Spiritual Growth and Encouragement for Christian Women

Letting Go of Perfectionism

  • Sandy Coughlin Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Published Dec 21, 2007
Letting Go of Perfectionism
My sisters are coming! My sisters are coming!

These words were joyfully on my heart the other night as I prepared for a family dinner with my sisters and their families. I listened to Christmas music as I cleaned, organized, set the table, cooked, ironed and got my little “gifts” ready for all of the girls.

What would be a gift that we girls could all share, that would remind of us our Mother, who gave us such a valuable and precious gift – the gift of hospitality? A remembrance of how she taught us to cook, bake, give, share … and enjoy it all in the process?

An apron! Something we girls could pull out at Christmas time and think of each other as we tied it on. Something that would go far deeper than the idea of a gift, but that has “heritage” and the gift of hospitality written all over it.

After I purchased the aprons and was boxing them up (I will admit, I wanted the boxes to look just right), my mind couldn’t help but think of something that my Mom did not teach us to do.

Mom didn’t teach us girls about perfectionism – that things had to look a certain way, that she had to act a certain way, and that she should beat herself up if a dinner didn’t turn out “just right.” No, as Mom tied her apron around her waist, she was gracious and calm and at ease in her kitchen, and with her guests. Even with her home, she was not a perfectionist (although we girls did learn how to clean, sometimes on our hands and knees!). I never remember Mom throwing a tizzy-fit when a meal didn’t turn out, or if she miscalculated the timing of a dish, and we’d all have to wait to eat, or if someone showed up to the house unannounced. And she certainly didn’t apologize for errors, but graciously moved through the evening with finesse and flair.

As I wore my apron last night, I thought of Mom. I needed to apply her principle of perfectionism to my current circumstances. And that would be - to let the idea of a new, fancy-schmancy, perfect kitchen remodel go (as we all gathered in one of the tiniest rooms in the house)! As we all joined around the turkey dinner (buffet style on my kitchen counter), filling our plates, I found myself frustrated in trying to maneuver around everyone, and even muttered under my breath, “I hate this kitchen!” (Then I turned to see if anyone heard me).

Mom would never have made an issue of it. She would have served and looked for the joy in the moment!

I hung my apron up at the end of the evening, and reflected back on my aspiration for the night. Did we enjoy the spirit of breaking bread together? Did we partake in much laughter as we all shared our answers to Paul’s question for the evening, “What was our most memorable Christmas tradition or memory?” Did we all chuckle when we had to sing our “family prayer” twice, because Josh started us too high the first time? Did we enjoy Abby’s beautiful gift of sharing her violin and Steve’s incredible talent on the piano? Did we enjoy the gift of each other, putting aside any differences?

Did our night have soul and meaning? Yes. Mission accomplished!

Your Christmas Doesn’t Have to be Perfect

After a heartfelt time with my sisters, last Sunday I had yet another opportunity to follow in my mom’s footsteps, let go of perfectionism, and focus on the heart of the evening.

Sunday night we had guests over for dinner, and I didn’t clean my house!

It was an internal war inside – do I vacuum, dust and clean – or just let it go?

Would I rather continue on with what had already been a peaceful day – or kick it into high gear, running around crazily trying to make everything look “just right?” I won’t even mention what kind of mood that puts the whole family in. Did our guests even care? Or even notice?

To some, the Christmas season particularly brings stress, dread and worry. I think of Narnia without Aslan – “always winter but never Christmas.” We lose our focus as life gets hurried and complicated. We dash around doing things that really don’t matter (like cleaning my house before the guests arrive!), and then our perspective shifts. We get so caught up in our present circumstances that we can’t see beyond our difficulties.

In preparing for these guests, I had been focusing all day on “hope,” as I’ve been feeling hurts and pains that people around us have been experiencing this season. If we lose our hope – what else is there? Where do we turn?

Some call it optimism, but when I look deep into the Christ-child’s eyes, I call it hope. It is enough assurance for me that I can put the dreariness of Christmas aside: money, commercialism, and even too much tradition, or making sure my house looks perfect for all the “hub-bub” taking place.

So how did this evening turn out? We had such a great time with our guests. At one point I found myself looking down at the un-vacuumed carpet. For a split second I was embarrassed. Then I looked up into the faces of those around our table and my perspective shifted back into place.

It is through my faith - which is the basis for my hope – that my priorities are put into proper perspective. It’s not about the crumbs on the floor or the unorganized piles – it’s about the hope that resides in each one of us.

Even when life doesn’t seem perfect, that hope is enough for me!

Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged (Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy’s regularly updated blog “4 Reluctant Entertainers,” which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com.  Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here.