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What Heartbreak Taught Me About True Love

person ripping picture of a couple
If I truly loved this brother, then I would not have fear in my heart that he may never return my love or affections. Instead, I'd hope for his well-being.

By Christine Shen

All my life, I have been ruled by fear — a powerful, underlying emotion that has determined much of my behavior. I was never conscious of this driving force, nor the stranglehold it’s had on me, until a year ago when my greatest fear was realized.

After an emotional roller-coaster ride, my first long-term, romantic relationship ended. My deepest insecurity was confirmed: I was unlovable. My previous fear of loss and rejection had now become an unbearable reality.

I felt as though my world ended; as if all the love I’d known had been snuffed out. My greatest dream — to be loved and accepted — perished, when “the one” told me that we couldn’t work out.

In spite of his willingness to let me go, I held onto him, to the hope that this despairing situation would somehow turn around. If only I could win back his heart.

The following week, I began constructing a mini-arcade cabinet. I planned to print a graphic of his favorite arcade game and stick it on a cardboard cabinet, with the screen reading “Insert Coin to Start Over.” I’d present this to him, place a quarter in his hand, and ask if he’d insert the coin to give us another chance.

Mid-construction, I realized that this was a desperate attempt to earn his approval, and I feared that all of my labor would only yield greater rejection and sorrow. Despite my wanting to show him how much he’s worth to me — and that I am worth holding onto — I never finished building this arcade cabinet.

My close friends simultaneously encouraged me to let go. After all, he had already articulated his belief that we would be better off as friends, and I needed to respect his decision. Although surrender seemed impossible at the time, my first milestone toward healing eventually came in the form of a painful self-discovery: I had failed to love him as Christ commanded.

To my shameful acknowledgment, my motivation for holding on was actually self-serving. Even after our relationship ended, I wanted to feel loved; I clung to him, because I had become emotionally dependent on him to make me feel loved and secure. I was afraid to lose him, fearful that I would never again experience true love.

Then God shined a light on my heart during this dark time. I read 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear … whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I realized that it was not my love but rather fear that motivated me to build that cabinet. And fear motivated me to continue to hold onto this relationship.

When we have love in our hearts, there will be no room for fear. If I truly loved this brother, then I would have no fear in my heart that he may never return my affections. Instead, I would desire his ultimate happiness, independent of me.

God reinforced this conviction by allowing me to learn my next big lesson: the difference between genuine Christ-like love and its counterfeit known as attachment. Attachment says, “I need you (to love me), so I will love you in order to get your love.” But true love says, “I don’t need you, but I love you and hope all the best for you.” I learned that my sorrow over the loss of this relationship was actually rooted in my strong attachment to (rather than sincere love for) this brother.

Thus, I committed myself to letting him go — not because he was no longer dear to me, but on the contrary, I was determined to learn to love him better, according to Christ’s definition of selfless love. Over time, God has faithfully bound my wounds and given me victory. Having tasted God’s goodness to me, I was once again able to smile.

In hindsight, I see that God loved me way too much to leave me under the bondage of fear. Instead, He used this painful experience to free me to live a life of love. Part of that freedom now is in learning to love myself and forgive myself — to know how deeply I am loved, because, despite my sin and selfishness, Jesus Christ gave himself for me to show His amazing love for me.

From John 15:12, I believe God desires that I would be able to reflect His love in all of my relationships. In His perfect wisdom, God used this broken relationship to begin to perfect my love for His people. So, now, I can say to all the people in my life: Because of God’s kindness and abundant love for me, I can love you better now.

Christine Shen is in full-time ministry as an event planner and copywriter at a Christian nonprofit organization and loves to encourage self-awareness in herself and others for the sake of spiritual growth.

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