There’s no doubt we live in a world where there is a lot of focus on following our dreams, achieving happiness and living our best lives now. We see endless scrolls of the smiling faces and successes, thanks to all the highlight reels on social media. And we take in messages that encourage us to tirelessly strive until we reach our own so-called pinnacle of success.
For those of us who have ever embraced any of that while having perfectionist tendencies, the striving can form the beat to which we take our steps. It can become a way of life we become so familiar with, we don’t even realize that it comes at a cost.
It’s taken me most of my life to realize that. But it changed the moment I understood more about who I was made to be, what I was made to do, and what it all had to do with the way I treated myself.
For years, my obsession with striving for perfection caused me to put unrealistic expectations on myself and then resort to excessive criticism when I couldn’t meet them. I remember the years of school where I would get so upset with myself for not getting all the right answers or not getting all of the awards I thought were important. I remember the time spent trying to build my career and find my ideal job. How I pushed myself to work long hours, sometimes without taking a bite or a bathroom break—fearing I would miss an opportunity to work just a little bit more. I remember the times in more recent days where I obsessed over having happy, thriving kids while maintaining a spotless home. Nursing babies to sleep while resisting my own need for rest. Instead, passing the time by criticizing myself for not doing what I thought I needed to be doing to maintain a “perfect” home or scrolling social media and trying to hatch up a plan to win the whole stay-at-home mom thing.
While repeatedly running myself to the ground, I would kick myself— saying I was only trying to serve the Lord with excellence and the byproducts, no matter how bad, came with the territory. I couldn’t see that my behaviors were actually a form of self-sabotage that made me neglect myself physically, burnout mentally, and lose sight of my faith in God.
Treating Yourself As God’s Creation
The Bible tells us we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that we are meant to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That means our hearts, minds, souls, and spirits are housed in our bodies, and we should care for them as such.
We should be making time to rest (Hebrews 4:9-11), constantly renewing our minds (Romans 12:1-2), guarding our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), and avoiding things that damage our souls (1 Peter 5:7-9) or hurt our bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). That’s because all of it is valuable as we do the work God has for us in this life.
It never failed that tireless striving left me exhausted, weary, and unable to truly do the one thing I wanted to do—serve the Lord with excellence. My well always ran dry. But to borrow a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Only this time, I knew how to find it.
Water For A Dry Well
It was clear that when my well ran dry, I needed to be refilled, refreshed, and recharged in more ways than one. Some Netflix, a message, or a long nap was not going to solve the problems I had going on. I needed to do these four things:
I needed to draw closer to God, trusting Him and finding rest in His control. When I don’t draw close to God or put my trust in Him, I strive for the wrong things and try to “do it all” within my own strength. However, I find there is freedom in not having to carry that weight and the pressure that comes along with it. I am able to acknowledge that I am imperfect, that I won’t get it all right, and that I’m not expected to. I can also find comfort in knowing that as I work towards things, what God has for me will be for me and it will come in His perfect timing.
I needed to stop striving for perfection. There is nothing wrong with striving in itself, but when I strive for the wrong things, it’s always harmful. Striving for perfection sets the benchmark so high I can never reach it, resulting in a perpetual feeling of failure and discontentment. On the other hand, accepting that nothing on earth will ever be perfect allows me to find joy and goodness right where I am, while holding onto hope for better.
I needed to make space for grace and support. As much as I needed to accept God’s sovereignty and control, I needed to receive His grace. The type of grace that covers me and allows me to do anything right or good or beautiful even though I often fail or make mistakes. I also needed to extend grace to others. Oftentimes, a perfectionist views their way as the best way or the only way, but that’s not always true. When I let others support me and help lighten the load I place on myself—without placing undue expectations on them—I am able to handle other things without stress.
And lastly, I needed to be more intentional about caring for the whole self. Like you, the things I do to myself often affect me in more ways than I realize at the time. But when I am intentional about caring for my whole self, it causes me to slow down, weigh the costs of the things I do, see if they are in line with what God commands, and make adjustments to keep them from harming me or causing burnout. It also puts me in a better position to live well as I serve God and others.
Life is never going to be easy and we’ll never find pleasure in everything we experience, but we can come to a place of contentment where we’re not running ourselves into the ground. I believe that comes when we let God be God, stop trying to control everything, and do the best we can to take care of ourselves. Like the legendary entertainer Lena Horne once said, “It is not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.”