Melissa Edgington on How Perfectionism Makes You a Spiritual Quitter

Melissa Edgington is a former English teacher turned stay-at-home mother. Melissa enjoys writing about the Christian life at Your Mom Has a Blog.


People who know me well would laugh to hear me say that I’m a perfectionist. After all, I’ve never been accused of being a neatnik. My cabinets aren’t neatly organized, and I struggle to keep up with things like important pieces of paper. More than once I’ve sent a frantic text to a fellow dance mom or basketball mom or a dear teacher to try and retrieve the information that I probably accidentally threw away about the day’s recital, game, or assignment. My closet is what you might call tornadic. No, I’m not one of those women who loves long walks through the aisles of The Container Store, dreaming of my next organizing challenge. I toss it. I pile it. I throw it away. But I rarely organize it.

Still, there is an interesting side of me that longs for perfection, especially in the area of spiritual discipline. I can’t tell you how many times I have begun a study, a prayer journal, a book, a plan for regular evangelism or outreach, a daily prayer time, a Bible reading plan. Each time I begin I have huge goals. I set my sights high. I set all sorts of restraints and strict schedules for myself, and usually I start strong for a few days. I hit the mark. I study for the perfect amount of time. I write down the self-prescribed number of items. I make the phone calls. I read the exact number of chapters I’m supposed to. But then, life happens. I have a sick kid. I have a commitment at the kids’ school.  Chad needs help with a project at church. I have to go grocery shopping. And I miss a day of my journaling, my prayer time, my Bible reading, my book studying.

That’s all it takes, really. Just one day of failing to follow through with my huge plan for spiritual growth, and I am ready to give up. I feel like a failure, like I will never achieve true discipline, and I quit altogether. In my mind, if I can’t execute the plan perfectly, I may as well forget about trying it at all. And instead I fall into a period of spiritual water-treading. I’m not drowning, but not going anywhere either, just keeping my head above water and wondering when I will ever figure out how to achieve Olympic-sized spiritual disciplines for Christ.

It has taken me 43 years to begin to learn that there is a happy, spiritually-nourishing medium between praying for an hour a day and not praying at all. Between reading five chapters in my Bible and not reading a single word. Spiritual disciplines don’t have to be feast or famine, and they shouldn’t be. I don’t have to perfectly execute a plan in order to be growing in Christ, learning from His word, communing with Him daily, learning more about who He is and who He wants me to be.

Olympic-sized goals are not the key to spiritual growth, and especially not if I am setting myself up to fail. Rigidness and perfectionism are enemies of spiritual formation. We spiritual perfectionists tend to think it’s not worth doing if we don’t do it the “right” way, but in the end that thinking usually leads to exactly what it sounds like it would: we don’t do it at all. We don’t read. We don’t pray. We don’t reach out. We don’t follow through. We want perfection or nothing at all. And the sad result of that line of thinking is that we settle for the nothing. We wallow in a constant state of feeling like we’re failing, and nothing about it seems perfect or even remotely good.

So, what are we to do? How do we function when we want to be Puritanical in our spiritual disciplines but we can’t even keep a prayer journal for three days in a row?

We have to set smaller goals. Reading Scripture for ten minutes a day is better than reading nothing at all. We have to let go of the arbitrary numbers that we assign to “real” spiritual disciplines. We need to start smaller, and let God begin to mold us through ten minutes of meditation on His word a day.

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Source: Church Leaders