How Catholics Should Handle Heartbreak
“The heart was made to be broken.” —Oscar Wilde
“Pleasure of love lasts but a moment. Pain of love lasts a lifetime.” —Bette Davis
“So here’s the thing with broken hearts. No matter how you try, the pieces never fit the way they did before.” —Ariana Grande
Oof. Pretty bleak. These are the voices of our culture. These are the messages we’re fed. But are they true?
They’re catching a blip of the truth, so let’s acknowledge that blip. Heartbreak is very real. It’s the worst. Heartbreak has tangible health effects on all levels – biological, psychological, emotional, and spiritual.
“Heartbreak” is a relatively new phenomenon, but a phenomenon it is. Only in the last 100 years or so have we dated like we currently know dating to be. Way back when, it was like, “I like your daughter, sir. Here’s an ox.” Boom, married.
Or even 100 years ago, it was like, “Darling, we’ve been going steady for a month. I’m about to go off to war. We should get hitched!” Done and done.
Only in recent times do we date someone for two years, three years, or even longer (!) and then decide not to spend our lives with that person. Only until very recently do we so deeply commit to someone only to have our commitment not end in sacramental union. We’re plagued with mini-marriages. It’s not…natural, for lack of a better word, and it hasn’t been experienced as intensely and frequently as it currently is.
So, heartbreak is real, but can it bear fruit? Here’s the spoiler alert you totally didn’t see coming: Yes.
How should we, members of Christ’s Body, handle heartbreak? How would Saint Ignatius of Loyola handle a breakup after two years of dating someone? How would Saint Therese of Lisieux handle a broken engagement?
More Time, More God
Breakups leave us feeling like less than our full selves, so it’s important that you lean into the one source that can actually make you full. We only know ourselves when we know God, so reclaim your identity in Christ by “dating” him more often.
If you don’t have God, then Ariana is right. You won’t make it. But! (big but!) you do have God, and God heals. He restores. Renews. His new is always better than your old. Always. Our hearts aren’t meant to be broken, Mr. Wilde, they’re meant to shine forth and bear fruit. Spending time with God — more so than you ever have — will allow the Creator to create anew.
Relationships take up time. Date nights, spontaneous cook-offs in the kitchen, juggling holidays between families, etc.: Relationships are commitments for good reason. Without that commitment, though, your schedule frees up. The temptation is to busy yourself with friends, work, traveling, a “revenge bod,” etc. However, the greatest use of time is time spent with God. What used to be date night can now become a Holy Hour. What used to be “Monday Morning Macchiatos” can now become daily Mass. Giving your new free time to God will allow him to give you a new heart. Every minute spent with him is a minute being held whole again.
I’ll say it again – there’s only one person for whom your heart truly belongs. (It’s God. (What?!?)) Use this time to fully surrender yourself to him. Where you are weak, he is strong, so it’s OK to be weak! Acting strong and putting on your macho face can actually hinder God from working. He wants to meet you where you are, not where you think you should be. The first step to actually climbing the mountain of healing is to take a step back and give it all to God.
This means accepting the fact that you’re sad, that your relationship is gone, and that what happened was God’s will. Oof. That last one is a doozy to do, but it’s necessary in order to fully surrender. If it wasn’t his will, he wouldn’t have allowed it. But he did. This also means trusting that he truly desires your good and that he’s working for your good. He’s crafting something even better for you. It’s not like he’s crossing off your ex from His "Big List of Plans” and moving down to the second-best option.
It’s only in God that true satisfaction is found. Use your heartbreak to check in with yourself and see where your heart’s desires truly lie. If you find them in a good place, great. Continue growing in intimacy with the Lord. If you find them in a not-so-good place, great. Pray for the grace to align your heart to the Lord’s.
Forgive and Learn
It can be easy to hold bitterness, resentment, even ill will against an ex. However, that’s not what my dude, Padre Pio, would do if he had his heart broken. You don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, but he gives it to you. You’re called to give likewise.
To love is to will the good of the other. In this sense, you ought to “love" your ex — no matter how poorly they treated you. In fact, the poorer they treated you, the more you should will their good. They likely need that. Dare I say — yikes — you should even pray for the best for them. Pray that they lean into God’s open arms. Pray that they also grow in holiness and make it to heaven, even though you’ll no longer be on that journey with them.
One of the best ways to forgive is by acknowledging your own shortcomings. Recognize your humanity and weakness. Even in those instances in which the other person was totally in the wrong, realize your imperfections in the relationship and learn from them. The Christian journey is about constantly becoming more like Christ. Relationships are the best way to expose our faults. That’s part of their design. Reflect on your exposed faults and work to correct them. Pray for the grace to grow, and cultivate an awareness to work on those weaknesses whenever possible.
And forgive yourself! Learn from your failures, but don’t overthink them! Even amidst failure, the right person would have stuck it out. You don’t have to be perfect to be accepted. If someone can’t love you as you imperfectly are, then they can’t perfectly love you. And vice versa. That’s not how God loves us.
Even Jesus needed help carrying his cross. It’s OK if you don’t know how to go through this alone. You’re not supposed to. Now is the time to lean into your community. Your friends are there to pick you up. They’re not your escape, but they are your support, so let them support you. Process your feelings with them if you’re feeling overwhelmed, let them treat you to your favorite pizza and enjoy life with them.
If need be — and the need is likely — find someone trained to help on a deeper level. Spiritual directors aren’t just for nuns or priests, but for all people. Find one. Even the healthiest person in the world should see a counselor. Pay for one. Sanctity can start with an antidepressant. Use one (if prescribed.) Any or all of these are not only OK; they’re great.
Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.” If you’re dealing with heartbreak, let the Lord in. You will only come back stronger and more beautiful than ever before.