If you’re like me, the words “grace” and “heartbreak” probably aren’t synonyms in your mental thesaurus. I tend to think of them more like antonyms.
Heartbreak for most of us means confusion, pain and frustration—confusion about why our romantic relationship had to end, pain that it did and frustration that we’re left with a broken heart instead of a wedding day.
In contrast, grace seems most evident in our interactions when we feel a sense of clarity, pleasure and fulfillment—all things notably absent from our emotional landscape in the wake of a failed relationship.
Grace and heartbreak are clearly at odds. At least that’s what I thought until I encountered an entirely different take from C.S. Lewis.
“We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour,” Lewis writes in The Four Loves. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”
Could Lewis be saying that heartbreak is actually a good thing? A gift from God tailored specifically for us? Is heartbreak one of the ways that God shows us grace?
The more I reflect on it, the more I think that this is exactly what he is saying.
And the more I think he’s right to say it: Heartbreak and grace aren’t antonyms. In fact, we set ourselves up to miss a lot of good if our understanding of grace leaves no room for heartbreak. Why? Because heartbreak itself is a gracious gift from God. Here are three ways how:
Heartbreak reveals our weakness.
When things are going well, we can fall prey to the fantasy that we know where most of life’s puzzle pieces should go. We believe ourselves to be capable and strong. But like all suffering, heartbreak torpedoes this fantasy by showing us how weak we really are. Our illusion of strength is shattered by the fact that we can’t bottle in the pain of a broken heart. Rather, that pain spills out as our usually together selves fight to maintain some sense of composure.
Our inability to control our emotions press home the fact that we don’t really control anything. We’re not strong. We are weak. This fresh awareness of our weakness is a gracious gift from God. Through heartbreak, God is kindly bringing our feelings more into line with the way things actually are. God uses heartbreak to pull back the curtain on our facade of strength.
Heartbreak can be a means of drawing nearer to God.
Our newfound weakness can be a stairwell into self-pity or a launch pad for more frequent and earnest conversations with God. Increased awareness of our neediness can compel us to come to God and ask for help.
These requests for help needn’t consist of scripted prayers that are well thought through and articulated with the utmost theological precision. Rather, we can engage with God by bringing to Him the things that we actually feel. And we can do so with whatever words come to us in the moment. This sounds like any number of short prayers.
Any of these pleas sound familiar? “God, I can’t even make it through a conversation today without crying. Please help me.” “Holy Spirit, I really really want this relationship to work out. But it isn’t. Why in the world are you doing this to me?” “Jesus, I hate this. I’ve run out of tears. Everything hurts. Will you please be sufficient for me?”
Our calls to God for help mark an increased dependence on Him. This increased dependence is further evidence of God’s grace. It shows that He is making us more like Jesus, who, while on earth, offered to God prayers and supplications “with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
Heartbreak may be necessary.
As we come to God we find that He is more than capable of handling our raw and disorganized feelings. He made us. He sustains us. He is good, loving and wise.
Heartbreak hurts. But the fact that it hurts doesn’t mean that it falls outside the scope of God’s kind plan for our lives. Maybe our hearts needed to be broken. Maybe, in breaking them, God is doing for us more good than we can imagine.
Part of this good is encompassed in the fact that each failed romance can help us see our weakness a little more clearly. Each non-existent second date can help us cling a little more tightly to Jesus. Each relationship-ending conversation can help us develop a little more fully into the person God wants us to be.
Lewis is right. A broken heart may not have been the only way God could have done us this good, but it very well may have been the best.