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Sometimes on social media I hear from someone I had forgotten about. This past week it was an ex from wayyyyyyy baaaaaack in High School. I haven’t spoken to him or thought about him in probably a decade or more…probably more.
But the second I saw his name it was like BAM POW KA-BLAM.
I’m suddenly 17.
I see him pull up to take me out for our last date before he leaves for the military.
He looks somber & his eyes are red.
He takes my tiny hands in his big muscular ones…then slowly slides his class ring off my finger. The ring I’d meticulously wrapped with fuzzy yarn so it would fit.
All he said was, “I’m sorry.”
Then he left.
I remember everything about that moment except how long I stood in the entry way of my house in shock before my mom discovered me there.
I remember hearing Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting For You” when I opened the door. That song still makes me cry, but until today I couldn’t remember why.
I remember I hyperventilated from crying so hard that night.
I remember realizing that I really loved him, and wondered if he ever really loved me.
I had all but forgotten about that guy…so it amazes me how vivid and tangible that single memory of him remains.
I don’t know what I dreamt about but I woke up feeling deep. Deep as in I want to analyze everything deep. Then I heard a song this morning on my drive to work about the freedom found in forgiveness and dealing with things instead of blaming someone else. And my mind headed straight for Matthew.
Matthew was my first love and long-term relationship. I dated people before and after him that I cared about, but no one has remained in my heart the way he has. I think that when you really truly love someone a piece of you will always care what happens to them. I freely admit that the love is still there.
Our break up was THE hardest one of my life. (Truthfully, it was harder and hurt far more than when I ended an engagement at 26 years old). But it needed to happen. It needed to happen because we were growing and changing in separate directions. It needed to happen because we had the same 3 fights on repeat. It needed to happen because we were trapped in between genuine love and completely different priorities. It needed to happen because we were wounding each other deeper every day.
When we did break up I blamed him for the majority of it. If he would do this and not do that then we wouldn’t have fought so much. If he’d just do this instead of that! Why doesn’t he do this instead of that? You see where I’m going with this. He readily took the blame I handed him, so I thought I was totally justified.
When I started dealing with my own issues and insecurities a few years later, I saw our break up in a totally different light. I realized that I was basically expecting a kid, (we dated from 18 to almost 21) who didn’t even really know who he was or what he wanted out of life, to fill every need in my life. Including the needs only God can fill. Can you say UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS?
The guilt of what a horrible person I was to him plagued me for months and months and months. I realized how demanding I was. I realized that I never appreciated the good things he DID do. I didn’t appreciate how far he would drive to come see me or when he did choose to do nice things for me. I swung from the blaming him for everything to blaming myself for everything. I forgave him, but at the cost of condemning myself completely. Can you say JERK? Or better yet, can you say MARTYR?
The true cause fell somewhere in the middle. There were some things that I legitimately needed to take responsibility for, as they were clearly my issues. But there were some things that he needed to do to and take responsibility for. We were both at fault and we were both hurt. And in the end it didn’t really matter what we did or didn’t do, what mattered was that we were both deeply hurt.
What about you? Are you holding a grudge against someone for things long past? Are you still blaming everything wrong in your life on someone else? Do you realize that not forgiving them is actually hurting you, not them? You’re actually holding your own self hostage!
Or are you at the other end of the spectrum holding yourself hostage with guilt, shame or blame? Do you need to forgive yourself?
Either way, choose today to let it go. Go to God and tell Him you don’t want to carry whatever it is you’re carrying anymore. You can be free of guilt, shame, regret, unforgiveness, and condemnation. When those feelings rise up and you feel yourself sliding into that bitter pit, take it back to the Lord and forgive yourself/the other person again. Do it every day if you have to. Do it until unforgiveness no longer plagues you.
The freedom is worth the work to get there. Freedom is better than bitterness any day. Trust me.
*God requires forgiveness. “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13. See also Matthew 6:15 and Luke 6:37.
*God has forgiven you, so you should forgive yourself. “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11-12
*When you forgive yourself and others, you need really to let it go. Don’t meditate on it. Don’t rehearse it over and over in your mind. Don’t even remember it. God doesn’t. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Hebrews 8:12. It’s repeated again in Hebrews 10:17.
*You don’t have to reconcile or have a relationship with someone to forgive them. Stephen forgave the men as they were literally stoning him. “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Acts 7:60
*You don’t have to tell someone you forgive them, to forgive them and move on. Whether you see them every day, you don’t talk to the person anymore, or even if they have passed away, you can forgive them just the same. This is between you and God. Jesus took it to God directly, immediately. “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
*Forgiving someone does not excuse their behavior, nor does it exempt them from legal prosecution in rape, abuse or other situations where the person has broken the law.
*Forgiveness releases YOU to move forward and not be plagued by what happened.
I’ll be honest; it actually took longer and was harder for me to forgive myself than it was to forgive Matthew. Years ago I was fortunate enough to able to apologize to him face to face. We had a very good conversation that day about many different things. It was the most freeing conversation I think I’ve ever had. I let go of the guilt I was carrying for my part completely for the first time.
Forgiveness is truly a beautiful thing.