Heartbreak During Lent
Part of my journey to my husband was the flaming out of a 3+ year relationship with a man we’ll call D. I wrote this about my first Easter after our breakup.
After my first heartbreak, I found that I couldn’t walk into church without crying. It was like a Pavlovian experience. Bell rings, dog drools. Sit in pew, girl cries.
Church hadn’t always been a safe space for me to grieve. In churches I had visited in the past, there was a definite vibe of “keep your shit together.” You smiled a lot. If someone said “how are you?” they didn’t really want to hear anything beyond “Good, and yourself?”
But this church, which I had started attending around the time my ex and I met, was a place that encouraged authenticity. And authenticity is messy. And I was nothing if not messy. Literally. I lost count of all the times people passed me tissues because I was somehow incapable of remembering to bring them with me.
I was a snotty, tear-stained mess.
But what really pushed it over the edge was Lent. Lent is a season in the church leading up to Easter. It is a season of preparing. Of sacred spaces and contemplation. It is 40 days of quieting your heart and pondering life in the desert. Lent comes from the same word as “lengthen” and in that season of my life, the days felt impossibly long. Eight hours of work felt impossible. And the nights at home felt long and empty. I went to bed at 8, but was up every few hours.
Lent is all about death and resurrection. And I needed my relationship with D to die. To burn off. Which made Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, particularly meaningful. I started the service sitting in my pew, quietly crying as always, waiting to stand in front of the priest, for him to dip his finger in the little pot of ashes, and smear them in a cross on my forehead. It felt like an outward sign of all that was churning in my heart. Of the way my love for D was burning off. Leaving me filled with ashes and soot.
Then there was the foot washing service on the Thursday before Easter. It’s an uncomfortable service that always reminds me that receiving love has always felt a little uncomfortable for me. I’m far better at giving it. And as the priest cupped warm water in his hands and poured it over my feet, I cried again. I had expected so little from my ex. And had poured out so much. He was content with that. And I was broken from it.
The next night, the sanctuary was dark as the Good Friday service began. It’s the night of Lent when sorrow and joy crash together. It’s a day of contradictions. The day we commemorate a willing sacrifice that was bloody and cruel and, ultimately, beautiful. Even the name feels odd. Why would you call a day of the death of a Savior “Good?” It’s a reminder that things aren’t always good or bad. Light or dark. Sad or happy. They can be both.
On the night of the Easter Vigil, I started crying in the car in the parking lot. This was the night that hit me the hardest. This was the season my heart felt stuck in. Something had died. And now I was just waiting. Not sure what was coming next. Believing the promises that God had something for me in life. But having no idea what those fulfilled promises would look like.
It was dark again in the sanctuary, like a tomb. We sang slow songs together, read scripture, and prayed. There were seats set up on the side if you wanted someone to pray for you. I sat in one, and couldn’t even speak. But I didn’t need to. A woman stood over me, her hands cupped on my head, and she whispered a prayer. I don’t remember the words she spoke. I just remember feeling like something was cracking open inside of me. I cried so hard that my shirt was wet. My head ached. My lips were chapped and my cheeks burned.
And then the next morning, the celebration of Easter. I joined the loud songs of praise. But in my heart, I was still in the tomb. I cried again as the priest stood in front of the church and said “I know some of you aren’t here yet. I know that some of you are waiting for that resurrection in your own life. It may not be here yet. But you can believe it’s coming.”
That’s where I was. Stuck between death and new life. And that’s why I needed to be here. To believe new life was possible. Even as the old life was actively dying. The ashes still smoking.