Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
Moving Beyond Perfectionism
“Any time our faith becomes more about criticizing others – or even criticizing ourselves - rather than
leaning on and loving Jesus, we’re in trouble.” That’s an insight Colleen Carroll Campbell gleaned about
herself – and society in general – when she reflected on her own perfectionist nature. The Christopher
Award-winning author had always prided herself on doing her jobs flawlessly. But when she became a
mother, the level of pressure she put on herself was emotionally and spiritually draining - and impossible to live up to.
Colleen looked to her Catholic faith for answers, specifically to the saints who she had admired for their perfectionism. She discovered that these holy men and women were actually recovering perfectionists, who had followed a new path after gaining divine spiritual insights. In addition, Colleen learned that an obsession with flawlessness is rooted in the idea that we can earn God’s love instead of simply receiving it as a gift and a grace.
Her research led to a shift in her own ideas and behaviors – and now she has shared what she learned in the book “The Heart of Perfection.”
One of the recovering perfectionists that Colleen highlights in her book is St. Jane de Chantal, a mother of four young children whose husband was killed in an accident. As a result, she had to deal with numerous challenges, including a father-in-law who was having an affair with his housekeeper and who constantly screamed at Jane. During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” Colleen said, “What I liked about Jane is she was intense….She was skimping on sleep, she wasn’t eating enough, she was trying to pray around the clock. Meanwhile, everything was falling apart around her.”
Then Jane met Francis de Sales who, in modern terms, taught her to chill out. Francis dispelled Jane’s notion that God wanted her to do everything perfectly and drive herself harder and harder. Colleen noted that he taught her, “The sacrifices God wants us to make for Him are the ones that choose us, not the ones we choose. Be gentle with the child who interrupts you. Decide not to gossip about those in-laws who drive you crazy. Abstain from one favorite food, but not from so much that you’re starving….Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself.”
Colleen continued, “When Jane internalized this advice, she not only became more patient with herself, but it trickled down. She became more patient with the in-laws, the kids...Gradually, she grew into this paragon of gentleness…This is a transformation we can’t do through willpower alone. This has to be the grace of God. It’s amazing what that grace can do in the life of any perfectionist if we open our hearts to God’s dream of perfect for us rather than our own.”
“The Heart of Perfection” is full of valuable insights for anyone struggling with the kind of perfectionism Colleen faced down in herself. She admits that she is a work in progress, but she has improved nonetheless. She concludes, “One interesting thing I came across in my research: one family has a habit of going around the table at night and talking about one mistake they made that day, and what they learned from it. I think that’s helpful as parents, because our temptation is to always preach to our kids, ‘This is how I worked hard and succeeded.’ It is helpful for them to know sometimes, ‘This is where I struggled and fell short, and God loves me anyway.’”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FAILURE ISN’T FATAL, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org