As I listened to her anxious chatter, the image of my frantic friend blurred into an image of me as if I stared into a watery mirror. With furrowed brows, she rapid-fired concerns without the commas of deep breaths. She lamented the past and feared future failure as her meal sat untouched. I felt the frustration and pain of familiar words.
My sweet friend served as judge, jury, and prosecuting attorney for her own case. Believing the lies of her soul’s enemy, this dear lady who knows Christ, pronounced a guilty verdict and sentenced herself to a life of guilt-ridden days and sleepless nights. “I should have,” “I meant to,” and “if only” peppered her speech.
The map of worry-lines etched in her face had deepened since we last met. Perfectionist tendencies eroded my friend’s health as they had mine years ago.
While processing my friend’s story, words from my past reverberated in my head. My heart rate accelerated. I gulped water as my mouth and throat dried. Waves of fatigue engulfed me as I remembered the exhaustion of perfectionism caused by the fear of failure. I reflected on my own story. . .
Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist **
A mental alarm in the middle of the night made me leap out of bed, heart racing. Doubts pinged my brain.
What did I forget? They’ll think I’m incompetent. Should I skip sleep and keep working?
Another evening, when the “alarm” buzzed, worries badgered me.
Why did I say that? She probably thinks I’m irresponsible.
On yet a different night, sleep-robbing worries echoed.
How can I get all of this done? What if I can’t? Make another list. Get up earlier.
Ongoing demand-bullets punctured my peace. There was no free time. No break. No reprieve. Persistent, hurry-scurry performance, driven by fear that I wouldn’t measure up, filled my days. I thought I had to be perfect. Why? Because I was scared to death of failing.
After years of trudging toward the elusive goal of flawless performance with sleep deprivation, the malady of perfectionism gnawed at my health. Tension headaches, fatigue, and digestive issues annoyed me. Nagging questions harassed my tired brain.
How could I improve? What if I fail? What will they say?
Shortcuts were unthinkable because I saw only two choices: Perfection or Failure. I was trapped in a revolving door of mandates, rotating aimlessly in the spin cycle of endless expectations. I rued the miles logged on this treadmill, yet the cruel master of fear seemed to thwart efforts to escape. Energy-draining self-evaluation persisted.
Pride, anxiety, and lack of faith can exacerbate the frenetic pace of performance. When these sins wield their swords, we sometimes depend on our ways instead of God’s for relief. Until we loosen our white-knuckled, fearful grip on gold-medal performance, we cannot totally trust God and cooperate with His transformation of our character. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV*).
From Fear to Faith
Faith is trusting Christ, first as Savior and then in our daily lives. It’s depending on Him instead of ourselves. God opened my eyes to the lies I had believed although I had given my life to Him years before.
If I try harder, they will be pleased.
I cannot let my guard down.
The outcome is up to me.
Lies! All lies!
God never intended for the slave drivers of perfectionism and fear of failure to taunt me into a feverish, I-can-do-it-all-without-error mode of operation. He designed me to thrive with His peace even when I worked hard.
I trudged through my days with huge boulders of self-induced responsibility on my shoulders, but I knew that Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Walking in tandem with Him promised comfort. I begged God to free me from this ever-spinning revolving door.
Utterly exhausted, I realized the Holy Spirit was convicting me of succumbing to fear which was driving me toward the impossible goal of perfect behavior and the sin of pleasing people rather than God. I confessed my sin and asked Him for healing.
To counteract the old thought patterns, I wrote Bible verses on cards and put them in my purse and on my mirror. When the lure of perfectionism surfaced, I prayed, “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You” (Psalm 143:8).
To conquer fear I read, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Occasionally, temptations to yield to those old patterns resurface. However, God has freed me from their grip, and He leads me to trust Him. He is the Victor.
Hope for All
At breakfast that day, I longed for my friend to experience the freedom of trusting Christ and pleasing Him above all others. The peace Jesus gave me when He grew my faith and healed me from perfectionism, people-pleasing, and the fear of failure is available to her and to all believers.
If you’re weary of fear-driven performance, ask God to forgive you and liberate you from this unreasonable master. Step out of fear into the glorious freshness of faith, trusting Christ for the outcome. Then relax in His love, the love that led Him to die for us and provide our freedom. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Let faith in Jesus lead you to life beyond fear.
* All Scripture verses are from the NKJV.
**Excerpts from the following article are included and used with permission:
Waters, Jeannie. “The Revolving Door of Secret Perfectionism,” Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character, compiled by Katy Kauffman, (Buford, GA: Lighthouse Bible Studies, 2018).
Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character is a Bible study composed by thirty writers. Each article contains Scripture and questions to guide the reader to cooperate with God’s work in our hearts. This book is ideal for independent as well as group study and includes a Leader Guide. Some of the topics addressed are: the character of Jesus, Fruit of the Spirit, and handling real-life issues such as difficult people, loneliness, and unwanted change. This wonderful resource is available on Amazon.
You may purchase the book here!
Jeannie Waters, Contributing Writer
Jeannie Waters delights in sharing the encouragement of Christ through writing and speaking. She adores family gatherings, meeting new people, just-for-fun hiking, and the Georgia Bulldogs. A retired teacher, she currently teaches ESL.
Jeannie is a regular contributor to Refresh Bible Study Magazine and has contributed to the following compilations: Let the Earth Rejoice (Worthy Inspired), Breaking the Chains (Lighthouse Bible Studies), Just Breathe (Worthy), and Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character (Lighthouse Bible Studies). Visit Jeannie at www.jeanniewaters.com for ideas on Brightening Someone’s Day.
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