“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”— Matthew 11:28 (NIV).
Confession time. I’m a recovering perfectionist addict. Rest doesn’t always come easy for me.
In a recent national advice column, a woman wrote in about her “drive to be productive, to take action, to keep things organized, and stay perfectly on top of everything.” In other words, she was battling perfectionism. Oh, how I could relate. At least to the “old” me.
The writer, a young woman, recognized her problem. She was so overwhelmed by her drive to do everything perfectly, she had trouble sleeping. Her question for the advice columnist at the end of her letter reads: “How do I learn to become okay with being still and to rest better?”
Learning to Become Okay
As I read the advice columnist’s reply to this young woman, it was as if she were speaking to the younger me. The younger me could have written this letter, seeking help for the desire to please others by striving for perfection. However, I hadn’t recognized at my younger age what the advice columnist explained to the letter writer.
Perfectionism is often inherited. I was in my late 40s when I realized my mother was a perfectionist. And so was I. But it wasn’t until I experienced new life through a relationship with Jesus that I was able to begin my journey of letting go.
Letting go of the need to strive for perfection is a process. You don’t just wake up one morning, cured from this unhealthy habit, especially if you learned it from a parent. However, with each passing year, I’ve let go of the desire to strive for perfection. It’s not only unhealthy, but unattainable.
Letting Go of Perfection
Dictionary.com defines perfectionism as “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.” Being a perfectionist, however, leads to stress, anxiety, and self-criticism. Looking back, I can see those negative effects were a part of my daily life. Resting and relaxing were not in my vocabulary. How could I rest when there were so many things I needed to do, and felt the need to do perfectly?
The advice columnist shared one root cause of perfectionism as a belief “that you aren’t good enough, as you are.” I can certainly relate. My striving for perfection, and achieving the moniker of “over-achiever,” did nothing but reinforce my belief that I had to earn the love of others.
But Jesus—yes, my Lord and Savior—began a work in me. His unconditional love for me, a sinner, released me from the need to please. Despite my imperfections, Jesus loves me, and Jesus loves you. Romans 5:8 says it best. “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Only Perfect One
We can’t attain perfection. Yes, we can strive for it, but it doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life. It’s not in the “doing” that we draw closer to God. Instead, it’s in the quiet times, when we slow down and just “be,” that we can experience His holy presence.
We can stop our striving. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:28-30 to come to Him when we’re weary and burdened, and He will give us rest. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I’ve accepted His invitation. Have you? He is my shepherd, “I lack nothing.” He has quieted my spirit and I lie down in green pastures. “He leads me beside still waters, He refreshes my soul.”
After a 30-year teaching career, Carol Round found redirection as a Christian columnist, author and inspirational speaker. She is the author of nine books, all available at Amazon.com. (See her website at www.carolaround.com for more information.) When she isn’t writing, she can be found spending time with her seven grandchildren, working in her yard, volunteering, shooting photos, hiking, going on mission trips and playing with her spoiled rotten dog, Harley.