke perfectly to my situation: "If you have a glass filled with dirty water, there are two ways to remove the water from the glass. You can dump it out, which gets rid of the water but leaves the glass empty. Or you can take a pitcher of clear, clean water and begin pouring it into the glass. Gradually the fresh water displaces the dirty water."
The empty glass, he explained, represents the unhealthy response to
rejection. You pull out of life and shield yourself from people. You
may dwell on your hurt feelings or repress them. But you stay
isolated, safe from being rejected again. Still, you remain
emotionally drained, since nothing is filling the void left by the
Pouring fresh water into the glass, on the other hand, represents the route to emotional healing. Far from ignoring your feelings of disappointment, you face them and acknowledge them. At the same time you stay socially active and take steps to build new relationships. Gradually the new life that comes from these fresh experiences replaces the anguish that now seems so overpowering.
Within a week I found the courage to ask out another woman in the fellowship, and the experience was rejuvenating to me. My hurt feelings continued to gnaw at me for some time. But new friendships, and eventually marriage itself, brought substantial healing. Even today it's not impossible to jog myself back into the feelings of that hoped-for relationship of many years ago. But I can also say with gratitude that I'm glad now that it didn't work out.
Disappointments in relationships are inevitable in life. Being a Christian in no way insulates us from them. These disappointments aren't limited to romance, but include broken friendships, all the varieties of family strife and separation that are so wrenching, and the indescribable void brought on by the death of a friend or loved one.
God never expects us to react to such disappointments like spiritual robots. The most godly people in Scripture showed a considerable capacity for experiencing sorrow and grief. Jesus himself wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, and showed anguish over the beheading of John the Baptist.
At the same time, we must not allow ourselves to lose sight of the renewing grace of God. The book of Ruth gives us one of Scripture's most inspiring pictures of individuals making a fresh start in relationships. Naomi, bereft of her husband and both sons, assumes that life has little left to offer her. "Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara [bitter]," she declares to her townspeople upon returning to Bethlehem from Moab. "I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty" (Ruth 1:20-21 RSV).
But in Bethlehem her daughter-in-law, Ruth, remarries and has a son, and the relationship with this grandchild fills a gaping emotional need in Naomi's life. Naomi's friends announce to her, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him" (Ruth 4:14-15 RSV).
Ruth bears a grandson, whom the townspeople declare will be a restorer of life to Naomi in her old age. Yet the child was God's gift, and the passage shows that God himself was a restorer of life to Naomi--and at an unlikely point in her life. We scarcely find a more encouraging and stirring aspect of God's nature revealed anywhere in Scripture. We're reminded that it's central to his nature to bring emotional healing and renewal, even to our social life, and even at points when we assume all hope is lost. Appreciating this way in which God restores our lives inspires us to take steps that will allow it to happen.
Redirection of Affection
We should dwell on this aspect God's nature--that he is a restorer of life--when we experience the pain of rejection or a failed relationship. God may choose to bring healing by restoring the relationship itself. If not, he can be trusted to redirect our feelings and open up new opportunities. Disappointment, in fact, can bring depth and empathy to our lives, which will enhance the quality of relationships in the future.
God is even capable of giving you romantic love for a new individual. As horridly academic as that may sound if you're reeling from a broken relationship, I can simply assure you from my own experience--and that of many others--that it's true. Naomi isn't the only one who experiences emotional healing in the book of Ruth but also Ruth, who remarries. Boaz was Ruth's second husband; once again, she finds the capacity for romantic love toward someone.
If we are to personally experience God's healing, though, we must
take those steps that allow him to pour fresh water into the glass.
That's why participating in Christian fellowship and seeking out new
friendships is so important. Staying in circulation is critical.
Naomi and Ruth didn't enjoy the full benefits of God's renewal
until they left Moab, the place of their bereavement, and moved to
Judah. It must have been very difficult for them to leave the old
familiar territory. Yet this move made possible the wonderful new
family relationships that developed for both of them. Of course, Naomi
didn't bottle up her feelings when she made this move. Far from it!
She bore her grief fully and expressed it freely. Undoubtedly Ruth did
too. Yet even in the midst of their sorrow they found the courage to
take an important step of faith toward healing. It's a graphic example
of pouring fresh water into the glass.
May God grant us such courage to move forward when we personally experience disappointment. And may he give us the wisdom to understand the steps we can take that will most fully open us to his healing. May we never lose sight of God's role as a restorer of life, or doubt his ability to meet our deepest needs. And may we never forget the benefits of making a fresh start, when a relationship has ended and our world seems to be coming apart.
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This article is excerpted from chapter eighteen of Blaine's The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994).
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