Some of us are lucky in love.
We have a high school sweetheart, fall madly in love, get married and stay married for 60 years.
Others of us, it doesn’t work out quite like that.
Be it the inability to find anyone to love us; a lack of faithfulness by ourselves or our partner; abuse; neglect; or death, we find our hearts shattered, broken, stretched, hardened.
The heart is an amazingly complex thing we often underestimate, and those of us who have been lucky as far as love is concerned often don’t experience the full capacity of the heart to both heal and to love.
My first love was right out of high school, and as a guy who feels his emotions very deeply and passionately, I fell hard. When the relationship ended, my heart shattered, and I honestly did not think it would ever recover.
And it took a long time; years, in fact, because I was young, immature, and didn’t know how to foster my heart’s healing.
But, it did heal. And I fell in love again about five years later. Though, it didn’t quite feel the same as the first time, but nonetheless it was love.
That relationship lasted a lot longer, but it, too, ended in heartbreak and confusion. The pain in some ways wasn’t as intense as my first relationship, but in other ways it was even more intense. It’s kind of hard to explain in words.
So what is it the heart is doing and is capable of? How can it love multiple people across a lifetime? What in the world is going on?
When my heart is hurting as it is now, I think a good bit about widows and widowers who remarry; people who truly have been in love with someone and then tragically lost them, only to eventually love someone else enough to marry them.
Does that mean they suddenly no longer love their previous spouse? No, I don’t think that’s true at all, nor do I think they should. It means they’ve learned the truth that the heart is capable of holding a lot of love.
We know this is true when we think of our children: those of us with more than one kid know that our hearts expand with the birth of each one in ways we may have not thought possible, increasing our ability to love – the heart expands. We find more room in it to deeply love more people.
Love is ultimately not a feeling. Feelings accompany it, sure, but that’s not what it is at its roots. It’s a commitment, a selfless depth of care for another person. Because that’s what it is, in theory there’s no limit to the number of people we can love, and in fact the Christian affirmation is that we are, genuinely, to love everyone (but of course not in a romantic sense).
Every person I’ve been in love with I’ve loved uniquely, because each person is different. They hold their own place in my heart. Healing occurs in stages as my heart learns to let them go, but, as in the case of widowhood, the terms of “letting go” can be different depending on how a relationship ends.
First and foremost, healing takes time. Time, time, time. It also takes intentionality. You aren’t just going to heal by letting time pass (though, to be sure, that does help some). And it takes patience and perseverance.
Healing occurs in layers. Freaking, frustrating layers. The depth of pain and trauma we’ve been through can cut through us deeply, so that, as we heal from one aspect of it, a layer is removed like an onion and we find yet another layer of pain lying beneath.
I think the first step in healing is forgiveness. Unfortunately, must of us don’t understand what real forgiveness is. To forgive someone is not the same as letting them off the hook or absolving them of what they’ve done to us, in essence saying, “Well, you treated me like garbage, but that’s OK.” That is not forgiveness.
Forgiveness is acknowledging the pain and the evil that took place and looking it square in the face. It’s saying to someone (even if not to that person’s face) that what they did was wrong; it hurt; it was not right, nor was it OK; but I choose to not hold it against you anymore. That is forgiveness: not holding something against someone in your own heart anymore.
Forgiveness is huge. The heart can’t truly heal at all unless we forgive. It will lug around our pain and trauma indefinitely otherwise. Honestly, I think forgiveness is even called for when death is at play: if we lose a spouse to death, part of us has to forgive them for dying (though in most instances that of course isn’t their fault, but that doesn’t matter) – when someone dies, they leave us, and we weren’t ready for them to go.
The second step in healing is letting go. It’s acknowledging that the relationship is over, be it because of death; abuse; or cheating. Just like forgiveness, this can be hard. It involves mourning the death of something, even if that something is the kind of person or relationship you loved. Both times my heart was traumatically broken, I was assisted in letting go by the other person moving on to a new relationship – it was clearly obvious to me that they were, in fact, done with me.
It hurt like hell. But it made the process of letting go faster and easier. Despite that, it still took years for my heart to fully recover, and the word “fully” may be a bit of a misnomer – my heart still carries feelings for both those women who meant a lot to me at different points in my life.
That’s just the way the heart is. In a sense, I don’t think feelings ever truly, completely die. They just heal to the point that they aren’t weights around our souls, holding us back from experiencing more love in life.
That’s why I come back to widows and widowers who remarry. They’ve learned the true lesson that the heart is capable of holding love for multiple people in ways that are healthy. They accept that one love is gone, though that doesn’t mean their heart has stopped loving them – it means they’ve learned that another person can have his or her own place in their heart, too.
Once we choose to love someone, the feeling of “falling in love” will eventually come. That’s been a hard one for me to understand and accept, even very recently. And, truthfully, in a sense, if that feeling never does come regardless, so what? That level of infatuation isn’t love itself.
But it comes through trust. Deeper levels of love result in building trust, which takes time. Deep, deep trust, especially for people who have been wounded, takes a long time to establish, and that’s OK.
That’s why the commitment aspect of love is so important. If you love someone, you’re choosing to stick around, come what may. You’re going to give the effort, time and patience to make a relationship work.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. It won’t be without pain. It won’t be without patience. It won’t be without frustration. It won’t be without huge mistakes. It won’t be without forgiveness. It won’t be without apologizing. It won’t be without tears.
But if you’ve found someone you love, it will be more than worth it if you can stick it out through all those challenges.
Healing will come; redemption will come; trust, again, will come.
Your heart can do it.
It was made for love.