Tag Archives: high school

Made Perfect in the Image of God

Tully, ErinErin Tully

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2014

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

I really hate the word “perfect.”  Perhaps it is because I see it as an unattainable goal, or perhaps because I let that goal complicate so many years of my life.  (As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be a Gretchen Wieners apology from Mean Girls.  I am trying to tell you I’m perfect and popular and I’m sorry you’re all jealous.  If I do come across that way, I would definitely not deserve to be caught if I did a trust fall with all the girls in my class.)

I grew up with my best friends from kindergarten on.  We were a bunch of goofballs and weird-o’s, not caring how we looked, and being told in eighth grade that we were “too immature to be pretty”.  We didn’t mind; we were happy and innocent.  We had fun and we had each other.

But when it came time for high school, I decided I wanted to be something more.  I wanted to be liked by everyone, have a lot of friends, and have that high school experience that everyone had told me would be the best four years of my life.  Well, I got to high school and decided to create myself anew.  I thought,

“I should start wearing makeup and caring about my hair…Perfect.”

“I’ll work hard in school to make my parents proud…Number one in the class!…Perfect.”

“I should start having big parties at my house.

Maybe people will like me for having a nice house and cool parents…Perfect.”

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“The coolest people in class like to drink…I guess I will too…Perfect.”

“John said he loves me! I’ll just keeping doing whatever he wants so I can be cool and have a boyfriend…Perfect?”

“Oh and let’s not forget my faith.  I’ll just go to Mass even though I barely pay attention…Perfect”.

I had done it.  I attempted to perfect everything about myself so that I could have friends and be well liked.  I spent every day of high school maintaining an image of perfection – I was the girl who had everything together.  The perfect life, perfect family, perfect friends, perfect grades, and perfect faith.  But towards the end of high school, when my closest friends said, “Oh Erin, you wouldn’t understand because your life is so perfect,” why did I cringe?

Hearing the word perfect was like a sour note in a song.  My life was not perfect.  Insecurity, the feeling of inadequacy, difficulties finding and believing in God, broken relationships with my sister, drinking myself to the point of blacking out, failed attempts at relationships, mistaking love for lust, losing part of myself I promised I would never lose – that’s how I saw my life.  I didn’t actually believe I was perfect, but apparently everyone else did.  I put on an appearance of having it all together and wore a smile to block out how I really felt.  If I appeared perfectly put together, then people would like me, right?  It was not until the end of my senior year of high school that I realized how destructive and hurtful my outward appearance had become.

I went on KairosKairos retreat in the spring of my senior year.  I was really excited because I had heard so many great stories of new friendships, forgiveness, and grace.  My small group in Kairos was filled with members of my class I had never really gotten to know.  During the retreat, I dropped the “perfect” act, and simply talked with people.  I didn’t care about appearances for once, and it felt amazing!

One night, we talked about judgment.  A boy named Joey told me that he had never met me, but he had always hated me.  I seemed like the classic mean girl and a stuck up snob.  There was no way I could be a nice person with the appearance I worked so hard to uphold.  Joey’s revelation shocked me.  And I was more shocked to realize Joey was not the only person who felt this way.  People I barely knew found me irritating.  My closest friends had watched me become superficial and I could feel our friendship dwindling.  Even my younger sister who I had considered my best friend could not stand me.  She felt overshadowed and resented who I had become.

But it was then that I came to realize that the person Joey hated was not who I was at all.  I had worked so hard to be someone everyone would like; yet this very person was someone no one could stand.  Outside I appeared put-together, but inside I was falling apart.  By covering all my insecurities and dissatisfaction with myself with an image of “the perfect girl,” I lost myself.  I damaged relationships and prevented the fostering of new ones.  I had wasted the “best years of my life” trying so hard to be someone everyone would like, while all along I drove them all to despise me.  If I had just let people see the broken girl, sad girl, insecure girl, and imperfect girl, I would have learned what true relationship, friendship, and faith meant.

In the last months of my senior year, I tried as hard as I could to repair the broken relationships I had created.  I gave up the perfect act, and just tried to be Erin.  Erin who likes Chemistry, figure skates, sings off key with her sister, quotes Spongebob too much, makes a fool of herself with her friends, and who has made far beyond her share of mistakes.  Erin who desires God’s love and relationships that reflect it, but has fallen short of those many times.   Erin who is so, so, so far from perfect, and who can finally learn to accept it.

Perhaps I am like Cady Heron, although I did not write in a burn book or try to destroy the reputation of Regina George.  But like Cady, I tried to become someone I wasn’t.  I tried to make friends and get guys to like me by completely forgetting who I was.  I gave up the amazing friends who were there from the beginning to achieve popularity and mold myself into a distorted image of perfection.

Maybe I don’t hate the word “perfect;” I just hate the way I used it.  If you think about it, we are all perfect because we are each images of God.  Every little thing about myself I didn’t like and tried to cover up, was already perfect because God made me that way.  Hiding myself got me nowhere.  Accepting myself is still a work in progress, but I think it’s the way to go.  For the Chemistry nerds, the star students, the students who don’t really think school is their thing, the leaders, the followers, the introverts, the extroverts, the Gretchen Wieners, the Cady Herons, and the people who still don’t know who they are, I hope this can be a story of self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-love.  Perfection is everywhere in this world and in all of us.  We just need to have our eyes open to find it and our hearts open to accept it.

God’s Love, Unlisted

Thompson, Marisa

Marisa Thompson
Notre Dame Vision Music Mentor (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

When I was in middle school, I liked to eat, but my metabolism did not cooperate. As I was getting older and my body was changing, I realized that I could not sustain the amount of food that I was eating. While I was still active in sports, I had quit dance, which was a major part of my daily exercise.  Slowly but surely, the weight began to pile on.

When I got to high school, I started to notice I was the slowest on my sports teams and the fattest of all my friends. It’s hard not to feel self-conscious when you are the only girl in the room who is not a size six or smaller. And if I ate ten cookies and my friends ate ten cookies, it never affected them, but I always paid for it later. I would wonder, “Why has God given me this burden when some of my friends, who are definitely not as physically active as I am, still somehow manage to be so skinny?”

Nothing I did really helped me, it seemed. I tried dieting—nothing. I tried exercising more on my own outside of sports practices—nothing. And even when I spent a semester in Colorado during the spring of my junior year—where we went on three back-country expeditions, ran almost every morning, and ran a 10-mile loop at the end of the semester—still nothing. What began to shrink was not my waistline, but my hope that I would ever be thinner.

When I got to college, even though I did not think it was possible, it got worse. I still tried to maintain a good level of fitness, but with my increased class schedule and lack of intensive sports teams, I just couldn’t do it. All the while, I was making all these new college friends, whom I felt that I needed to impress, and none of them were like me. They were all these gorgeous, thin girls to whom I felt I could never even hope to compare myself. And forget being friends with boys in this new environment. I wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing enough for any of them.

I had heard enough of the “God loves you for who you are” talk. I didn’t really think that was possible. How could God love this when there are so many more perfect people around me?

My unhealthy body image ended up transferring over to encompass my whole being. I began to see myself as unworthy of everything in my life. Not only were my friends more beautiful than I was, they were also smarter, funnier, more social, getting the hang of college better than I was.

Then, for my first fall break in college, one of my friends was going
on a pilgrimage to Montreal with Notre Dame Campus Ministry, and she persuaded me to go Oratoryas well. To be honest, I did not really know what to expect, except some prayer and exploration of Canada, but I signed up anyway. We made our way across the border in order to visit the Oratory of St. Joseph, an oratory built by St. André Besette, the only canonized member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. While visiting the Oratory, the two priests who had joined us on the pilgrimage decided to offer Reconciliation for anyone who would like to receive. I hadn’t been to Reconciliation in over a year, so I decided it would probably be a good idea to go.

I sat in the pew, waiting for the people ahead of me to finish, asking myself how I had sinned in my life recently.  “Ok, yes, I probably have not been nice to my parents at some point. Yeah, I’ve probably lied to someone about something. Yep, I definitely swear a lot, that’s a problem.”

As I performed this internal examination of conscience, what kept coming into my head was the fact that I did not really even love myself. More often than not, the way I turned down God’s grace was by insulting myself and putting myself down. I thought of all the times I called myself unworthy, of all the times I wanted to run into the wall fifty times because I had gained another five pounds. So while the sins I recognized in my examination before were true, my true wounds resided in a place where only an honest self-reflection could find them.

With that in mind, I went into Confession. After telling the priest I hadn’t been to Confession in a while, I let out everything. I let out all of my qualms, concerns, and frustrations with myself. I wasn’t funny. I wasn’t smart. I wasn’t faithful enough. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t anything that God would want me to be!

When I finished my monologue with some tears in my eyes, the priest asked me, “How old are you?” So I told him, I’m nineteen. He then said to me, “Okay, you’re nineteen, so twice that is 38. For your penance, I want you to write down 38 things you like about yourself, and at least three of them have to be physical attributes.” He then absolved me of my sins, and I got up and walked away. Stunned by the task before me, I went to another pew in the Oratory, pulled out my journal, opened it tentatively, and started writing.

listI could name a few things I liked about myself, but with every bullet point I wrote down, it became increasingly more difficult to think of anything that I really liked. By the time I got to about number eight, I had nothing else to say. But I had to do it. I had to finish my penance. I wracked my brain, trying to think of things I liked about myself. With each motion of my pen on the page, I felt a twang of resentment and guilt, since I really did not like anything about myself. I would think of one example, go to write it down, but then retract it.

I got frustrated. Why can’t I think of anything? I looked back at the items I had already written down and decided to just go for it. Take that, penance! I’m going to write down the most ridiculous things possible, even things I didn’t particularly like about myself. Just simple facts about myself. Not really things that are particularly remarkable. Things like “I like that I have a spoon collection” and “I like my laugh,” neither of which I was particularly proud.

I finally finished the list and stared down at it, not really knowing what to think of it. Then I realized, this list of things that I love about myself that I had written were all things God loves about me. During my Confession, I had given God all of my baggage. I had told him how I felt unworthy of His love, how His death on the Cross for me was a poor decision. But in my penance, God responded. He said to me, “Marisa, I do love you. You are good in my eyes. You are worthy of my love, no matter what you think. And you should love about you what I love about you.”

Having the list in front of me helped me more than I realized. In making the list, I was not trying to necessarily quantify my worth, but it showed me that there is worth within me. If I had wanted to or needed to, I could have kept going and made the list even longer. Because what ultimately makes me worth loving is not something quirky like my spoon collection or the fact that I sound like a choking turkey when I laugh, what makes me worth loving is that I’m me. I’m the one God chooses to love for all that I am. And in reality, the list that I made doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of all that God sees within me.

I still look back on that list from time to time. Learning to love myself as God loves me is a difficult and ongoing process. In order for me to love myself, I have to learn to continually give myself over to Him and to his vision. Only then will I catch a glimpse of the way he sees me: beautifully made in His image.