4 Words to Help Recovering Perfectionists Not Get Stuck

The Struggle is Real

I have this bad habit of letting my desire for perfection paralyze me over the stupidest things (and some not-so-stupid things).

Like cleaning the house. Maybe it doesn’t help that I enjoy watching HGTV that features jaw-dropping renovations, transforming every inch into equal parts function and beauty. Then I turn off the tv and gaze at reality. Who wants ugly functionality? Or a beautiful waste of space? But when I chalk up how many things it’d take to be perfect, it highlights that the struggle is real and so are the limitations.

Even in the areas over which I have control it can feel like stepping into quicksand. Have you ever read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Have you ever completed all her suggestions? Yeah, me neither. I got buried somewhere in my closet, lost motivation, and threw a funeral for my desire to ever have that Pinterest perfect home.

Which, actually, is not a bad idea. To throw a funeral that is – figuratively speaking.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (NIV)

Why Does Perfectionism Require a Funeral?

Google’s definition of perfectionism is: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

Author Shannon Popkin in Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World defines it as “another form of pursuing status.”

I already realized that perfectionism was a wrecking ball to God’s offer of an abundant life. But I had no idea that perfectionism is really saying that I want to BE perfect more than I want a relationship with Perfection, Himself!

(By the way, that’s Satan’s backstory…)

Be on God’s side or be God’s enemy… Duh! That’s an easy choice.

Daily taking up my cross and dying a thousand little deaths? Not an easy choice. Some people glorify God bearing trauma and forgiving their neighbor for stoning them nearly to death for building a church while some relinquish their desire to be perfect. (Makes it seem a little easier, right? True story.)

What Does Relinquishing Perfectionism Look Like?

This is serious stuff that festers deep below the surface but it can appear is such subtle ways that recognizing it can be difficult. (At least in ourselves – I’m sure others don’t have a problem recognizing it in us.)

So first I have to recognize it. I’ve noticed in my own experience that perfectionism can sometimes be accompanied by anxiety, which can quickly escalate into paralysis if I don’t do something about it.

It can happen like a sneak attack. One minute I’m going about my mundane tasks not thinking I’m trying to do them perfectly – just trying to do them well, but then life happens and I don’t meet my own expectations. Next thing I know, I’m either angry, trying to put time and energy on a credit card, or berating myself. Any or all of the above could be indicators that perfectionism has taken residence.

Lately, four words have kept me from drowning in the overwhelm that accompanies the attack of perfectionism: Commit to the process.

That’s Nice But Is it Scriptural and What Does That Even Mean?

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (NIV) (emphasis mine)

The way I see it, committing to the process – or the Way – is just another way of saying I’m committing to God. To following Jesus. To being a Son-follower. But it’s helpful to word it this way, “commit to the process,” because of the nuances it implies.

If you’ve grown up going to church, maybe you’ve heard words thrown around that no one uses in real life, like sanctification – the process of being made holy. And you may have wrestled with the mystery of God’s job in making us completely holy and our job in cooperating with Him to become what He says we already are (Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 8:29-30). I’m not attempting to unpack that mystery, but I think it’s beneficial for me to trust that God can take care of His responsibility while I focus on mine.

If perfectionism is worshiping myself and refusing to accept anything less than perfection from myself, then in contrast, committing to the process is having a relationship with Perfection, Himself. This means not only acknowledging that Jesus is the source of perfection but also accepting His perfection, which includes: 1) His perfect love for me that drives out fear and gives me the greatest status I could ever hope for, 2) His declaration that all my striving “It is finished,” and 3) His grace generously dished out continually.

When you put it that way, it sounds like a no-brainer to throw a funeral for perfectionism! Let’s go! But applying this knowledge takes practice. And we all know that practice implies that we aren’t going to necessarily get it right the first time, or many times, in the learning process.

In a way, that’s kind of the whole point: It’s a process. Therefore, commit to the process.

What Does this Look Like Practically Speaking?

Jesus told me what to do – take up my cross and follow Him. Practically speaking, that means don’t overthink it and start acting. Yes, strive for excellence while worshiping God, but don’t worship excellence while striving to be God.

Quit thinking so much about my dream home and start de-cluttering one shelf in my closet: commit to the process. Just pick one thing and do it. The goal is committing to the process, to the Way – not attempting perfection.

Overwhelmed by yard work? Commit to the process. Water something, pick a handful of weeds, plant something, just do SOMETHING. Maybe more on days you have more time but KEEP GOING. Every day do one thing.

Parenting got me done and all I can see are all the ways I’m failing? Commit to the process. Remember I’m not doing it alone. God loves my kids more than I do. Spend fifteen minutes investing in a kiddo. Pray for them. Just keep going.

You can insert whatever it is that you wish was perfect into these scenarios. The answer is the same: Commit to the process.

Commit to the Process: This is Doable!

I have to keep repeating this over and over, trying to internalize a new goal to serve Jesus, not myself. Not my own agenda. Not my own ideas of perfection. Perfection, Himself, invites me to serve Him. And, ironically, He is not a hard master.

When I crave loving God more than I crave loving to BE God, I can always be satisfied. Because God is not asking me to serve Him with what I don’t have. If I was diligent but still don’t have enough time to get a project to the standard that I’d prefer, then I have the job of realizing God’s objective is not the same as mine and I have to make a choice between whose agenda is more important – His or mine.

God is so much kinder to us when we serve Him than we are to ourselves when we subject ourselves to ill-placed worship. Attaining perfection, we all know intuitively, is not possible. But having a relationship with Perfection is possible.

“I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”

Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

Yeah, But…

But what about when that shelf in the closet doesn’t turn out as good as I hoped? What about when I look at all the other shelves that still need to be organized and want to give up? It’s the same answer that saved me from the overwhelm the first time: Commit to the process.

What overwhelms you? What feels impossible? When do you start beating yourself up? What project do you hate leaving unfinished? What bothers you the most that’s not perfect?

How could we begin to reframe perfectionist thinking with “commit to the process” instead? We may not be required to endure being stoned but we might be asked to do one thing in the area that feels most overwhelming. Or we might be asked to temporarily set aside something that is important to us in order to reorder our priorities.

The “funeral” for perfectionist thinking may look different each day, but instead of getting stuck or paralyzed by our inability to be perfect, may God help us commit to the process of worshiping Perfection, Himself.

P.S. I’m kind of shocked actually at how powerful those four words have been for me. The photos in this post are all from my garden as a reminder to me that committing to the process produces a beautiful result (even if it requires more than one growing season).

8 thoughts on “4 Words to Help Recovering Perfectionists Not Get Stuck

  1. Pearl, this piece spoke to my conflict between doing my best and feeling content with that versus striving for perfection and feeling defeated, angry, and dissatisfied.

    You stated a powerful truth when you wrote: I had no idea that perfectionism is really saying that I want to BE perfect more than I want a relationship with Perfection, Himself!

    May it never be so for you or for me, Sister. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your beautiful photos!

    Committing to the process,

    1. Debbie, you worded that conflict well. It’s a hard tension to live in! Thank you for your prayers for the both of us that we don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. Praise God for His grace that rescues us from ourselves! May He continue to help the both of us love Him most and be content with His approval. I’m so thankful for you, Debbie! May the Lord bless you and keep you!

  2. Talk about striking the nail on the head! Your hammer hit home with me. This is the constant struggle in…well, everything. It’s all overwhelmed me of late, and I’m constantly telling myself, “You just need to do something.” But I’m so overwhelmed by ALL THE THINGS I’m falling short or falling behind in. Obviously, you get it.

    Thank you for sharing this timely reminder. I pray God helps us both to relinquish perfectionism to the One Who is Perfect, and let Him help us do only the one thing in the moment that matters most.

    1. I’m glad this was helpful, Melissa. I have a feeling I’ll be battling perfectionism the rest of my life! Just tonight I felt overwhelmed trying to decide what to work on first. I decided to set a timer for a half hour and aim for progress on one thing. Making progress on a task still feels good even if it isn’t finished yet since I know at least I’m headed in the right direction! May God help us both relax into His grace so we can grow forward by committing to the process!

  3. Pearl, I have read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Plus, my husband and I have followed her strategy. Did we finish yet? Nope! But we made progress! We started last June (2019). We committed to work together to declutter our house. We did really well, until August and his mom passed away and our oldest daughter decided to move to CA (clutter came back into our house as we stored her stuff). Fast forward a few months and we began with decluttering our kitchen (well, we had a remodel and that forced us to declutter). Did we finish? Nope! Covid 19 hit and we moved our daughter back home from CA. More clutter came again, but we decided to rent a storage unit for awhile. Then in July, our youngest daughter and her husband moved some of their belongings into our home to “store” for them until their new house is built.

    This decluttering process is clearly taking much longer than either my husband or myself ever thought it would. Still, we are committed to the process however long it takes. At this rate, it may not be complete until 2021, but we are still committed.

    Thanks for the phrase reminder. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately and not organized. Even just writing this comment has reminded me we have made progress, not perfection. That’s a good thing to celebrate!

    1. Michelle, I love your celebration over the progress you’ve made! It might be a longer process than you envisioned, but every step you’ve taken is worth celebrating! You bring up a good point too – that different seasons of life require different priorities or bring different limitations. And that’s ok! It’s all part of the process, right?

      I think overwhelm is a common feeling these days, for a variety of reasons – you’re not alone! I also love that you and your husband are working together in this process. That’s huge for encouragement and inspiration to keep going. May God breathe encouragement into you where you need it most today!

      I got rid of two shirts yesterday because one didn’t fit right and the other had a rip that wasn’t easily repaired. It wasn’t a whole closet cleanout, but it was still a step in the right direction. I wish I had had the faith to take “before” pics of so many things…God really does help us make progress and it’s easy to forget where we came from and get discouraged. Looking back on where we started can be a real boost to get across the finish line!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts over your decluttering journey. Carry on sister! <3

    1. Thank you, and sounds good! LOL That one phrase in your book, defining perfectionism the way it did, was tucked into an example but is a whammo of a phrase that hit me between the eyes! It really inspired a lot of thoughts. Thanks so much for the books you’ve authored and for your writing at http://www.shannonpopkin.com ! 🙂

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