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Time can't heal a broken heart

Why do some people have trouble moving forward from heartache? Why are some unable to move on at all? Amelia explains why sadness doesn't usually go away on its own and what we can do to help the help the healing process.
There's no amount of time that can pass to make grief less painful. When a loved one’s earthly life comes to an end, a marriage fails, a companion moves away, or a friendship or relationship dies, the sadness we feel is very real. It hurts to lose the ones we love.

Some of us are able to move past our hurt quickly. Some of us take longer to deal with things. Some of us never manage to get over it, and we spend the rest of our lives suffering in vain. So what’s the difference between all of us? It's not in who we are or the nature of our capabilities. It's how much we let God help us and how much we’re willing to help ourselves.

Learning to lose.

If we lose someone or something that doesn't matter much to us, we can probably find a way to deal with it on our own. But if we find ourselves dumped, divorced, betrayed, or abandoned, the process of moving forward can be far more difficult. Loss isn't easy.

Depending on our life-experiences and personal circumstances, we learn to cope with loss in a number of ways. All of us learn, to some extent, to feel sorry for ourselves. Some of us learn to leave our hurt alone and let time heal it, but in many cases the hurt only grows stronger with time. Some of us learn to give our sadness to God and let Him take care of it, but we don’t do our part—or we don’t do what He says is our part—and we become disillusioned when the pain doesn’t magically go away.

To a certain extent, sadness is natural, meaning we don’t usually have to spend much time evaluating a situation and deciding whether we’re going to be sad or not; it just happens. But just because something happens naturally doesn’t mean it’s always good for us. (Earthquakes, fires, and tsunamis are all completely natural, but they can cause a good deal of damage.) The reason it’s so easy to justify our sadness, no matter how mild or extreme it feels, is because it happens on its own. We think we can’t help it. But when we fuss over ourselves, no matter how justified it might seem, it often only makes us feel worse.

There's only one true way to conquer the debilitating diseases of self-pity, excessive grief, and despair that are often brought on by loss: We have to care more for others than for ourselves. The more focused we are on ourselves, the less focused we are on loving our neighbors and the less we’re able to offer to God and our fellow men. Our love for God and others is the real measure of what we're worth as humans and, also, of how content we can be within ourselves. When we live in a way that's useless to God and everyone else, how can we expect to feel anything but worthless about ourselves? If we want our hearts to feel better, then we have to do things that are good for the heart.

No matter how sad we are, whether we’re clinically depressed or “just sad,” if we can pull ourselves together enough to do even one genuinely kind thing every day, we’re going to feel better. It might be difficult, of course, but this is where God’s help kicks in. We just have to ask Him for it. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t usually the kind of help we ask God to give us when we’re sad. More often, we find ourselves asking Him to undo whatever made us sad in the first place, or asking Him to erase the sadness from our hearts without us having to do any of the work.

It’s a difficult thing to make ourselves want to do—to concentrate on other people when we're hurting so much. When we can’t get out of bed or even think straight, or when our misery is so severe that we feel like we want to die, we're often convinced that we already have enough burden weighing us down and that we definitely don’t have the strength to bear anyone else’s burden. But at the exact moment that we begin to take some of our love away from ourselves and pass it on to someone else in a holy way, the healing process miraculously begins.

Love cures.

The point of loving others when we’re hurting certainly isn’t meant to distract ourselves from whatever happened that's made us feel sad. Distraction is always a mistake; if it works at all, it doesn’t work for long. (Ask anyone who’s tried.) Instead, the point is to take all the attention that we’re directing toward our own misery, because it’s an unhealthy kind of attention, and give it to someone else that needs it. Misery doesn't need attention, but there are many people who do.

We’re supposed to love our neighbors more than ourselves. And although it might seem ironic, the most important person to love when we're hurting is the one who caused our pain, whether his or her offense was intentional or not. It’s easy to love the people who are good to us—everyone does. It’s a lot more difficult to love those who've hurt us, but it’s also a lot more pleasing to God when we do. After a while, it starts to feel good on our end, too.

But what is love? Is it obsessing over other people or pushing them to explain themselves? Is it constantly replaying bittersweet memories in our minds? Is it trying to understand what we don’t have enough information to understand? Is it trying to figure out ways to go back in time or to reinterpret the truth so it hurts less? No, love is none of these things. These are only opportunities to torture ourselves in disguise, chances to prolong the agony.

Loving someone else begins with prayer—especially someone who, at the time, can seem undeserving of love. Whether we pray for the other person to be forgiven, to be comforted, or to make the right decisions in the future, the important thing is that God sees genuine, heartfelt love inside of us. It’s hard sometimes because our pride stands in the way. We wish we weren’t wrong, or we wish things were different, or we wish our ego hadn’t been wounded. But as soon as God sees us willing to make a sincere attempt at loving the person who caused our pain, He helps. He helps the person for whom we pray, and He of course helps us, too.

Usually, we try to do the opposite. We try to forget the other person, or we try to get even. But even if we forget for a while, memories have a way of sneaking up on us, almost always when we’re not expecting them. If we take revenge, we can release our aggression, but it doesn't help us to let go of any of the pain. To dissolve the pain of a broken heart, a heart that feels like it’s not loved anymore, we have to do the one thing we don’t want to do: To love in return. If we honestly love others, it means we also forgive them, we ask to be forgiven ourselves, and we pray on their behalf. These three things together, along with God’s help, work wonders—but those wonders will remain unknown to us unless we believe. The moment that prayer and love and forgiveness become a meaningful reality for us, we can immediately feel our sadness beginning to lift.

Whether our sadness comes from regret, loss, the pain of missing someone, the fear of being alone, or anything else, the only way for our hearts to heal is to let others inside. No matter what or whom we’ve lost, our hearts still possess their full capacity to love. We need to share that love with others. Keeping it inside and to ourselves is selfish and doesn’t help us heal. If loving ourselves were enough to make us happy, no one in the world would care about being loved by anyone else. The simple fact that we want others to love us is reason enough to love them, too.

Holding on to broken pieces.

As much as it hurts to suffer, we often find a morbid kind of comfort in it. While it surely doesn’t feel good, it’s familiar and certain. Sometimes it feels like it's easier to hold onto something awful than to figure out how to find something better. Self-pity can be addictive, and like any other addiction, it's not a healthy habit. The reason so many of us can’t move past our grief, no matter what its cause, is because we’re too attached to it. It hurts, but at the same time we’re used to it, and, in a strange way, it becomes an indulgence.

If we fall in love with pain, we create for ourselves the potential to drown in it. Whether we find ourselves drowning in a raging ocean or a shallow puddle, what we have to do is let go of the fear and the uncertainty and the “Why is this happening to me,” and concentrate on getting our heads above water to take at least one more breath. How can we expect our sadness ever to go away if we’re perpetually dwelling on it? How can we expect a broken heart to mend itself if we’re clenching our fists around our favorite pieces?

As the saying goes: God can heal a broken heart, but first He must have all the pieces. If we give our hearts to God, whether they’re just crumbling a little, or ripped open and bleeding, or a shattered mess on the floor, He can piece them back together. Faith makes us whole. But if we hold on to any of the pieces—resentment, self-pity, anger, or any other jagged piece—no matter how much else God does for us, those pieces are going to remain broken and detached. They'll stay broken and detached until we're willing to let them go.

But if we give everything to God—if we give Him our faith and our prayers, if we try to live a holy life, if we sacrifice our pride and the way we think we “deserve” to feel—we can expect to experience miracles. Depression hurts, and time doesn’t help it heal, but the Lord does. We only have to believe. How could the One Who created love not know how to restore it? How could the One Who created hearts not know how to fix them?

If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
— John 14:14, 18