One dictionary defines it as “a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect.” Yet a practicing perfectionist may not always demand straight A’s, refuse to leave the house if the bed’s not made, or endlessly edit a report. Perfectionism is more subtle than that. It’s about unreasonable expectations – how we berate ourselves and others (silently or aloud) for having human (decoded as “weak”) thoughts and emotions, inconsistent commitment levels, or average accomplishments, bodies and relationships.
When we try too hard to make ourselves, our jobs and our families “just right,” we get overly stressed and bone-tired. Who needs that? Relief is possible. It’s a process, but we can reduce our self-sabotaging behaviors by:
Realizing that when we fall into the “trying too hard to make it just right” trap, we believe a misconception: That people, projects and circumstances have the capacity to be perfect (or “just right”).
Just wondering here: Do you ever get tired of trying too hard to make it all just right?
I adapted this article which I originally wrote to be published by Genius Avenue Inc., copyright 2011.
A grace-filled reality that has helped me in my ongoing journey out of over-doing, over-committing and over-whelm is reminding myself often that there IS a difference between “trying too hard to make it all just right” and “partnering with God for excellence.”
If you’re like me, you can sometimes be your own slave-driver. So this verse gives you (and me, too!) permission to be gentler with ourselves. I love that!
Which of these perfectionistic symptoms sounds a little too familiar to you? What one gentle self-care moment are you going to allow yourself this week?
As a procrastinating perfectionist, you may not finish a job application, take that vacation, or organize your closet. You may avoid creating new friendships, singing in the choir, or calling a counselor, because you’re afraid of making a mistake, being laughed at, failing others—or yourself. Delaying decisions becomes a habit. Although it may seem like a laid-back approach to life, it’s often painful and limiting.
You can change your procrastinating tendencies. Just starting is a step out of the procrastination trap.
1. Instead of expecting to be the best (employee, parent, musician, you fill in the blank ________) in comparison to everyone else, commit to become the best version of yourself.
2. Limit all-or-nothing thinking. Choose your favorite color (deep red, ocean blue, sunshine yellow?) and the next time you feel stuck and start to procrastinate, brainstorm your options in that color instead of mere black and white. You do have choices.
3. When you’re tempted to procrastinate and postpone another task because it seems too hard or time-consuming, set the timer for 20 minutes. When the alarm sounds you can walk away or re-set for another 20.
4. Find a caring accountability partner who’ll listen to your frustrations without judging or trying to fix you and your procrastinating ways and then who will celebrate with you when you succeed.
5. Stand up to the shoulda-woulda-coulda tyrant in your head. Tell him to sit down and hush because you can make progress without him!
Just as you develop physical muscle by consistently exercising your body, you can develop mental/emotional muscle by consistently practicing these and other anti-procrastination exercises. Freedom, here you come.
Did you ever wonder what Easter is like in the Middle East where Jesus lived? I did. And then one Easter season, I traveled there. Here's what happened:
Worshiping at Easter-time in Egypt:
We walked from our hotel along the Nile to a large church building near downtown Cairo. The place was packed. People crowded the lobby yet parted quickly to allow the fifty blue-robed choir members to march in, waving palm branches. We couldn’t understand the Arabic words, but we read the English version in the guest-bulletin. They sang, “I love you, Lord. Come and be with us.” Tears leaked from my eyelids—this from a woman who rarely cries.
Giving at Easter-time in Egypt:
The inspiring experiences didn’t stop at the end of the worship service. We met with the articulate pastor afterward. He said, “We all have something to give, whether Western or Eastern Christians. If we learn how to share and attempt to understand one another, then people will know that the giver cares and sees the receiver as a fellow human being and brother.” He explained that was why he appreciated the Christian relief and development program I worked with at the time. We partnered to offer food, training, jobs and transportation to deeply disadvantaged parents and children.
Resting at Easter-time in Egypt:
During our conversation, the pastor’s adult daughter said, “As a child I continually wondered when someone would come take my dad away.”
“Yes,” admitted the pastor. “I’ve been in danger of being jailed almost every day of my life.”
I chatted with the daughter (who currently practices medicine in a large city in the U.S.) about topics like over-working, exhaustion, transition and burnout. “You know what it’s like to race inside, don’t you?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she admitted. “It’s like a treadmill—if I try to get off without first turning off the machine, I will fall.” Then she recounted stories about how two of her patients did fall off the treadmill during testing, because they didn’t heed the instructions to be careful. We chuckled at the analogy. And yet we both knew the sober reality: over-doing and running around without heeding wise directives and taking time to rest and replenish can lead to a burnout crash.
Worshipping, Giving, and Resting at Easter-time during the Coronavirus Pandemic:
Although this Easter-in-Egypt happened several years ago, I think of it today as I celebrate the current Easter season during this sad and challenging coronavirus pandemic with all the restrictions and uncertainties. We all face an unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable future whether that future means tomorrow or one year from now.
We wish it could be predictable and controllable with results just like we think they should be. But the truth is: things aren’t perfect. Some things aren’t fair. And many things are hurtful and wrong…whether we live in Egypt or in a big city or rural town in the United States…or somewhere else in the world.
Jesus and You at this Easter-time:
It wasn’t perfect for Jesus when He lived here, either. He left His flawlessly supportive surroundings in heaven to live in this fickle, chaotic, disappointing world. One week He was adored, praised and openly honored with parades and palm branches. The next week He was mocked and killed.
Yet, Jesus came for a purpose–the ultimate purpose!–to sacrifice His life so that all of us can be re-united with our loving Creator God. All of us, the burned-out doctor, threatened pastor, penniless parent, caring giver, and each restricted “stay at home” observer.
No matter where you live or what’s happening in your life, Jesus says (to you about himself), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish [spiritually] but have eternal life.”
It’s a personal invitation to you and me from God. Even amid our "social distancing" challenges, changes and losses, let’s remember that we are loved by the God who will always care about us and be involved with us, regardless of our circumstances. If like I have, you’ve accepted God’s generous offer to believe and follow Jesus and discover a forever-hope, what does this year’s unconventional and imperfect Easter season look like for you? If you’d like to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.
Note: To protect the people involved, I changed some details of my actual experience, left out names and exact places, and chose not to post actual photos.
She walked toward me at the close of my presentation. As I listened to bits of her story, my heart connected to hers in a unique way. We met for lunch. She talked of her love for writing. Taking an intentional step, she started a blog that went international. To say that Lynne Hartke has the God-given gift of written story is like saying Arizona is hot in the summer! Consequently, it gives me joy to introduce you to her first published book, Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places. You will be powerfully impacted by what you read. I promise!
To win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky, leave a comment below.
I love these following quotes from Lynne's book. Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.
I need and want to hold this truth close right now: He has not forgotten me! He's not forgotten you, either!
Yes, it is good to be strong in the midst of hardship, pain, and disappointment. But sadly, we can push that strength to extreme when we believe we must do it all alone. Lynne discovered that living this way is "stupid strong." I rather agree. It's not sensible to leave out God and those who love us; we were made for community.
Believing this truth can release you and me from the exhausting "trying too hard to make it all just right" mentality! Ahhhh.
Always striving for more can be exhausting. Yet, accepting our limited reality can be freeing. More will indeed come...
When we spend eternity with our Creator, Savior, and Lord. That is my ultimate hope. How about you?
Leave a comment by May 25, 2017, and you will be entered into a drawing to win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky!
Speaking the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. I heard this advice at church, school, and home. So I made it my creed.
But it’s a half-truth. For example, Paul writes, “Be kind and loving to each other” (Ephesians 4:32, NCV). When we act on this truth, our relationships flourish. Yet sometimes we need to tell our children or our nieces and nephews what they don’t want to hear. “Don’t play in the street” or “Be home by midnight” or “No, you can’t wear that outfit to school” doesn’t seem nice to them. Speaking the painful truth to a parent or spouse is even harder. “No, I won’t lie to your boss” or “I don’t like it when you yell at me” or “Your driving is endangering lives” may be met with rejection.
In Telling Each Other the Truth, William Backus writes, “We cannot measure love solely by whether or not what we say hurts someone’s feelings. The fact that another person may not like what we have spoken does not automatically mean we have done wrong.”
It may be difficult for those of us who try hard to think, do and say the right thing to speak the truth in love. But God promises us courage. He will help us through the rough spots.
Lord, help me not to merely say what people want to hear or try to
pacify others by telling half-truths. Although it feels uncomfortable,
I do want to be lovingly honest in my relationships.
Make It Personal
What are you tolerating because you’re trying to be nice? Ask God to help you find a way to “speak the truth in love.”
Devotional taken from It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life
Safe in God's Arms
Mother's Day was this past weekend. Perhaps it was just what you wanted it to be or maybe you were a little disappointed. Either way, Mom, I'm thinking about you and want to tell you something.
God loves you more than you’ll ever know. It might be hard for you to imagine, but He loves you even more than you love your baby. Just as you delight in your child and long to keep him safe, warm, and happy, God delights in you (read Psalm 18:19).
God designed you with your personality, gifts, and passions. He’s not pushing you to be or do it all perfectly 24/7. At times you may feel a heavy sense of exaggerated responsibility that threatens your joy, yet that doesn’t come from God. He just wants to help you be the best version of who He created you to be. God loves seeing you express your unique personhood in your mommy role.
So when you’re tired and needing nourishment and assurance, come to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. When your baby’s crying. When you question who you are. When you’re confused about the decisions you face. When your hormones fluctuate wildly. When you feel disorganized and confused. When you’re stressed out. When you’re trying too hard to make it all just right, God’s invitation stands no matter what the time of day or night. You are not alone.
Jesus says to YOU:
“Are you tired? Worn out?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--
watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
My friend and fellow-writer, Lynne Hartke, asked me to guest blog on her website this week on the topic of kindness. I shared how God assured me that it is wise to be kind to myself as well as others.
“What specific quality would you like for God to develop in you this year?” asked the speaker. The question caught my attention and would not let go.
Driving home, I contemplated my response: I’d like to be less obsessive, less intense. I want to balance giving with receiving and then be comfortable with it. I want to be less judgmental of myself and others.
Then a light bulb flashed in my mind: Gentleness! Kindness! That’s what I want. I want to be more gentle. More kind.
Later, I looked up the word “gentle” and read this definition: “Kindly; moderate; a mild breeze, usually one with the velocity of no more than 12 miles per hour.” I smiled as I imagined going through each day at a moderate pace. After all, I had previously run through life like a high-velocity wind, attempting to work, serve, give and do it all “just right.” Now I desired authentic gentleness laced with kindness.
I shared my goal with God, prayed for His Spirit’s guidance and began to picture myself practicing gentleness, tenderness and kindness, first with myself and then reaching out to touch others like a refreshing gentle breeze.
A few weeks later...
For the rest of the story, click here: http://www.lynnehartke.com/living-like-refreshing-breeze-treat-kindness/
Ezra 3:8-11: "When the builders laid the foundation...with thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: '...his love...endures forever'" (vv.10-11).
"I wonder if I've done permanent damage to my mind and body," admitted a friend who had just left a destructive career environment. "As I begin this journey out of workaholism and burnout, sometimes I'm hopeful, other times I'm racked with doubt. I guess I'd better wait before I count my blessings."
At one time I too was frightened that total restoration was not possible. After all, I had "fried" my brain and soul.
Perhaps the Israelites experienced similar feelings. They had been freed from the oppressive chains of the Babylonians. Restoring the temple in Jerusalem was their goal, but many obstacles remained. The destruction was massive. Could they ever recover what they once had?
With such a huge task ahead, one might expect the Israelites to hold their praise until the temple reconstruction was completed. Yet as the foundation was being laid, they shouted, "God is good."
Learning new ways to live is risky. There is much work to be done and many obstacles to overcome. At first glance, it might seem like an unlikely time for Thanksgiving. However, even in our confusion and doubt, we can be grateful for evidence of growth and praise God.
Lord, your love endures forever -- before, during, and after the restorative process.
Can you think of a time when being grateful seemed like a strange or even ridiculous thing to do, but you found ways to thank God, anyway?
WIN A FREE BOOK! The Bible text (in the photo I took of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) and this blog post remind me of my devotional book, It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. I'd like to give you an autographed copy. Make a comment here and I'll enter your name for a drawing on THANKSGIVING DAY.
I read the following Bible verse and thought I totally understood it. And then God showed me something new. "Whatsoever things are true . . . honest . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of good report, if there be any virtue, and . . . any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8
I believed that to be a loving Christian woman, I must pretend that I didn’t mind being taken advantage of or mistreated. I ignored any painful matters. (Didn’t this verse mean that I should think only about lovely, pure things?) Because I couldn’t allow myself to think about anything uncomfortable, I didn’t acknowledge that change was necessary. Neither could I pray specifically about what concerned or hurt me (see Philippians 4:6).
Then I learned that one of the original meanings of the Greek word for “truth” is the reality clearly lying before your eyes. I blinked in amazement. Indeed I could admit unpleasantness.
I’ve met many women who have remained stuck, unable to live out God’s design for them because they believe they can’t (as godly women) acknowledge or talk about any hurtful reality, whether it’s abuse, addiction, depression, eating disorders, post-partum or menopausal problems, anger or grief.
I’ve also met women—just like me—who’ve courageously confronted their uncomfortable reality, knowing that there is virtue in honestly growing through the pain to dwell on the true, just, pure and lovely things God has for them.
Lord, help me admit the truth, whether delightful or disagreeable.
Make It Personal: List what is good about your life in one column, what concerns or perplexes you in another column and what hurts you in a third column. Bring the three-columned list before God, asking for guidance in dealing with your reality.
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.