Relational breakups hurt. They hurt because we feel rejection from others, but they also hurt because they expose our personal flaws.
When the anger subsides, we search inside to determine what about us failed to meet the expectations of a former friend or former boyfriend or former girlfriend.
So what hope does God offer to Christians in the pain of breakups?
The question came from a young man who recently asked John Piper in what will become a future episode in the Ask Pastor John podcast.
What follows is an edited transcript of Piper’s response.
Let me begin with a few examples of painful breakups.
You are a thirteen-year-old girl, and you get a note from your best friend at school: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
You are dating, and you develop a sense that this could be going into something beautiful and lasting, and your girlfriend says, “I don’t think we should keep seeing each other.”
You are engaged, and two months before the wedding, when everything is in full swing, your fiancé says, “I just can’t do it. I can’t go forward. I don’t think this is going to work.”
You have tried over and over again to be a part of various groups at church or work, and nobody ever reaches out to you. Nobody ever follows up. All of your initiatives at friendship lead nowhere. And you are alone most of the time. Nobody calls. Nobody invites you to go anywhere or to do anything.
Now, in their own ways, those are each incredibly painful experiences of rejection.
Six Bad Breakup Responses
So let me mention six possible responses that are not addressing the issue. They are escapes. And so I hope and pray that people will hear these and say, There is another way forward.
Number one. We might experience thoughts of suicide. We have invested that much in this relationship, that without it, life simply doesn’t look worth living. (Piper addresses suicide in greater detail here.)
Number two. We might express our pain with anger: “What a jerk. Who needs her anyway?”
Number three. We might retreat into utter reclusiveness, become a social hermit, and never risk that kind of relationship again.
Number four. We might try to medicate our sorrow by drinking alcohol, or by overeating, or by throwing ourselves totally into our work with no attention to people at all anymore.
Number five. We might respond with self-hatred that expresses itself in anorexic extremes or cutting ourselves. I knew a young woman who was cutting her stomach every few months to get to the hospital to get stitches. I asked her, “What can you share with me — anything that would help me understand what this means?” And she said, “I enjoy the attention I get in the emergency room.” So you could go to that extreme of cutting yourself or starving yourself.
Number six. We might double down on external improvement, so that we can finally earn somebody’s admiration. So she is going to work on her figure. She is going to work on her hair. She is going to work on her wardrobe. And he is going to work out more, and he is going to take some classes. I want to be a good conversationalist, and I am going to fix my outward person, so that somebody will finally like me.
Now all of those responses leave pretty much untouched the core issue, the huge painful question mark that this breakup caused. None of those six responses addresses my core identity or my core relationship or my core joy.
So here is where Jesus, the Lord of the universe, the Savior of the world, is absolutely essential in addressing those things. He does four things for us.
1. A God Who Created Us
God created us so that we would trust in his wisdom and sovereignty and goodness, and so that we would not throw ourselves away as defective and worthless. If we do, we are not trusting him. He made us with our basic intelligence, our basic personality, and our basic body. And if we make the judgment that we can’t be redeemed, we can’t be loved, or we can’t be useful, we are lying about him. We are not trusting him. So first, he gives us our basic significance on the earth, since he makes no mistakes in what he creates. That is number one. He created us.
2. A God Who Loves Us
God accepts us, and forgives us, and loves us, in spite of all the effects or defects that may push others away. If we will trust him, he justifies us freely. This is the great precious doctrine of justification by faith alone. We don’t first measure up and then get accepted with God. We may with others, but not with God. We are accepted because of Christ, because of Christ and his perfections, not our perfections. And we tap into that through faith alone. That is the rock bottom fact of our existence and identity. That is our core relationship, and it is a gift, and it outweighs in preciousness all other relationships.
3. A God to Satisfy Us
He satisfies us. Christ satisfies us with something infinitely greater than a good self-image; namely, himself.
The greatest happiness is not standing in front of a mirror and liking what we see.
The greatest happiness is not standing in front of the world or your girlfriend and having them or her like what they see.
The greatest happiness is not even standing in front of God and having him like what he sees. I admit, that is spectacular and I want that, and I am going to get that, Lord willing, because faith is tapped into Christ.
The supreme satisfaction of our souls is that we stand in front of God and are thrilled by the beauty of God outside of us. He is all at that moment, and he is our highest joy. The highest joys are self-forgetful joys in the presence of infinite beauty.
4. A God to Strengthen Us
Because we have a core identity created by God, and a core relationship as accepted and loved by God through Christ on the basis of Christ, and a core satisfaction because we see God as supremely beautiful on the basis of all of that, we now have the inner strength to move out into the world. We no longer need to crave other people’s acceptance, but we delight to pour ourselves out to serve other people. All our relationships, then, are not rooted in craving, but in serving, which may or may not have the spin off effect of people wanting to be with us. But that is not the point. That is spin off.
So I am not saying that life is without relational pain. Every one of those losses I described can happen to Christians. They are going to happen. And they will hurt. What I am saying is that in Christ we have all we need to live useful and joyful lives through that kind of rejection and pain.