when perfectionism & to-do lists overwhelm

Shadows of discouragement can ride up like a highway man in the night and and steal away all the silver linings.

I wake on a Sunday to his cantering away.

I lay in the bed a long time.

The legs, the spirit, too heavy to move.

The sun’s high already, the sheets warm. I make a point of not looking at my watch or the bedside clock’s hands ticking, vainly trying to nudge me out.

Maybe I can bury myself deep under covers, a bunker, escape today and no one will notice?


I don’t bother moving today because I already know I’ll lose.

I know I can’t get the laundry caught up this week. I know I can’t make deadlines. I know the bedrooms I tidied through last night will be dumped out by nightfall, the sink I left empty last night will be piled high by noon, the floors I washed yesterday will be tracked dirty by supper. I will definitely lose today, tomorrow, all week. I roll over, smother my face in the pillow.

How did my daily challenge to get up and “Work!” dissolve into this apathetic “Why?”

I think…. when I began to believe in the head that there’s no way through for the heart, when my inner world fell for the lie that nothing can change in my outer world.

When the problems before you seem to loom larger than the Power behind you, the purpose in living can fall right out from underneath of you.

And it’s only a half dozen children pounding in from the barn, looking for breakfast and Sunday morning clothes, that compel me to push the feet to the floor, faith to the fingers.

Our greatest triumphs are always our most solitary ones — and every great triumph begins with the decision to get out of bed.

I throw back the covers.

I lay out bowls. Clatter out spoons. Cunch across stale remnants of last night’s dinner still under the table.

I’m mumbling how I can never get anything right, and how come I can never get caught up on all my lists, work, projects, and what in the world is wrong with me that is right with everyone else, when the Farmer comes in quiet from morning chores. I can hear him at the back sink, washing up those thick hands.

I cringe still.

Has he heard me muttering ugly?

Annnnn…..” I hear his voice gentle at the tap, his love running over me like water.

I close my eyes. He’s heard me. And I know how he feels about bad self-sermons.

Boys wrestle in the bedroom. Floors shake.

Then there it is, his hand on my shoulder.

He asks it soft, “Been a long time since I’ve heard you talking like that.” His hand finds the nape of my neck, strokes me kind. “You just fallen sick with perfectionism again?”

I don’t open my eyes…. To my dust and my smudges and my grime and my love-smeared mess. Why can’t I remember: the state of my space doesn’t reflect the state of my soul.






I ring the dinner bell for boys to tumble to the table. This morning, even the cast iron bell in the hand feels like a millstone around the neck.

I eat breakfast in silence and I don’t know how I am going to get dressed for church, rustle up a meal for 10 when we get home from church, make it through Latin and spelling and the early Renaissance and piano scales and fractions and the three meals a day for eight people this week and the 4 loads of laundry a day and all the prayers between now and church again next Sunday.

I do the next thing. Clean off the table.

“Thank you, Lord, for the food that filled these dishes, that I am well and here and I can clean off this table.”

It sounds mechanical.

And a tad lame. It is. I am doing the next thing.

Wipe the counters.

And I say it aloud,

“Thank you, Lord, for water to wash off counters and that the dust bunnies around here haven’t yet grown into monsters and that the jam stuck sticky all over everything really does just wash off, and for this husband that treats me tender when I’m stuck.”

Can I feel the stirrings… the lifting?

One foot in front of the other and one murmured thanks after another and underneath the everlasting arms will hold.

I wear a plain black dress to church. With a long chain, a black cross pendant. I finger the cross all through the service. I hold on.

And I stand with Dianne Goodkey and Deanna Musgrove and Tom Shore and Lyle Bender and the whole congregation to sing, A Mighty Fortress is our God” and Raymond Peterson leads us in choral worship and the windows all tremble glory. The Farmer’s thick, worn hands squeezes mine, and I squeeze back strong.

And when I am home and over the stove, stirring up dinner, apron over my black church dress, black cross still hanging down, The Farmer slips up behind me, slides his arm around my waist and whispers, “You’ve gotten over that nasty spell of perfectionism?”

I’m surprised too.

“I guess it’s just coming to realize…” I lean back into him and I didn’t know the words until they slipped out true, “God doesn’t ask me to be perfect; He asks me to praise.”

I don’t have to have smudgeless windows and empty laundry baskets and gleamy toilet bowls! I don’t have to have a perfect life, all problems solved! I think I hear the Hallelujah chorus!

I simply need have a grateful heart to give Him glory.

Gratitude in all things is the only thing God asks.

Can I take each seeming problem and turn it back to praise?

That alone is the one thing needful.

The pot on the stove bubbles over.

With a quiet half smile, I wipe it clean.

Out the window, the clouds drift east — like chariots all lined with this glinting silver…

revisiting the archives

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Every Wednesday, we Walk with Him, posting a spiritual practice that draws us nearer to His heart.

To read the entire series of spiritual practices

The next two weeks…  might we explore: The Practice of Faith… What does it look like to believe? How do you practice your faith day to day? How do you share that faith, deepen faith in Christ, live that faith out in the midst of fears? The whole community looks forward to your prayerful reflections stories, ideas….

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