When it comes to a broken heart, there really are no quick fixes or shortcuts to healing. The time it takes to begin to heal and move forward depends on us individually. To help us, professionals introduced the widely recognized five phases of grief so we can recognize the emotions we go through during a time of heartache or loss. These markers along the way help us navigate the turbulent waters of grief and sorrow.

But even still, it’s never smooth or entirely predictable. We may move to phase two or three, and then fall back to phase one. Sometimes we bounce back and forth between phases, surge ahead, and then slide back again—overnight! Don’t expect that it’s going to be a simple, textbook-type journey.

The common five phases cited by most caregivers are as follows:

Denial
This can’t be happening to me. I don’t believe it. I hear the words, I read the messages, but this is just not true. You see the mirage in the desert—your oasis of hope. Maybe it’s all just a mistake, just another misunderstanding that can be fixed. You keep looking for a loophole, an escape, a way to bring things to the way they were before. You cry out to God for help. But you wonder, “Am I just imagining this?”

Anger
During this time you’re angry at everything and everyone—not only the person who hurt you (or the one you imagine hurt you), but the cheerful grocery clerk (in fact, every happy person you see), the doctor who gave you the terminal diagnosis, the pastor, yourself, and above all, God. This is when you do some of the most foolish things—lash out at those close to you, send hateful emails or dumb texts, resort to online stalking, badmouth the one whom you feel rejected or betrayed you, and you may even post regrettable comments on all social media outlets—things you’ll wish you hadn’t done.

Bargaining
Now that the anger is starting to fade a bit, the how-can-we-get-back-to-where-we-were phase begins. Lord God, I will do anything, just please make things right. And you promise the moon just to get back with your ex, or be healthy again, or ______ (you name it). You’ll be a better person, you’ll mow the lawn, go to church regularly, take out the garbage—shower them with love, attention, and affection, anything. You rewrite all the bad: “Maybe it was just a misperception on my part.”

This is often the questioning and regretting time. If only I had done things differently, if only I could have changed, if only I had seen a doctor. The ifs beat us down.

Depression
This is the hopelessness period. You know nothing you can do or say is going to bring things back to what they were before. You feel like your life is over. From euphoria to inertia—you don’t want to get out of bed. You have no energy, no interest in the outside world. Maybe you miss someone and everything about them terribly. You can’t sleep. You don’t want to do anything. You just want to lie on the couch and hope this whole nightmare will go away. You may even start to drink or go back to drinking or taking drugs, or engage in self-destructive behavior. In fact, you may even want Jesus to return and take you home. Perhaps you’re entertaining the idea of taking your own life.

Acceptance
Finally, you reach a point of realization that life must go on. Things aren’t going to be the same—ever. There will be moments of lingering sadness, but you’re going to find yourself laughing again—something you never thought you’d ever do. You’re beginning to lean on God again. Now you’ll even be looking forward to the new adventures and people that come into your life. Real healing is taking place. At this point, you may say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

And in time (there’s no other way—you’ll probably need a good amount of it), you’ll notice that God’s sustaining love and guiding hand (which you couldn’t even see through your tears) has begun to grow your faith and increase your trust in him. Prayers and tears are the common lot of God’s people, but so are recovery, restoration, and joy.

Just remember, get it fixed in your mind now: each phase takes time. You can’t rush things. Don’t despair if you feel stuck. Keep praying, don’t give up, and get involved with other things. Find some service project, learn a new skill, or, if you need to, focus on going to the gym and getting healthy. We’re designed to heal over time, so wait on God and keep on waiting. Pray and wait.

What you’ll learn through your heartbreak is that God will never let you down. You may or may not “sense his presence,” but this has never been a reliable guide to God’s reality or a foundation for faith. Feelings will be intense at times, but they aren’t the instruments that will guide you home.

Pray, talk to someone who genuinely cares about you, and wait.


Photo by Topher Perea via Flickr