Girl on Fire: How I learned that being a “good Christian” means being truly yourself

January 6, 2015 | 24 comments

Happy Epiphany! Happy New Year!

I just got back from Nashville, where I was at the mind-blowing SEEK 2015 conference. There were 10, 000 college students in attendance, and I had the honor of giving the women’s keynote.

It’s the story of how I used to think that there was only one right way to be a “good Christian, ” and the startling moment that God showed me that to be truly Catholic is to by truly myself. (There’s also a Q&A at the very end where I answer questions that were tweeted during the talk.)

I had a ton of fun being at the conference and giving this talk. I hope you enjoy it!


(Email readers click through to see the video.)

Click here to see all the SEEK 2015 talks that are available online (they’re all amazing).

I hope your new year is off to a great start!


  1. Brigid

    I love this talk! Thank you for sharing it. I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading Thomas Merton and was struck by the idea that the reason saints are saints is that they have dug down to really live out the essence of who they are, and that in itself is holy and sanctifying. (So much so I have now posted a crazy blog post about it…) But it is so wonderful to hear about your experience with LIVING out this need to be authentic to be holy.

    So many things here that I have been dealing with: fear, doubt, the need for spiritual direction, and it’s helpful to hear about someone on the other side of that experience.

    I’ve been carrying a lot of these things in my heart for a while, and between the talk you gave in DC last summer, this talk, prayer, and a lot of reading — I feel like I have a lot more tools in my toolbelt for getting through it.

  2. Grace

    This is an awesome talk! I am a cradle Catholic (albeit also an introverted margarita-preferring night-owl one) and have long heard “be like the Blessed Mother” but never in this way–very refreshing and something I will have to contemplate.

    Also loved “Sparkle with self-forgetfulness”–I am going to have to meditate on that one as well! Great job

  3. Sarah

    That was so wonderful Jennifer. You spoke to so many of my current struggles– as a surprised and initially unwilling convert to Catholicism, and coming from a Evangelical background I was so invested in, I reaaaaalllly have found it a spiritual stumbling block to be so worried about becoming the ‘perfect/ideal/typical Catholic woman’ many sources would advocate. As I am far from the stereotype lol this has been so difficult to me. Your suggestions to pray about a relationship with Mary and getting myself a spiritual director (instead of having too many long talks in the confessional about my personal struggles which are not technically sins…) I will be taking up. We need you in the Catholic woman world!

  4. Jackie

    Omygosh your talk brought tears to my eyes. You are a picture of Mary and more powerful than you realize. Amen! You. . . “Sparkle, with self-forgetfulness”

    Loved your talk it was amazing and I love The Truth too 🙂

  5. Caroline M

    It’s so funny – as you were talking about diversity of saints I thought “but what if my quirks are really sins?” One of the hard things about having a Calvinist background is that I tend to see ALL of it as sin, which leads to despair in my case. Add a little depression and it’s hard to see anything good in myself. Especially when part of my brain still says “don’t get prideful by thinking you have any goodness at all.” We took the verse about righteousness being as filthy rags and ran with it. And while I wasn’t expressly taught that my personality itself is bad, it was the logical conclusion. I need to listen to this talk a few times and do some thinking 🙂

  6. Katelyn

    Thanks so much for coming to SEEK! After reading your blog and memoir, I really enjoyed your talks, both at the alumni event and the talk to the women in the morning!

    I really appreciate your realness and honesty. Thanks again for sharing your story!

  7. Jennifer @ Little Silly Goose

    What a wonderful talk! Thanks for sharing! I was raised Catholic, but there are many parts of Catholicism that I was never exposed to. As I try to embrace things like celebrating the liturgical year I can get frustrated with myself because I’m not where the other Catholic mothers are at, and then this leads to panic about how I’m failing my family and so on. I’ve been learning to take things one step at a time because beating myself up wasn’t getting me anywhere. Thank you for your encouragement for us “imperfect” Catholic women.

  8. Marie

    Beautiful talk; but just a reminder-not everyone has a twitter account.

  9. john @dropcam pro review

    Awesome talk! I really love it, can I download it and put it on my phone? I haven’t finished listening to it. Looking forward to your future talks 🙂

  10. Eva

    I think they could have laughed more at your transvestite joke, but that’s just me 😉

  11. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    This was so good Jen! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Abigail

    Hi Jennifer! I’m a 5th year FOCUS missionary and was at the talk, in the back with my baby, and afterwards several women shared with me how much they appreciated your message! I think you’re the first person to joke about gay clubs during a talk at SEEK, but you have to keep them on their toes, right? Thank you for taking the time away from your family to join us at SEEK!

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  15. Courtney

    Ha! I agree with other commenter…the transvestite joke deserved better laughs! As always you are so relatable for me, even though I am technically a cradle Catholic. I had a re-conversion experience last year and I started to get so confused about losing myself and what that truly meant. It’s so true that you have to be your own version of a Catholic woman to be authentically Catholic. Your whole talk gave me awesome insights! Thank you!

  16. Anne

    Jen, this was an awesome talk. So real, honest, sincere. I so appreciate you and SEEK for filming it for us and posting it. I think I need to listen again.

  17. Andrea Burkly @ The Me in Motherhood

    Jen, this was just fantastic! I’m a convert as well, and I’ve been struggling with not only feeling like I’m not a “great christian” (don’t really fit the Stepford Christian mold, though God is giving me some relief in that area), but that I’m especially not a great Catholic christian. This was just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

    Now we just need you to come and speak in Chicago…

  18. Ursula

    Mine was St. Ezekiel Moreno y Diaz whose patronage is people with cancer and whose birthday is the same as my husband’s. I really thought this was a good fit. I read what I could find and overall St. Ezekiel sounded like a good man. But “…during the Thousand Days War, he used his writings and preaching sermons…to urge Columbia Conservative Party Catholics to fight the liberals and to “defend their religion with Remingtons and machetes,” promising automatic Absolution.” I was uncomfortable about advocating violence so I prayed about it and picked another saint. I now have St. Albert the Great, patron saint of among others, medical technicians, scientists, and students. Not sure about the fit but I’m going with it.

    • Ursula

      Sorry, I posted on the incorrect conversation. : )

  19. Claire in the UK

    I misread this…. I read it as “I had the honor of giving the women’s KARAOKE” 🙂

  20. De Maria

    I laughed at that joke. And no, you don’t look like one.

    God bless you for your talk. I am also a convert from Atheism. I struggled with the idea of what it means to be a Catholic man when I first came into the Church. So much of what you say resonates with me the way that CS Lewis and GK Chesterton resonate with you.

    Oh but your accent needs work. Was that supposed to Cajun or Boston? 😉

  21. Lux Ganzon

    I so agree with you, Jennifer. Being a Christian is nothing but being genuine.Thanks for sharing the vid. 🙂

  22. Ari

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here so that we could all enjoy too. You’re spot on. By following Christ more closely, we become our true selves.

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