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Patiently Enduring the Race… and the New Year

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1–2, {NKJV}

When I was a teenager, I asked my mom, “Do you think I’m a thorough person?”

She thought for a minute. “Well, you sometimes leave food in the drain after you wash the dishes, so not entirely thorough.”

I judged myself harshly for that, always making sure the pieces of food had been either gathered and thrown away or stuffed down the drain. I still think of it when I wash the dishes. Though I’ve shown the signs for years, not until recently did I realize just what a perfectionist I am.

Perfectionists appear to have it all together. We’re usually on time. We remember an inordinate number of both miniscule and important things. We give highly personal gifts. We arrange Pinterest-y parties. We take it hard when we fail. It’s not that we’re trying to impress or shame anyone else; it’s just that we’re incapable of doing anything half-heartedly.

But grab the corner of a perfectionist’s sparkly veneer, peel it back, and you’ll see stress, judgment, depression, and often a highly impatient person. Perfectionism is an unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves and, by extension sometimes, on others. It’s a futile fight against the reality of a fallen world in which we are all quite imperfect. It’s also a denial of our dependence on God’s strength. Like pride, it is a deep root that breeds many bitter fruits.

My pastor recently wrapped up a four-month sojourn through the book of James. In one of his final sermons, I was amazed at how many times James 5 refers in some way to patience. “Therefore be patient… You also be patient. Establish your hearts… The Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” The author even promises, “We count them blessed who endure.” I had heard the connection of patience and endurance many times in my life, usually referring to patience with outside factors or other people. I had never thought of those references in terms of having patience with myself as I endure.

It was a timely message. At some point each December, I dig out my journal and turn to the page with two columns: “my goals” and “ways to achieve my goals.”

Last December I wrote 2018’s goals in areas such as physical, spiritual, and writing. Like most people, I started the year strong, but just a few months in I slacked off, then in August I went through a spell of depression for several weeks and never entirely regained my momentum. The year seemed like such a spectacular fail that I dreaded opening those pages to face all the unfulfilled goals. Thinking toward 2019, I felt preemptively exhausted, unsure if I could find the motivation to pen my fresh ambitions.

On the way home from work in November, I reviewed the ways in which I had fallen short last year. Then, thinking on the message of James 5, I was reminded, You won’t be without struggles and failures. No one is. But you can always try again. That’s the promise of a new year—the chance to try again. Later that week, my friend Laura reminded me, “You’re a perfectionist. But sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to be a human.” That encouragement gave me the traction I needed to focus on starting over.

When I finally opened my notebook and inspected the list of goals, I discovered that, though I had fallen behind in some of the smaller ones—like weight loss and writing—I had achieved several of my larger goals: becoming friends with more people, joining a church, exploring more places, starting a new job. In the process of grieving over all my failures, I had missed the joy of my achievements. I had become impatient with myself and lost my endurance.

As I write my list for 2019, I think I’ll make one of my goals to press on in spite of not meeting all my goals. And when I’m overtaken with the familiar calls to perfectionism, maybe I need to resolve to ask for grace and patience to “run with endurance [patience] the race that is set before me” (Hebrews 12:1).

After all, God provided the ultimate example of endurance in Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

This year, whatever our goals or resolutions, let us run—or write or diet or whatever—with patience the race that is set before us—”looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

 

Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.

Sarah Eshleman

Sarah Eshleman lives in Northern Kentucky with her best friend, Laura, and her dachshund, Dudley. By day she works as a content editor for an apologetics ministry and by evening she contemplates life on her blog The View from Goose Hill. She believes that between the lines, life is poetry, and at the places where life gets knotted up, you’ll find the most beauty and grace.
Sarah Eshleman

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1 Comment

  1. Cole // Cole Smith Writes on March 10, 2019 at 12:23 PM

    Wow, your mom must be really *really* thorough. If I’d asked my mom the same, she would’ve said, “Don’t you have eleventy-twelve unfinished journals…?” (And I would’ve said, “How do you know they’re unfinished?” And she would’ve said, “Hey, let’s see what’s on tv!”)

    It does feel to perfectionists like we’re failing, but I think it’s so important to pause and look back, like you did, at the progress. It feels like a slow slog, but that’s not reality–just expectation. Great post! Sharing this 🙂

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