How Zero Effort Beats Perfectionism

How Zero Effort Beats Perfectionism by Pearl Allard (Look Up Sometimes)

I’m not a photographer, but I like to occasionally snap photos. I attempted some one day, intending to give them as a gift. If the photos were good enough, maybe the recipient would use them in advertising. So I felt pressure, albeit self-induced since the recipient knew nothing about my intentions.

Some I shot quickly, but on others I spent hours – too long, to the neglect of other tasks – creating an elaborate set-up. I didn’t capture the effect I had hoped, but instead of cutting my losses, I tried harder. Problem was, the longer I worked, the more panicked I felt. Finally, I had to concede what I suspected all along: the photo shoot was a bust. Even my favorite shot wasn’t that great.

I’d tried to capture a story within the frame. Surely a real photographer I knew, I’ll call her Dora, would note my intent and applaud my effort, even if the result was lacking. I cheered at the prospect of her encouragement and sent her my work for feedback. She’s a brilliant photographer, and one thing was certain: I could always count on Dora to tell the truth.

“I like the first one,” Dora texted, referring to one of the photos I’d just quickly snapped. I sensed she’d carefully chosen her words, but that didn’t stop my wry smile. I was grateful Dora couldn’t see it.

“That one took zero effort,” I shot back, not-so-subtly implying she’d overlooked my best. Now she’d see.

“How was your dinner tonight?” Dora asked, instead.

I’m quite sure the ego lives in the gut, and I’m equally sure bumper cars managed to enter said gut to batter what remained of my bruised pride.

How could she sweep aside my painstaking efforts in favor of the – what word even fit? Lazy. The photo she’d commended cost me virtually nothing in time or effort. How was lazy good?

Then I remembered a story that promised to help make sense of things.

Once upon a time, a lazy woman sat on her duff and listened to the stimulating conversation in her living room. Mary had heard men talk, but no one like this guy. She leaned forward, straining to hear over the din from the kitchen. She tried to push aside nagging guilt that her sister was doing all the cooking while she was having all the fun.

Being lazy.

A woman’s voice screamed from the kitchen and a crash was heard as though there’d been a landslide of earthenware. A disheveled woman with red cheeks and wild hair burst into the room breathing hard.

“Jesus!” Martha’s voice was shrill. The men stopped talking and turned towards Martha, “Enough’s enough. Tell this lazy oaf –” Mary winced under Martha’s glare, “to get off her duff and HELP ME IN THE KITCHEN!”

Mary hastily stood up, eyes downcast, cheeks scarlet. I should have helped sooner. I knew Martha would get upset. How did I think it was right to be so selfish and sit here? What must Jesus think? Mary stared at the blurring floor. Curious men, one shamed woman, and one furious awaited Jesus’ response.

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered calmly, as if he dealt with frazzled woman attacking their sisters every day. He paused and then continued. “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary.” Mary looked up startled. Had she heard correctly? “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary stared at Jesus, her mouth agape. He smiled at her. I wasn’t being selfish –? But –?

Martha paled and silently retreated to the kitchen.

Mary wondered if she had fallen asleep. She pinched her arm behind her back to make sure. She had been up extra early and had worn herself out trying to keep up with Martha’s to do list for tonight. Was she dreaming? The familiar nagging that occurred whenever Martha flew into a rage about something, came back. It was Mary’s duty to comfort Martha and she shouldn’t be so selfish leaving her sister alone – Except a stronger feeling was flooding her with peace, dispelling all that threatened to keep her ill at ease. Mary couldn’t stop looking at Jesus, his smiling eyes. The relief inside was growing into uncontainable joy.

Jesus motioned for Mary to reclaim her seat near him and resumed conversation with the men. Mary’s heart felt light as a feather of a bird free to fly.

The story faded. (Which you can read in Luke 10:38-42.) I thought about the photo shoot gone wrong and Dora’s response. I’d never before seen myself as both Martha and Mary in the story, simultaneously.

Part of me longed to be Mary – to be still and listen to God, to let my spirit breathe easy and rest in Him.  I had snapped some quick shots with the time I had the one day. But I’d had a feeling they weren’t good enough? Maybe look lazy? Who can afford the luxury of being still and knowing God when there’s stuff to be done for Him?

The panicked, frantic Martha emerges in me putting time on a credit card hoping to do enough extra to impress, but only falling deeper into debt to perfectionism, a god that demands what Jesus freely gives: being enough in Him.

In the sense that we sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him, and letting Him be our enough, it’s not only ok, but highly recommended to live “lazily” ever after.

18 thoughts on “How Zero Effort Beats Perfectionism

  1. Pearl, love your new site! So beautiful — words and all. So blessed to see God at work in your writing life. Well done, my friend.

    1. Hulda, you are such an encourager. Thank you for your feedback and kind words. Whatever is going on with you, you continually have a kind word to share. That doesn’t slip by unnoticed. May God bless you richly, sweet sister.

  2. Amazing post. What a gift.

    Your words ring familiar: “Who can afford the luxury of being still and knowing God when there’s stuff to be done for Him?

    It’s so easy to get so caught up chasing “do,” that we forget to just, “be.” It’s a battle I still fight, but I’m winning now, by the grace of God. 🙂

    #turningmarthaintomary is my hashtag I used on Instagram for awhile, still do sometimes. It’s in my second blog post, One Day in October, the story of my encounter with God which was the beginning of a whole new walk with God and the start of my writing journey. It also includes my piece entitled, #TurningMarthaintoMary (Hmm…But now I see needed edits;)

    Thanks for reminding us not to feel guilty and that we have permission to be still, to rest awhile at Jesus’ feet. And you know what? Results we couldn’t attain in our own strength will follow.

    1. Rachael, I wrote a comment on your blog post, too. But those hashtags are awesome, and I love that we’re so often on the same wavelength! Grateful for you, sister, that we can battle together against our Martha tendencies. Celebrating your victories and praying for many more! I’ll raise my teacup to what you said: “Results we couldn’t attain in our own strength will follow.” Hugs!

  3. It always brings a smile to my face to read your blog, Pearl. This one was no different. I mean, seriously, how many times have we experienced the inner Mary and Martha going at it within us? At least it’s a constant struggle for me. Empathy for your situation totally rose up within me too. I know some talented photographers (even have one for a mom, like you). But I can’t seem to shoot a descent picture to save my life…unless it’s totally by accident. I keep feeling that inner critic saying, “Hey, you’re artistic, aren’t you. Why can’t you take a picture?” Lol!

    At any rate, it’s good to see how God uses those little life lessons to make a big impact on us. Thanks for sharing yours!

    1. It always brings a smile to my face to read your comments, Melissa. 🙂 So nice to know we are together in the journey of struggling through our Mary and Martha tendencies. I wonder if your inner critic knows my address, because I’ve heard the same things! That reminded me of another post A gal from my bible study said it so beautifully once that “even if we fall, we fall into grace.” That thought has stuck with me. We get to enjoy grace! Hugs, sister!

  4. Rebekah, thank you for the heart hug! I’m grateful it encouraged you. 🙂 We need each other to remind us of truth, don’t we? God bless you, too, sister.

  5. What a beautiful, compelling post! Your gift with words is rich — and grasp of the Word deep! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  6. I posted about perfectionism today, too! But as usual, you have beautiful perspective here. The line about being in debt to perfectionism, and how it’s a false god is so convicting. Thank you for this post.

  7. The inward struggle so well illustrated. Beautifully done.

    That urge to do something significant, more impressive, and more long-lasting with my life is even stronger now that I am in my 60’s. I tell myself time is running out. If I’m going to do “it,” whatever “it” is, I had better get moving. But . . .

    Then this piece reminds me of Mary. At his feet. Just listening.

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