What only the teenage heart knows

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Youth has the resilience to absorb disaster and weave it into the pattern of its life, no matter how anguishing the thorn that penetrates its flesh.
— Sholem Asch

I want to sit my teenage heart down and tell it something wise and honorable that will prevent the disasters in love I know are coming. I want to look into those ignorant pools of blue and green and shout some kind of sense into them, but I can’t. They blink and stare at me with the kind of unknowing that is right for someone that age. Maybe it’s better this way.

Heartbreak is like a slow-motion boxing match, one where you can see the blows coming but haven’t the sense to step out of the way until you catch one square in the cheek. You take a breath in clean through your teeth and you hold onto it: pain. The pain before the cry that wells inside of you so deep, it takes whole moments of silence before coming out. The sound bounces through your eardrums; the sound of wounds inflicted without cause and you begin to wonder, is this what love really means?

Before heartbreak, everything was easy to discern; the black and white of my emotions and logic were set and unchanging

But as my good friend Micah likes to say, “I’ve followed my beating heart into hell one too many times” and each time, the colors have bled a little more grey.

Disaster was absorbed into my universe in the form of a breakup that was anything but clean.  He was a college baseball player at SDSU where his charming smile won him more than his fair share of girls. A shoulder injury blew his spot in the lineup him midway through the season and he worked hard to earn his position back.  I was brand new to the dating game. When he asked me out, I was oblivious, and thought he just wanted to hear about a trip I had recently taken to Africa. My roommate clued me in and suggested I wear something other than converse and a sweatshirt.

It was a date. He liked me. I was infatuated. It wasn’t complicated.

He traveled frequently for games and I struggled to fit an extra year of schoolwork into my junior year on top of a part-time job at the gym. He was a social butterfly, the center of every laughing crowd, a lover, but unfamiliar with how to nurture trust in our relationship. We spent a summer apart and the wheels started to fall off upon my return to San Diego in the fall. 

Our communication was all over the place

We were both highly charged and emotional during fights. He thought I was overreacting, and his carelessly placed words were like knives in my heart. The breakdown was in full effect. I felt him starting to pull away, neglecting things he knew were important to me so that the relationship might implode on its own.  I broke it off over the phone. Our last conversation was one of those emotional cliffhangers that wasn’t good to end on. He felt it was coming out of nowhere. He was angry, and I was broken.

This undesirable change knocked the rotation of my solar system into an arrhythmic dance. It was a month before I could find my appetite for food. I was flunking math tests like it was going out of style and fighting off emotional turmoil that sat ready to break loose at any moment. My eyes were swollen and none of my jeans fit. Of all the thorns that have ensnared me in love, this one was the cruelest. He was my first love, and everything in my heart screamed to let him back in. I wrestled with the reality that the heart can desperately want what it is not meant to have.

It was a very long time before I stopped believing that I had made a mistake in ending our relationship, even up to a year after we parted ways. But in the aftermath of that hard decision, God gathered up the broken bits of my heart and weaved it into a new mosaic, teaching me more about myself, about others, and what it means to love well.

At heartbreak’s great crossroads, there is scar tissue that threatens our ability to feel again. There we have two choices: to be numbed by the pain, or to be made whole. When I decided which one to take, for the first time ever I understood that great promise in Scripture: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

You will be made perfect in your state of weakness, right where broken-heartedness has placed you

You need not even get up off the floor to dry your tears before God begins his process of making you whole. More importantly, you need not make sense of it right away. Part of this process requires a perspective that only time can give. But He is close to the weary, he promises this much! He favors the meek and those humbled by their circumstances to share in this inner circle of his grace.

I still yearn for the kind of intimacy with God I experienced in the pain of heartbreak, the mysterious and lovely traces of his presence I experienced. He was nearer than even the women I shared my tears with. He spoke life into my dreams and traded my misplaced affections for a sense of worth. At the end of it all, I felt I’d endured a heart transplant as this new beating purpose welled up inside of me.

I took up running to quiet my mind and heart and let the rhythm of my breathing sort out the emotions. It worked out beautifully. In sweat and prayer I maintained a perspective that was healthy and centered so I began to let go of my anger toward the one who had wounded me with his careless words. In surrendering my body to the vigor of a swift pace, I loosened my grip on bitterness. I learned how to forgive. I learned my own weaknesses and need for God.

Heartbreak is no one’s favorite teacher

Its lessons are often traumatic at the outset, but in Christ even the ugly things are made new. That’s what I would like to tell my teenage heart. It’s ok to recognize that our lives will never look the same, much like scar tissue never completely disappears. Yet in its place a new story rises up, a testimony where God has answered the call of his people in pain and comes running. He binds up the brokenhearted, and strengthens the feeble knees and weak hands to make them strong again.