The Joy that Lies in Heartbreak 

By: Brianna Sutherland

There is something that happens when you start to figure out who you are. 

For the past four years, the University of Georgia has been my home. I came to Athens as a confused eighteen-year-old who had been taught by life that she wasn’t worth much. I came with no thought in my head as to who I wanted to be or where I wanted to go in life. I came not knowing that there was a gaping hole in my heart that I could not fill with alcohol or any of the other less than savory options that college life provided me. 

This December, I will throw my cap with the knowledge that I am venturing out into the world wholly new, having shed the doubt, fear, and brokenness that plagued me upon my arrival. I know who I want to be, where I am going next, and where I want to end up. I know that love is only valuable to you if you choose to accept it and that it will break the hearts of the ones that love you if you push their love away. I know that sometimes, someone you love will push your love away and it will break your heart. 

Graduating college marks a pivotal change in my life. I will no longer have classes a couple hours a day, finding time to lounge in the sun no matter how hectic my schedule gets. I will enter a world where punctuality and consistency are far more important and procrastination is no longer tolerated. The corporate world is standing before me, a towering, gray, concrete office building with no windows and no sunshine. To me, the prospect is daunting, if not depressing. But I know where I want to go and this is a stepping stone. So, as I walk through the Arch on graduation day, I will think about everything and everyone that has brought me joy during my time here. And my heart will break because the season of my life that showed me hope and light will be over. 

I know where I’m going, and that means that I have changed, even in the past month. I have watched my friends graduate, find jobs, find love and one by one they are all leaving. It’s been a terrible, angry, devastating journey. Some have stayed close and others have gone far, but in last few months we have clung together, driving a hundred miles, sleeping on couches, doing nothing together because we are resisting letting go. We are fighting against the idea that when college is done, we will all adopt our own lives and drift away, out of sight, and eventually, out of mind. 

Best friends, and one in particular, have chosen paths that brings them farther from me every day and it has made me angry and irrational and mean. My heart is broken when I think of the people that I am losing. I see them making new futures for themselves and I wonder why they can’t keep one foot in the past. I wonder why they don’t feel that they can keep their old friends and still become a new person, but then again, you can’t surround yourself with people who don’t support you and ultimately that’s how my friend feels. Maybe, our differences have grown too broad and deep and can no longer be spanned by the history of our love for each other. 

The hardest lesson from this is that sometimes, in the right situations, with the right people, love can never be enough. If I turn one way and my friend turns another, when I look over my shoulder, hoping for a glimpse, all I will see is my friend’s back, fading into the horizon as they go on their way. And how can I blame them when I am walking the other way, a similar journey, with a wildly different destination. 

This is a heartbreak that happens very slowly. In the beginning, when your edges are cracking, you barely even notice. It appears as a fixable problem: an argument, a disagreement. By the end, you are looking into the distance, trying to remember the moment that your friendship ended, blaming the person on the other side, while knowing that for a friendship to end, two people have to give up. The blame is half mine. But I feel as if I own all of the pain.

Lastly, I know who I am, and that means changing my actions, thoughts, and words. For much of my life, I have been wrestling with how to be happy when you feel like the walls are constantly coming down around you. I have always identified as a Christian, albeit a hypocritical one. I clutched my cross to my chest and prayed to God that one of my sins would make me happy. I fundamentally misunderstood His love for me. 

Becoming a Jesus Follower is a like a deep breath of cold air. It electrifies every trembling nerve in your mind and body. It changes your vision so that suddenly, you are aware of brighter, better colors than this world had showed you before. I have seen the awesomeness of His love and have been the recipient, even when I am the last person who expected or deserved it. 

For me, this journey has not been some bright, magical experience filled with love and hope while the people of my new beautiful church surrounded me with light. I have seen this portrayed over and over on screens hung in auditoriums that service thousands a day. I expected this. I wanted this. But for me, it’s not reality. 

Reality, in my life, has been punctuated by the scoffing of my friends when I ask them to go to church, confusion about my own past actions, and a fundamental misunderstanding by outsiders of what becoming a Jesus Follower means. I have had to explain myself when I had no explanation to give and it has made me strong and confrontational. 

God has been there, and through all this change and loss, I have realized that in life, I love many things and people, but they are not constant. My beautiful, loving mother will die one day. My amazing sister might move away. There is a chance that as I lay in my bed dying, hopefully when I am old and gray, I will have no one. Everyone will have left me prematurely. But He will be there, holding my hand, guiding me home. In the end, I know that is enough.

This has been the concept that has troubled me most. In this season of my life, I need to make several major transitions as gracefully as I can manage. I need to let go of my fear and expectations and know that God is on my side. But still I have an iron grip on the things that I want in this world. Letting go of who I thought I was going to be might be the most heartbreaking change of all. But it is also the greatest joy. Over the next six months, I will experience more change, punctuated by losses and gains. It will be heartbreaking, but it will also be one of the brightest times in my life. An exclamation mark on the sentence that was my college experience.