In an ugly fit of rage, I set out alone at midnight to retrieve my car on foot. A major thunderstorm was brewing, but I was so mad I didn’t care. I just wanted to get my car back as soon as possible. My boyfriend had borrowed it and failed to return it, again.
My umbrella fluttered in the wind as I stomped through puddles down a side street, determined not to let the storm—or even common sense—stop me.
As I passed by the creaking gates of an old cemetery, lightening lit up the gray tombstones. The wind blew so hard, I ran to take shelter beneath the overhang of the cemetery wall. As I huddled there, I realized that this madness had to stop. My boyfriend and I just weren’t right for each other. I knew if I didn’t walk away then, my future would be as stormy as the night.
But . . .
We had a ring. I’d planned my whole life around him. And breaking up would break my heart. As the wind howled and rain poured down my back, I felt God urging me to end the relationship, so I made one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made.
And on that dark stormy night in Auburn, Alabama, my whole life fell apart.
I’m sure you’ve had your share of heartache and disappointment, too: a big order is canceled, your teenager gets arrested, you lose your job, or a friend betrays you. When life lands a crushing blow, you may be tempted to:
Get utterly discouraged.
Lie in bed all day, eat chocolate and feel sorry for yourself.
When your life falls apart, how can you keep it together? Here’s what I learned:
10 Ways to Keep It Together When Your Life Falls Apart
1. Don’t look back.
I got my car, packed my bags, and without even saying goodbye, I left Auburn University and never came back. Distance was necessary for me. Looking back wasn’t an option. I left the relationship behind both physically and mentally.
Looking back only causes misery. It prevents the healing process. And keeps you stuck. For me, this meant no late-night phone calls or rehashing who did what. I got rid of old photos and memorabilia—anything that perpetuated or trigged memories.
I learned that the best break is a clean break. Knowing this helped me move on.
2. Expect to feel pretty lousy, at first.
I moved to another university, joined a new sorority chapter and a new church. Being single again left me feeling alone and empty. But eventually, I learned that feeling lonely and being alone isn’t the same thing. I wasn’t alone—I had a loving family, friends and an ever-present God.
I worked to reign in my self-pity, to accept my life as it was, instead of how I wished it was. I focused on adding positive streams to my life such as new friendships, hobbies and areas of service. These streams eventually began to flow with blessing, but it took a while.
3. Give yourself a break.
At first, I beat myself up for making dumb dating choices and ruining my life. Finally, I forgave myself and let my heart grieve the loss. A friend once told me that tears are cleansing—I think that’s true. The worst thing you can do is bottle up your tears and pretend nothing is wrong while you loathe yourself, inwardly.
When your life falls apart, allow your tears to fall. Feel the pain. Let yourself off the hook and then, move on. Remember, it won’t always hurt as bad as it hurts right now. Eventually, the sadness will diminish and the tears will cease.
4. Expect opposition.
Some of my “friends” weren’t very understanding after my breakup and they said some hurtful things. Then, I endured several disastrous first dates. Overly zealous relatives tried to play matchmaker, putting me in awkward situations. Yet as I persevered, it got easier. I learned that whenever you try to make a positive change, opposition will always arise to try to stop it.
The more opposition I experienced, the more it confirmed to me that I was walking toward a better life.
5. Don’t think you’re the only one. You’re not.
At first, I thought that I was the only one who had ever suffered such terrible heartache. I was embarrassed for feeling so wounded and weak. Later, I realized that lives fall apart every day—it happens to most of us, sooner or later. Finding a Godly mentor (or a counselor) would’ve helped me, but honestly, I was too prideful to reach out. This made rebuilding my life much harder.
6. Refuse to be negative.
At first, I talked about my negative relationship drama way too much. I tried to explain my “side” to everyone who would listen. But rehashing “woulda, coulda, shoulda” didn’t help me heal—it just kept my emotional wounds open and bleeding. Finally, I learned it was more beneficial to think and talk about growing and rebuilding my life. Your thoughts and words affect your heart, so it’s essential to keep them positive when you’re hurting.
7. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Prayer is like a medicine; it works best when it’s applied daily to inner wounds. Back then, my prayers were sporadic, flippant and sometimes, way too general. It would’ve been better to apply prayer directly to my pain each day, asking God to heal my wounds, cleanse my attitude and rebuild my future. The Bible is filled with specific prayers—something I’ve only noticed recently—and so, it’s beneficial for us to pray specifically, too (see Acts 4:29-30).
8. Evaluate what you’ve learned.
After a few months, I began to evaluate what I had learned. I realized that my ex-boyfriend wasn’t solely at fault—I’d contributed to our problems, too. A lot. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again, so I made a list of toxic qualities to avoid and a list of healthy qualities to strive for. Then, I wrote Bible verses beside each one.
Evaluation turned loss into lessons that I really needed to learn. Here’s the truth: Pain is a very effective teacher, if you’re willing to learn from it.
9. Trust God to heal you.
When I felt discouraged, I’d say to myself “No life is rebuilt overnight. Not one.” God’s building projects often take months and years, rather than days or weeks. Sometimes, His work is imperceptible, but later on, His fingerprints show up in unexpected places. Trusting that He is working in your life opens the way for miracles to happen. And so it was for me. A year later, the Lord blessed me with a new life and a new fiancé.
10. Invest in your soul.
My breakup left a big, gaping hole in my life. Eventually, God helped me fill it, but it was so much harder than it had to be. I wish I’d known back then how spending time with God deposits love, wisdom, and joy into your soul. Seeking the Lord transforms your life, one encounter at a time. (Read about my curious journey of transformation in my book, Seeking a Familiar Face)
When my plans, hopes and dreams fell apart, I felt so lost. But once I realized that God was actually working on my behalf, it made a big difference. I couldn’t see what He was doing, but I felt the promise of something better if I just kept going, instead of giving up.
And there was.
God used this crisis to teach me what I needed to know about myself and love and loss. And even though it really hurt then, I wouldn’t change it, now. My experience prepared me to love a wonderful man and we’ve been happily married now for thirty-two years.
If your hopes, plans and dreams are falling apart right now, don’t quit. Don’t let it crush you.
Instead, use it.
Your crisis can become a great opportunity. Try to see it as your turning point. Be courageous. Learn. Keep moving forward, as you rely on God’s promise:
“The good hand of our God is on everyone who is seeking him.” (Ezra 8:22)