Has God forgotten me? No, my heart said. But it wasn’t a statement of faith. It was a cry of sorrow: I wish that he had. Because if he had forgotten me, it would mean that he didn’t know about my broken engagement, that he wasn’t an indifferent observer watching me sprawled out on my living room rug like a dead spider, sobbing until I had to run to the bathroom and vomit.
When I took my engagement ring off for the last time and slid it into its velvet case, I remembered the first time I saw it. It was in a garden with tulips that were about to bloom, like the marriage I thought I was stepping into. I remembered the hills, just turning green, full of life and promise and spring.
And I remembered holding the diamond with the tips of my fingers at night as I went to sleep in the days afterward: I’m wanted by someone. I’m loved by someone.
I closed the box quickly, as if the ring would find its way to my hand again with a single defiant thought of hope. But the box was like Pandora’s: Once open, it could never erase what happened or that I would now have to fish the deep waters of my soul for the belief that God was still with me. That God still wanted me. That God still loved me. That God could heal a wound like this.
It was a rainy summer. I was glad the earth decided to cry with me. For two weeks, I wept my mascara off by noon. It was a sacred ritual that left gray rivulets in my foundation. I would discover them too late, like the time I started a Zoom meeting without turning my camera off.
Tears stretched across the lines on my calendar. Crumpled tissues appeared throughout my home, marking the sharper moments of heart pain. “You’re beautiful even in your tears,” my friend told me, handing me a pack of tissues. I wrote her words on its plastic cover with a permanent marker. I carried it around for weeks.
My life was like those clocks in that Salvador Dali painting I learned about in the fifth grade. I obsessed over the passing of time, counting the Sundays after that awful Saturday, wondering if I would sing in church without my throat catching…next week. I longed for the wound to hurt a little bit less, for some moment of laughter to ease the throb, for a half-hour where pain would lock itself in a closet.
I felt like an animal most of the time, forcing myself to eat and stay alive. Other times, I felt like a water balloon filled with blood, bursting at all the wrong moments. Grief was a puppet master dropping me over and over again, surprising me each time my body went limp and my lungs caved in.
I moved my mother’s wedding dress from my dresser to under my bed. It wasn’t going to the tailor. One evening, my pressed engagement flowers fell into my lap as I was searching for a Mozart sonata in a book of sheet music. The dried chamomile flowers were intact. They had been crushed, but they were still beautiful. I didn’t play the piano that night.
Nine-, ten-mile trail walks became my respite—I liked the shade underneath the canopy of tall trees and watching baby deer with white freckles on their backs. My feet blistered, but I hardly noticed. My pants began to slide down my hip bones and I ran out of belts that got small enough, so I turned to dresses, my shoulders holding them up like a metal hanger. Bruises appeared on my legs like rotten rose petals. New strands of gray streaked my hair. I practiced applying darker eyeshadow to hide my swollen eyelids.
Isolation was bad, or so they told me. So I went to a Fourth of July party. There was no one to hold the cake I brought to make sure it wouldn’t tip over in the car. Once I was there, all the chairs were in twos. Where do I sit? I am no longer a two. I am a one. I am by myself.
I went out to eat with friends. Two happy couples dined across from us. I was glad that neither had rings, and I hated that I was glad. Another day, an acquaintance younger than I mentioned that she was married, and I immediately wanted to find something wrong with her, and I hated that too.
What was it like to walk down the aisle and make a covenant with the person who gave you that diamond? What was it like to dance on your wedding day? The questions sifted through me, each dropping to the ground, evaporating like a tear. The only one that mattered remained: Was I alone? Yes. It was the only one that had an answer.
People would try to help me be less sad by saying all those true things: God is here. God will help you. Give it time. More than anything I wanted people to weep alongside me, for my mother to stroke my head when I started shaking.
One night at 3:00 am I sat trembling in my empty bathtub in the dark. My hair clung to me in wet tentacles, and I wrapped it around my palms and pulled at it. I tried to make out the bathroom tile, but I couldn’t see it. I once read somewhere that when there’s no light around you for thirty days, like if you’re trapped in a cave, you will go blind. Your body won’t send blood to unnecessary organs, and with enough prolonged darkness, eyes become unnecessary. After a while, it wouldn’t matter how much light was around you: You wouldn’t see a thing. I wondered if God was like that. How long would he listen to me weep? If he ever intervened, if he ever came close enough to wipe any of these tears away, would I still have eyes to see him?
I didn’t know what to do anymore with my God, my faith, this lifelong bond I’d had with my Jesus, a Savior who must have looked on as I closed that white box from Shane Co. even though he could have restored my relationship. I didn’t want to square off with God’s goodness, but I no longer knew what to believe. Logic broke down at heartbreak—and so did my ability to understand what it means that God is loving. I was familiar with some theodicies—the free will argument, the value of suffering in forming our character, the idea that we couldn’t have the concept of evil without humans having intrinsic value (and where can we come up with that idea in materialism, etc., etc., etc….)—but the answers I found compelling six months prior seemed cruel and shallow.
One Sunday, for what felt like the thousandth time, I bit my lip and squinted my eyes and swallowed a spasm in my throat as people around me worshipped the God whose arms had proven barren or already busy or, in any case, not for me. I was done: my body, mind, and spirit frayed. I despised the solipsism of my grief and the frailty of my faith, but I could not muster whatever it would take to say, “It is well with my soul.” I took my communion cup at the end of the service, stared at the blood of Christ, and wondered if it was still for me.
The Eucharist is the fulfillment of an ancient covenant between God and his people. Jesus’s blood—that cross—ushered in a revolution of restoration, of salvation, of a new kingdom. God redeemed us, called us sons and daughters, and healed us.
And before the resurrection, Jesus cried from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” God must have looked on as Jesus died with nails through his wrists and ankles even though he could have sent those ten thousand angels to stop the crucifixion. Why had I not struggled more with the injustice of the murder of the Son of God? But God turned the worst event in human history into the greatest—the resurrection. The Eucharist was proof that brokenness can be redeemed, that evil bites the heel—and God gets the final word.1
Around me, people prayed, brought their cups to their lips to drink, and began to sing. I knew many of their stories; I knew they bore sorrows, many of them deeper than my own. They showed that God could heal.
But none of it—even Jesus on the cross—meant anything to me at that moment. I wanted a personal God, who came near to me, who would heal me. Was that Jesus? My fingers trembled as I set the full communion cup down. At the end of the church service, I threw it away.
Somewhere between that trash can and the parking lot, my pastor greeted me. Cue the breaking of the dam of tears, the shaking lip, the avoidance of eye contact, the whole performance grief puts on in the least opportune moments. “I’m struggling to believe that God will heal me,” I said, my voice cracking. “I can’t even take communion because I don’t feel like he ever will.”
My words lingered in the air for a moment. Then my pastor said: “You will heal, Olivia. God and time,” he said. He repeated himself: “With God and time, healing will come.”
He prayed for me. I wept in my car. I drove home. I wept some more.
I tried to take my pastor’s suggestion. “God, I believe that you will heal—,” I started, but my voice caught. Even the words hurt.
It felt ironic, asking God to heal what he could have prevented from ever breaking. God, in his sovereignty, in some mysterious act that somehow did not contradict his love for me, let my engagement break. Even if it was a severe mercy, none of it made any sense, and I hated all of it. “Providence is wiser than you,” John Flavel once wrote.4 But where was the wisdom in this? I didn’t know. So healing also meant surrendering my ability to understand and instead trusting God to care for my heart…the same heart he let break.
Could I trust him?
I could look to Jesus’s life, the cross, and the resurrection, yes, that long victory 2,000 years ago. But, as I’d felt that morning, I wanted more. I needed proof that God still came close. Where were the echoes of that victory?
The examples that came to my mind abounded without warning: The friends who started crying when I told them the news. Those who took me out for dinner even though I couldn’t stomach anything. The sunflowers my parents sent me on my birthday. The stranger who saw me walking along a road and stopped her car to ask if she could pray for me. My coworkers who laid hands on me and prayed for me. The jeans my friend gave me because my old ones got too big. My pastors, who have yet to say they are too busy for yet another conversation.5
None of those and no one took away the grief. But they were God coming near, tangibly meeting me through his saints time and time again.
There were other examples, too: the fallen red and golden leaves on my well-worn walking trail. Learning to play some hymns on the cello under the tutelage of a gratuitously kind teacher. The Jimmy Choo flats—I’d always wanted a pair—I found at a thrift store, just my size. The purple gladiolus I bought from Publix on a whim that bloomed for weeks. A stained-glass lamp I found one morning by my apartment complex’s dumpster.
Yes, that awful summer had its fair share of love echoes, mercies cropping up where I didn’t go looking for them. They came in different packaging than I wished—none of them removed broken engagement from my story. But I saw in them a God who isn’t put off by my brokenness but rushes toward it, a God who knows how he fashioned my heart, who knows how he made me to meet him. They tenderly awakened me to that ancient mercy river flowing through my spilled-out heart.
And that’s what the Eucharist is, I think: The body and blood of a God whose mercies are new every morning even when I’m hanging onto the sorrows of yesterday. I could come to him in my brokenness because he was already there.
That was enough for me.
That evening, I said what still felt untrue: “I believe that you will heal me, Jesus. Help my unbelief.”
Months have passed, and to be honest, I’m grateful for every day that puts space between myself and this summer. But as my heart moves on and the distance grows, the opposite is happening between me and the God I nearly disbelieved.
God didn’t despise me as my full communion cup landed in the trash—he reminded me through my pastor that my brokenness doesn’t disqualify me from anything, not even himself. Perhaps that’s the wisdom in this: My broken engagement forced me to fish the deep waters of my soul. Somewhere near the bottom, where even sunlight can’t penetrate, I fell into the embrace of a God who cherishes me, a love that will never let me go.
My heart still longs for a husband, for a family, for an ending different than and so she made her requests known to God and waited. I struggle with the reality that God’s nearness is not the same thing as being engaged. I still have moments when I so desire that someone would hold my hand and touch my cheek and kiss me and tell me that I am beautiful, when I look at my ring finger and feel sick.
But—let me tell you this—I also long for Sunday mornings, when I can come to the Table in my brokenness because my God is already there. There, my soul cries out its surrender: I believe that you, Lord, will not forget me. I believe that you still want me. I believe that you love me. I believe that you will heal me. Help my unbelief.
© Olivia Davis 2022, all rights reserved.
- Genesis 3:15
- Coming to the Table is a phrase for receiving the Eucharist.
- My deepest thanks to Daniel Chen, one of my pastors, for meeting me at that moment.
- John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend Mr. John Flavel, Volume II, 6th ed., (Glasgow, Scotland: J. Orr, 1754), 107.
- To everyone who walked with me on this road: From the bottom of the heart that you helped mend, thank you.