Typos, Perfectionism and Freedom - Letter from Camilla Mackenzie
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I had just clicked submit when I saw it: “Catohlic.” I felt like someone had slipped an ice cube down my back. I had misspelled the word Catholic on an application to a graduate program. Not just any graduate program, one to study theology. The self-criticism came crashing in. “How could I have been so careless?” “I’m never going to get in now.” “I can never do anything good.” These thoughts spiraled for the rest of the day, ratcheting up in dramatics, until I found myself on the floor of my dorm’s chapel.
From my cave of shame, I landed on this question for God, “Will you still love me if I am not successful?” Sister, who hasn’t asked this question in some form or another? I think all of us could give the pat answer that we learned in Religion class. In this moment though, knowing it in my head was no longer enough. I needed an answer.
“Will you still love me if I’m not successful?” I asked this with urgency that day in the chapel. In the silence, I looked at the crucifix hanging above the altar and the answer was there. I felt the absurdity of my question. If I wasn’t already crying, I would have laughed. Everything in our faith tells a different story. There was Jesus, who I was addressing this question, at the moment when He, according to the rest of the world, had failed. The image of the crucified Jesus brought me back to the truth that success isn’t what He asks of us. The crucifix is a reminder that God’s love is for us at all times, no matter how “good” we are.
There is a Mother Teresa quote that I love that goes “God does not ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” I thought I understood this. I wasn’t trying to be a CEO or a famous doctor. I had small dreams of being a minister in the Church, but the desire to be great mixed with the fear of failing, leaving me buckling under the pressure to prove myself. Maybe for you, this is the pressure to be the best mom, the best girlfriend, the best co-worker or the best daughter. This pressure of getting everything right is unbearable. I’m leaving it behind, do you want to come with me?
Sister, when I get overwhelmed with self-criticism, I look back to this moment where it was so clear that I couldn’t earn God’s love. Let this truth free you too. When the voice comes that says that you are not enough or that you will never be able to do, look to the crucifix. The fear of failure pales in the face of Christ who loves you enough to die on a cross for you.
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My name is Camilla MacKenzie. I'm 23 and originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. Then I moved to DC for college at The Catholic University of America. Now, I am in the Echo program which is a graduate service program through the University of Notre Dame. I spend two summers studying on campus at Notre Dame and my school years working at a parish in catechesis. At the end of the two years, I'll have earned a Master's in Theology. I've been placed at a parish in Houston where I coordinate the home-based catechesis program and parent formation. Through the program, I've been given two amazing roommates to be an intentional faith community with. The three of us love watching cheesy movies and eating breakfast for dinner.
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