“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1- Corinthians 10:31
If I had a dime for every time someone has sat on my couch, in tears about a recent breakup, I think I’d be a rich man. I pastor a very young church (the average age is 28). As a general rule of thumb, if you stick a lot of single men and women in the same building, they’re usually going to spend time together and eventually get married. So, having “who should I date?” or “should we get married?” conversations is a fairly normal part of what I do.
Not every relationship ends in marriage. And sadly, Christians can too often look like the world when it comes to breaking up. Ignoring each other. Gossiping about your ex. Longing for the person. Fighting bitterness or fighting to get over the pain of the loss. Giving yourself over to quick peeks at his or her face-book page or Instagram account. (Has he moved on? Or is she still hurting just like me?)
If the gospel really makes a difference in our lives, it should show itself in the worst of moments. But if Christian dating looks no different than the world then our faith shows itself to be relatively useless.
What would it mean to break up for the glory of God? Seriously. How do you end the relationship in a way that is God-honoring and honoring of the other person, especially since he or she is a brother or sister in Christ?
Thirteen things to remember:
1. Remember we live in a fallen world.
There is no such thing as risk-free dating. Proverbs 13:12 reminds us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” When there is a breakup, there is often at least one who still hoped it would work out and has that hope deferred. Though we wish it wasn’t this way, we need to have realistic expectations and ultimately put our hope not in the person we’re dating, but in God who never fails.
2. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’
Don’t beat around the bush. If you know you need to break up, it’s better to rip the band-aid off and be straight-forward. That doesn’t mean you should be cruel; we are still called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and to speak only those words that build up and are fitting (Eph. 4:29).
3. Talk in person, not on email, Twitter, Facebook, or over the phone.
This is a simple way to honor them and provide space for questions or discussion.
4. Don’t make the breakup a one-way conversation.
Often the person breaking up has taken a great deal of time to think, come to his/her conclusions and then unloads and leaves. Don’t do that. There are times when it will be helpful to leave room for a follow-up conversation, giving the “break-ee,” if you will, a chance to hear and process a bit. They may have questions or things to discuss afterwards. Some people are good thinking on their feet, some aren’t…
5. Be gracious and loving in the way you end it.
The worst thing you can do is throw stones and cast blame on the other person, not only making them feel sad about the lost relationship, but making them feel guilty, as if it is somehow their fault. Even in the act of breaking up, you need to be thoughtful, gracious and loving towards the other person (Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians. 4:6; Titus 3:2). After all, he or she is a child of God, and is loved by God, so what gives you any right to treat them any different than God? If you are not sure how to do this, find an older, godly Christian man or woman and ask them for help.
6. Don’t use the advice of a pastor, a close friend, a parent, or a counselor as a trump card.
“I talked to X about this, and he/she thinks we should break up.” It’s tempting to do this rather than taking responsibility oneself. When it comes to deciding who we will or won’t marry, we need to take advice, yet remember that ultimately this is a decision each person must make. If you agree with the counsel you are receiving, own it and make it your own.
7. Fight against bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).
When our hope for the relationship is shattered, it is tempting to play the details over and over in our minds until they fester. What can we do to fight against bitterness? (Take a look at # 8, 9 and 10.)
8. Assume the best in the other person’s motives.
1 Corinthians 13:7 reminds us that love “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We can’t peer into someone’s heart, judge their motives, and conclude that they were being malicious. Assume the best in them.
9. Preach truth to yourself .
For instance, when you find yourself struggling with the temptation toward bitterness, you can let go of bitterness because God is righteous and just – we don’t need to take vengeance into our own hands. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, 21, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We can forgive by remembering how God has forgiven us in Christ, as we see in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
10. Find your identity in Christ, not in the lost relationship.
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14). We need to remember that just as our identity is in Christ in the dating relationship (we are not defined by this relationship or by being pursued), so, too, in the breaking up…this broken relationship does not now define you. Most of the church is not thinking as much about it as you are, so when people ask you how your life is, feel free to share other things that are going on, as there are likely many things to talk about. Perhaps even being careful to only talk to a couple of close friends about the details of how you are processing or struggling, just to protect and build up the other person in your speech.
11. Remember our responsibility to do good to all Christians, even your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
It is normal (and sometimes necessary) that your relationship not look exactly like it did before you dated. It’s okay to distance yourself or set some boundaries in order to protect your heart—give it some time. On the other hand, you have a responsibility to do good to that person as your Christian brother or sister. Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This includes a former boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if yours was the heart that was broken.
12. Don’t assume that after the breakup, you must go to another church.
It is possible to stay in the same church with the person you once dated. Too many people assume that they must leave because of how uncomfortable it is initially. It’s easier to run and avoid than to do the hard work of living “at peace” with one another, and eventually (sometimes years later), again being friends. It is not wrong to go to another church, but we don’t want to presume that is the only thing you can really do after a break-up.
13. Remember that regardless of how painful the breakup may be, God is using this difficult experience to sanctify you.
Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Your breakup is included in this phrase “all things.” If you are a Christian, God is using this experience for your good. As hard as this is, he is making you more like his Son. You might not want that right now. With the pain and sorrow over the lost relationship, what you might want more is your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Or you might want to just wallow in your hurt or sadness. But take comfort from the fact that God wants to use this to refine you, using trials “of various kinds” (James 1:2) to help you become more like Christ.
Join the Conversation
Of the 13 principles, which ones stand out to you as most important? What additional biblical wisdom principles would you add?