How many different sensations of pain are there?
A broken heart feels like exactly that, a hollowness in your chest. Sharp debris railing into your lungs without warning. Each beat heavier, more laborious, marked by uncertainty; when will it give way? When will your heart compress under the pressure?
The break-up was like a divorce. A divorce between him and I. Between possibility and reality. Between who I could be and who I was. Between success and relapse. Between hope and fate. Words stuck, like thorns, stinging without relief, his words. His moms. His dads. I devoured my Bible, looking for comfort. For validation, for hope, for an escape from the crushing loneliness.
Some people find it hard to draw near to an omnipotent God because they’re unceasingly occupied with self-sustaining, enjoying a charmed life or even a pleasantly mediocre one. In that way, I’ve always been blessed with strangling failure, tremulous hands perpetually outstretched, groping for a Savior.
A haze coated my understanding in those days. I remember reading the Bible with the Student after mercilessly cheating on him, but the only way I thought to approach those pages was topically. And so we read sentence after sentence on forgiveness.
Something in me thought that if I moved on quick enough, if I acted maturely enough, if I became godly enough, he and his family would recognize what they lost and mourn forever and ever until the day they died. Or something like that.
So, I really tried. For awhile, the Student and I would still meet each other. Recline in their home theater watching ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ Practicing friendship, playing pretend. He went on dates, I would dress up with maturity and pretend to give advice without breaking inside. I hastily rebounded with a friend from church, we flaunted it brutishly. I came to church faithfully, practicing laughing and being independent and stable. Intruding into his family’s life, pretending, pretending there was something they’d missed in me, something worth loving and knowing.
The weekends he was home and came to church, I froze in my seat, heart pounding, leaping, puncturing. The Wednesday night he brought his girlfriend and me sitting in the girl’s class, sobbing the whole time, everyone knowing why. My loyal Childhood Friend by my side, offering playfully to beat him up. Those physiological reactions upon seeing him would last for years and years and years.
Eventually, I confronted myself. I was growing spiritually. But I knew I was going to that church because of his family. And I knew there would be no more growing if I kept ripping open the wound each week. So against my selfish desire to prove myself to them, I left the church and started attending a congregation an hour away.
It was here that I found God. Where I had seen men as trees walking before, it was here where He laid his hands on me again and I opened and saw clearly. It was here that my faith took on a life of its own, slowly drawing away from the tether of the Student’s family. Slowly. Imperfectly.
But as with all experiences in my life, these flashes of clarity and these currents of beauty and progress and change and hope were tainted, polluted by my ever-present sin.
Why couldn’t something happen so plainly, so obviously so that I would know once and for all who I was? Why couldn’t I transform concretely so I would know whether or not my story was a success?
Instead the canvas of those years was flecked with prayer and church, studies and friendships, learning and growing, and cutting and drinking, and sex and abuse and depression and regression all in one mottled work of art.