Has a heartache ever left you numb? It’s like someone hit you on the head. The very first bodily reaction was a shrill sound, it seemed to engulf all of your other senses. You don’t feel a thing – sorrow or happiness – for a very long time.
One of the worst feelings in the whole world is knowing that your heartache was so absolutely useless. The feeling that you were fooled, used, trampled upon. When you shed countless tears or spent sleepless nights crying. When James Bay became your “Bae” for weeks on end or when you wrote Tomorrow you won’t be mine. When you longed and cared for someone who didn’t care at all. Oh well, you were just a collateral damage in someone’s life’s grand plan. Ouch that feeling. It reduces you into an atom, so minuscule and so humiliating.
Meanwhile, the world moves on. That annoying neighbour whose water tank still overflows for hours before you finally go into his house to shut it. Those angry birds shit on your car every single day. Always a snoring uncle who spoils your window seat experience in a flight. The pothole at the exit of your neighbourhood. The pile of dirty dishes every night. That school-time rival who returns after a decade only in order to trump you with – oh you are still single?
I have been there. Several times. And I would desperately like to think that I came out of each heartache wiser than before. God please please, let this be true – I pray.
This is yet another blog I have been sitting over for almost three months now. But as always, I mustered up to post it. If you are going through a season of pain, I hope my experience and some insights help you sail through it.
Not generalizing people based on one experience
I was 24, working as a Features Writer with The Times of India. Those days, my Dad being a Theologian, was often invited in Churches on special occasions. My brother Abhishek and I accompanied him often to sing songs after his sermon. It was during one such trip that I met this guy – seemingly perfect, I want you to say I-Do type. He led the choir in the church, played guitar, conducted a youth group’s Bible study, wrote songs in God’s honour and was an administrative head in a school. When I first heard him pray in church, I was certain I had found “the one”. During the end of the trip, though, I realized the attraction wasn’t mutual. He didn’t make any move.
Life still looked quite bright then. I was enjoying my work, practical enough to handle a mild rejection. Back to my hometown – happy as ever. Ah, not for long.
Once I called that same guy’s elder brother – who my brother Abhishek and I had befriended. We were all very musically inclined and often shared resources. The call was related to that. Instead of his brother though, he picked up the phone and promptly introduced himself. He told me frankly how much he had wanted to talk to me after the trip but didn’t have my number. I happily gave mine. We texted daily, sharing Bible verses or spiritual dilemmas, or things about songs, poetry, books, singers, music genres and what not. On one occasion, when he learnt I was ill, he did something very sweet. He put his phone on speaker, got out his guitar and sang this amazing romantic number for me. I began to define what love could be and should be. In the next few days, however, the sky looked hazy. He would call me at odd hours and sounded very confused. Even if I liked him then, I didn’t like hiding those late-night phone calls from my parents. I told him he needed to call me during the day. He continued to call me regularly, though, complimenting me for no reason, talking about random things or other times just being so silent over phone.
The mystery unfolded pretty quickly after that. His brother had gauged what was going on. So he called me one fine day, informing me that the guy had a long-time girlfriend and they were due to get married in November that year. This was August. It was further confirmed by a few other friends. Apparently, everyone, except me, knew it. I never called him again. I stopped responding to his texts and eventually blocked his number. He wasn’t even worthy of my anger, my vents or my words of disappointment. His brother probably warned him about me, so he never tried to contact me by other means. I did get a wedding invitation card in November though, promptly delivered to my address. Amazing, isn’t it?
For the longest time after that, I had trust issues with boys in general. Before this, I used to admire musicians greatly but then I began to maintain distance from the ones I already knew. Thankfully, a handful of musicians, including my brother, compelled me to change my stance. I learnt to not generalize people as much as I could. Most of all, I learnt to stop putting humans on a pedestal just because they were talented.
I remember since I was a teen, disappointments or betrayals like these have had the power to affect me deeply. They left me scarred and wounded –heart and soul. Those days I would run to Dad. He would pet my hair and say – my brave child! And even while embracing me in his arms, he would reprimand me – You think I could leave you? I am always here, you know that right?
Over the years, I have learnt to hide my heartaches from Dad. Over the years, I have learnt to confine all my heartaches to my room. But where and how shall I hide it from God? King David writes –
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
I stumbled upon this beautiful confession – The year my world felt apart by Pastor Bob Kaufflin. Pastor Bob was 39, happily married and father of two when he had felt like an utter failure. He wrote –
Feelings tell me something is happening in my soul, but they don’t necessarily tell me why I feel (or don’t feel) a certain way.
Man, he nailed it! He added something more profound –
Our problem isn’t that we have no hope. We just hope in things that aren’t God. Our own abilities. A preferred outcome. Our reputation. Financial security. You fill in the blank. And when the idols we’ve hoped in don’t deliver as promised, we panic. We despair. We lash out. We go numb.
Instead of generalizing people based on one bad experience, you can choose to look inside of yourself. I did. This time.
Hug the pain – left, right, center
Thanks to Pastor Kauflin’s amazing confession, this time I actively looked for the idols of heart – those that didn’t deliver. Yes, I did put my faith in a feeling, in a person or in the promise of a future and there was no way any of this could deliver to my expectations. They are all products of this failing, imperfect world. The ultimate truths will hurt but isn’t it better to face those truths than live in lies?
Unlike last time, I waited actively for the good old excruciating pain to hit me. I was prepared to cry uncontrollably in the nights or drift into numbness while working. I knew memories would haunt me unexpectedly at any given hour. And social media would only make it all worse. No anti-climax here. And boy it hurt. It hurt like mad. It still does and will for sometime. I told God frankly that I didn’t want to miss His lessons this time. But for His lessons to come, I must bear the pain.
My pain revealed a myriad of things about me. It revealed how much I felt, how much I was invested in it. It showed my need to be vulnerable. It also showed how selfish I could be about my dreams. All this must hurt me because from it would come the healing.
Maybe it’s ok if I’m not ok
‘Cause the One who holds the world is holding onto me
Maybe it’s all right if I’m not all right
‘Cause the One who holds the stars is holding my whole life.
[Jonathan Lindley Smith / Bryan Fowler / Darren Mulligan]
Guard your heart fiercely against bitterness
My reader, my fellow single still please do pursue forgiveness. I know, I know. That seems impossible at the moment but do consider it. At the same time, know this – even after forgiving, it’s going to hurt. Let your heart bleed if it must. But pursue forgiveness with all your heart.
The pain helped me see how dark my heart could be – ugly and selfish. When I was hurting, I became this person who wanted some ‘divine vengeance’ from God for the person who hurt me.
When I got face-to-face with this side of my heart, I felt terrible. The heartache looked smaller than this specific problem. It got me to my knees again and I found myself praying for a transformation of heart. I am still struggling with this one but I haven’t given up. I believe God treats every person within his/her context according to his/her desires. You probably need to believe in this divine scheme of justice too.
Don’t let your heartache make you cold. No person, heartache or hurt is worth cultivating bitterness. I urge you to keep an open mind, fight for it because this will help you heal truly and absolutely. Bitterness kills your own character, it hampers your growth as a person. I am learning to treat each bad experience individually and contextually.
Set boundaries, even if it seems impossible
Once I am clear in my mind about where I went wrong, I don’t delay corrections. If I need to confront myself, I do. If I need to confront the other person, I do that too. For me, a clear ‘NO’ isn’t half as hurting and harmful as a ‘may be’.
“Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No lest your fall into judgement.”
[The Bible, James 5:12]
I don’t like to be somebody’s back-up plan or ‘in-the-meantime’. Who does? So I immediately set boundaries, if I have to. It simply means I have had enough. I have forgiven and I have been forgiven, now it’s time to look forward.
When you are hurting, it’s hard to resist the feeling of going back to the person who rejected you or the situation that left you scarred. Don’t. If it was meant to be, it should not have hurt you so much. Choose the current painful truth over ‘what could have been’.
Find someone to encourage
During this phase of sadness, I recalled how soothing the company of friends had been. Good friends had knocked a lot of sense into my brain when I needed some. Yet, this time, I wanted to practise what Late Reverend Billy Graham had advised:
Are you discouraged today? Go encourage someone.
I found empathy in doing that. I took a female friend, 10 years my junior, to a coffee date and listened about her heartache. I offered some advice but mostly I just sat and sympathized. I took another friend out to just tell her how much I appreciated her presence and how special she was. If you are thinking, this was a way of distracting my mind – you are wrong. Since I could empathize with their pain, the memories just rushed in again. On one occasion, I drove home crying hard. Yet I continued listening and helping. And I am going to continue to encourage the heart-broken simply because I know exactly how broken-ness feels.
Truths have a context
People change. Don’t you? Other people make mistakes, just as you do. They aren’t perfect, just as you are not. Other people deserve forgiveness, as you do.
I am still there, in an all-too familiar ocean of sorrow. The only difference is – now I don’t feel like I am drowning, I am learning to swim in it. I have faced these truths over the years –
– Even though someone made me believe he liked me at first, could eventually change his mind. I need to forgive this imperfect human.
– The person I consider my friend may not have been at the same level of friendship as I was with her. I need to be happy with what I felt.
– I reacted to circumstances in the past, I responded pro-actively to an impression and I can do nothing to change it. But I can definitely control what I do next.
– The person who hurt me is a human too, prone to make mistakes. He deserves forgiveness as much as I do.
– Truths have a context. In someone else’s life story, I could be the villain. ( I have said this before in a blog, haven’t I? 😀 😀 )
Do the answers ever come though? Some of mine did. Ten years later, that same guy found me on Facebook. My screen blinked late one night. A message on Facebook messenger read – Can I call you? I still have feelings for you.
I couldn’t believe the audacity of this person. I checked his Facebook profile, his photos with his wife and child. I promptly blocked him. Again. That past heartache now felt nothing compared to the horrifying prospect of spending my life with a man like that. I marvelled at God’s wisdom.
I am now on a quest to get wiser and more discrete with each passing pain. Yeap, it will pass.
But will I continue to wear my heart on the sleeve? Yes of course because it makes me – me. Will I let God take the driving seat? Always. I will surrender my feelings to Him alone. Will I continue to feel at all? Hell yeah! Will I let patience do its work? I will try. Will I get answers to all my questions? One day.
Heartaches have taught me humility. Thank God they haven’t been able to diminish my zest for life. Not yet. Untill then, I am choosing hope. Will you too?