|With Valentines Day approaching, I wanted to feature this article, for anyone reeling from a failed relationship. For others, I hope it brings encouragement to draw on Godís strength and stay hopeful in the face of any rejection or disappointment you face. (Excerpted from my Marry a Friend: Finding Someone to Marry Who Is Truly Right for You.)|
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SPENT TWO WEEKS CRYING over losing him.Ē
Louise described to me her reaction to being shelved by Harold.
Louise is not a self-pitying person, but a mature, vivacious
individual. Yet she was much less prepared for what happened than
she thought. She had let her hopes get too high about a future with
Harold, and not without good reason. He had said he was open to the
possibility of a serious relationship. But after several months, he
decided that their differences on certain spiritual issues were too
great. They would do best to forgo getting serious but stay friends.
Friends? Small comfort to someone who had marriage in mind.
Many people falsely imagine they are invulnerable to the hurt of
rejection. I remember thinking as a new Christian that believers
must be fairly well insulated against major heartbreak. I was to
find in time that my humanity remained well intact. You may have
likewise imagined that your spiritual perspective or life philosophy
would protect you from the pain of rejection, but then were
devastated when it actually occurred. Itís something even the most
stouthearted among us discovers: rejection cuts deep.
look at why rejection hits us so hard, but most importantly, at how
we can better prepare for it--and even benefit from it. We come here
to a matter that isnít as pleasant to think about or anticipate as
others related to seeking marriage. Yet itís an area of experience
thatís essential to understand and be ready for if you are
to realize your goal of finding a lifetime companion. The fact is
that you will probably go through at least one episode of rejection
or disappointment on the way to meeting the person you marry.
originally considered titling this chapter in Marry a Friend ďAccepting the
Inevitability of Rejection.Ē I decided against that because itís
too negative and connotes a sense of fatalism about rejection that I
donít mean to imply. I wrote that book to boost your hopes, not
that title does capture something of what I want to say. If you are
to stay strongly hopeful about finding a partner, you have to be
steeled for the sort of experiences that too easily squash your
dreams. Far too often, a single occasion of rejection is enough to
do it. For many, too, the mere fear of the possibility of rejection
keeps them from moving off square one. In either case, the reaction
is much more extreme than warranted. Indeed, rejection, rightly
understood and handled, can take you closer to your goal of marriage
rather than further away. Itís not the ultimate catastrophe we
make it out to be.
truth is I donít know any happily married person who didnít
suffer at least one major disappointment before finding the person
who was right for her or him. Most went through several unhappy
episodes prior to meeting their spouse. Itís not that this
absolutely has to be the case. Yet it doesnít seem that God
exempts many of us from this pattern.
of these people will deny that the pain of these disappointments was
considerable. Yet most will also admit now that even their most
difficult relationship experiences of the past brought them certain
benefits. These incidents not only helped prepare them for the
realities of marriage, but sometimes in ironic ways brought them
closer to meeting the person who became their lifemate.
Rejectionís Positive Side
the right perspective, itís possible not just to survive rejection
or the unhappy ending of a relationship but to actually benefit from
the experience. It all has to do with your perception. Typically,
when disappointment occurs in romance, we are prone to three
I donít have the right qualities for someone to love me in a
doesnít want me to be married.Ē He
has shown me through this closed door that he wills for me to stay
wonít be able to love again.Ē
The one person whom I truly loved is not available. It wouldnít be
genuine to expect I could feel this same intensity of love for
of these conclusions is unnecessary and tragic: unnecessary, in that
it doesnít likely reflect the reality of our life as God sees it;
tragic, in that if it persists, it too easily becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Letís look more closely at why these
assumptions are so detrimental.
are instinctively prone as humans to reason from the specific to the
general. When the emotional intensity of an experience is great, we
tend to view the rest of our life through the eyes of this one
experience. Yet the conclusions we draw can be most misleading.
isnít exaggerating to say that the death of expectations for a
relationship can be as heartbreaking as the physical death of a
loved one, especially when youíve placed great hope in these
anticipations being realized. In Coming Apart, family
therapist Daphne Rose Kingma suggests that the ending of a
relationship of short duration can be even more painful than the
demise of a long-term one, for youíve had less chance to see the
otherís imperfections and thus to have some basis for seeing value
in the breakup.* Of course, the failure of
a relationship even to get off the ground can be devastating if your
hopes have run high. The rejection of a single date can crush you.
the wake of any such experience of loss, grief you suffer must be
felt and worked through. Itís normal to feel at a low point then
and to dwell on your disappointment. At this time, though, while not
denying your feelings of disappointment, you should make every
effort to remind yourself that this relationship was but one among
an almost infinite variety of possible others for you, and that it
doesnít have to mirror your future. In the immensely complex world
of romantic relationships, where the chemistry doesnít take in one
case, it takes wonderfully and surprisingly in another. There are so
many intangible and unpredictable factors involved in what draws two
people together that you never have a basis for concluding that all
hope for finding a good relationship is gone.
this is the very important fact that you can often learn valuable
lessons from a failed relationship that will improve your prospects
for finding an enduring one. I say this cautiously, for it isnít
always true that you can learn clear lessons from past failures, and
you must be careful not to self-flagellate in the process. My advice
is to look only for very obvious lessons that are there.
my own case, for instance, I learned through two difficult
experiences as a young single that women found me insensitive when I
spoke too soon about my thoughts on Godís will for us. I told them
early in the relationship that I thought he wanted us to be married.
As I came to understand how presumptuous I was in doing this, I
determined to change the pattern. It allowed for a much more relaxed
and spontaneous relationship with Evie.
me caution you, though, to avoid resolutely the thought that things
might have turned out better if you had acted differently. There
simply is no way to know this. Here you need to rest fully in the
grace and protective hand of God, and trust that he has your very
best in mind in what youíve gone through. Even if you had done
everything perfectly, the breakup might still have occurred. As
painfully academic as the thought may seem at this time, the day may
come when you thank God from your heart that things transpired as
they did. When youíve met the right person, the relationship will
work in spite of many weaknesses and imperfections on your part.
any case, donít fall into the trap of predicting your future on
the basis of your past. Your past experience in relationships in no
way proves what your future will be. Someone else may respond to you
very differently. Donít write history before it happens!
Doesnít Want Me to Be Married
we suffer romantic disappointment, we tend to reason outward from
that one experience to what broader message God might be giving us
about our life in general. Too often the conclusion is negative: God
is showing me through this roadblock that I should stop pinning my
hopes on getting married and should face the reality that he wants
me to stay single.
though, is this conclusion justified. When
the contrary, he even says that widows should look toward getting
married again if their need for marriage remains strong (1 Cor
7:8-9, 1 Tim 5:14-15). I doubt that anyone is more inclined to
conclude God doesnít want them married than one who has suffered
the death of a spouse. Yet Paul allows no room for such a fatalistic
assumption. Underneath it all, his attitude is supremely optimistic.
then, does God allow us to experience disappointment in
relationships if the reason isnít to show us we should stay
very important reason is to keep us from entanglements that
wouldnít be good for us. In his infinite knowledge of the future,
God sees much more clearly than we possibly can whether a particular
relationship would result in a healthy marriage and contribute to
his best intentions for our life. ďThere is a way that seems right
. . . but in the end it leads to deathĒ (Prov 14:12). Sometimes
the only way God can protect us from the romantic equivalent of
driving off a cliff is by bringing about the breakup of a
relationship we cherish. Only with time and hindsight do we
appreciate his wisdom.
reason is to teach us lessons about life and relationships that can
only be learned through experience. Also, difficulties build
tenacity and resilience into us that can only be acquired through
experience. Such events bring us back more fully to trusting him to
meet our deepest needs.
but not least significantly, a more mystical factor is involved that
can often be demonstrated but never fully explained. There seems to
be a law in human life that a certain number of failures are
sometimes required to bring about a success. To say it differently,
success sometimes comes only through a number of earnest attempts.
Itís the principle of seed bearing talked about so frequently in
Scripture. Some seeds take root while others donít, for reasons we
never fully understand. Yet the greater the number sown, the greater
the likelihood of a rich harvest. Thus Ecclesiastes:
you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a
motherís womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker
of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not
your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether
this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (Eccles 11:5-6)
disappointment comes in romance, out tendency is to think that
failure once means failure forever. We see the lots cast against us,
and imagine ourselves living an isolated, lonely life. Yet the
principle of seed bearing suggests that an experience of failure may
indicate that weíre now in line for a success as much as anything.
Success isnít less likely now, but more so! If weíll simply keep
casting the seeds, eventually one will take root.
fair to think of this, too, as a principle of compensation. Failure
with one try is compensated for by success at another. All of this
adds up to one important point: There is purpose in trying again
when you experience disappointment or rejection in a relationship.
You must not close the door in this or any area of your life before
God is ready to do so.
Wonít Be Able to Love Again
if you accept that you might be successful in another effort,
though, you may find it hard to imagine that your feelings of love
can redirect to someone else. Hasnít God so created us that
weíre capable of experiencing full-fledged romantic love for only
one person in a lifetime?
pervasive and deep-seated as this notion is, it hits wide of the
mark of reality. In fact, God has so constructed the human psyche
that any individual can experience the feeling of romantic love
toward a potentially large number of people. He has put within each
of us an extreme measure of resilience. Itís to this end that Paul
tells the widow she ďis free to marry anyone she wishesĒ
(1 Cor 7:39, emphasis added). Clearly underlying this statement is
the assumption that the widow will be able to love again. If
this is true for someone whose spouse has died, it certainly can be
true for one who has suffered a broken relationship.
noteworthy that Boaz is Ruthís second husband, her first
having died in
isnít meant to minimize the pain we may experience in rejection.
But it is to say that light is at the end of tunnel. Over time, we
can overcome the pain and redirect our romantic affection.
experienced these feelings of rejection strongly when a church
friend told me politely but firmly that she wasnít interested in
dating me. I had let my hopes for a relationship with her get out of
hand and now felt quite deflated. I confided in a pastor, who
advised me that, while I shouldnít ignore my feelings of
disappointment, I should move as quickly as possible to find a new
place for my affection.
expressed the point in symbolic terms: ďIf you have a glass filled
with dirty water, there are two ways to get it out of the glass. You
can dump it out, in which case the dirty water is quickly gone but
the glass is left empty. Or you can take a pitcher of clean, cool
water and begin pouring it into the glass. Gradually, the fresh
water will displace the dirty.Ē
went on to explain that the empty glass represents the unhealthy way
of dealing with a broken relationship: bailing out of life, turning
off your emotions, turning a hard heart to the possibility of new
relationships. Pouring fresh water in the glass represents the
healthy approach: You admit your feelings of regret, which are only
too real, while at the same time taking steps to build new social
contacts. Gradually, the new life that comes from them will take the
place of the anguish that now seems so overpowering.
advice proved sound. Within a week, I found the courage to ask out
another woman in our churchís college group, and the experience
rejuvenated me. My hurt feelings continued to gnaw at me for some
time. But new friendships, and eventually marriage itself, brought
substantial healing. Even today, itís possible to jog myself back
into the feelings of that hoped-for relationship of more than forty
years ago. But I can also say with gratitude that Iím glad now it
didnít work out.
are important to us, and I believe you will find the metaphor of the
pitcher and the glass a helpful one to keep in mind in the face of
disappointment in relationships or any other area. God has built
great resilience into each of us. We are much more capable of
rebounding from rejection and failure than we may realize. Yet an
important process is involved, and this analogy describes it as well
as any elaborate explanation could. Donít let the inertia of life
overtake you when things donít turn out as you had hoped. Break
that inertia, seek new relationships and new outlets for your
energy, and let the cool, fresh water fill the glass.
while always an unpleasant experience, doesnít have to be a
catastrophic one. Indeed, when rightly handled, it can be a positive
step toward your goal of finding a lasting relationship. ďAnd we
know that in all things God works for the good of those who love
him, who have been called according to his purposeĒ (Rom 8:28).
ďAll thingsĒ includes rejections and unwanted endings to
relationships. Even in these he is working out a plan that has your
very best in mind. Dwell on that as you seek his courage to move
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