The measure of excellence is daily love for our neighbors.Michael Horton
Because we are tempted by perfectionism, we need to redefine success and accomplishment at home so that we can recognize our real progress.
What is success?
What does it take to be a successful mom? What does it mean to be a successful mom? Who defines success? How do we know if we’ve arrived or if we count as “successful”?
Especially as stay-at-home moms it can be so hard to know how we’re doing because we look at the standards and the definitions of success that come from the business world or the personal achievement world. We know those are not our worlds, yet we don’t know where else to go for an understanding of how to get more done, how to better influence our people, and how to measure our successfulness.
We all feel like there’s too much to do, more on our plates than we can never get done, and that’s one reason why we feel like we are not successful in our roles as stay-at-home moms. But, with the right perspective and the right expectations (the right standards) we can see that our situation allows us scope to grow, the ability to expand our capacity to mature, to become more sanctified.
After all, we ourselves, and our situation, are not stagnant. And whatever situation, whatever skill level, whatever is currently happening in our lives is not permanent. It’s always changing. Sometimes change and stretching situations feel like problems, but they often aren’t.
Success as a stay-at-home mom is measured by growth and maturity and sanctification and faithfulness. All of these elements work together in our roles and our lives as mothers and increase our effectiveness.
God’s the one who has created good works for you to walk in; your job is to embrace them and walk in them and find your delight in walking the path He’s put you on.
You don’t need to search your heart to find your most fulfilling career. You don’t need to wonder if you are as good a mother as your neighbor or as good a cake decorator as your friend. You need to receive the responsibilities given you by God and fulfill them by His power for His glory.
Think in terms of faithfulness rather than future success.
We think we need rest – and we do. But perhaps what we need ultimately is not a vacation or more sleep, nice as both are. Perhaps what we need is to rest for our attempts to control.
Real rest – the kind Jesus has promised us – is not inactivity. Is is a state of mind and of heart. Just like we teach from rest, we live from a state of rest: God’s in control, not us; we are faithful out of gratitude and trust and not out of fear or striving. Then the outcome is God’s to determine and not ours to control or manipulate. God’s plan is better than ours ever could be.
We do not earn our identity in Christ. We do not earn His grace or His love.
Rather, we live grateful lives of obedience because through Christ it is possible; it is what we want now that our lives and hearts have been changed.
It is God’s job to change the world, not ours. He might use us, but world-change not our responsibility. Our responsibility is whatever is in front of us, no matter how insignificant it looks or feels. He uses faithfulness, but the results He works are not up to us.
Even as homemakers and mothers it is easy to fall prey to the hyped talk of how “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” as if our goal is not to work direct cultural change ourselves but instead raise children who will. This is simply shifting the focus forward, but keeping it on the wrong goal.
Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you. – If we shift our focus onto the “all these things” rather than our own simple obedience, we will get neither.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.— Matthew 6:33-34
Step #1: Brain Dump
To walk in faithfulness, we have to start where we are, not where we wish we were. We find out where we are by starting with a brain dump.
What are some present realities you face that make organization and faithfulness difficult?
How can you work with or around your current difficulties? Do you need to adjust your expectations based on your current reality?
Noticing our perfectionism.
I had never thought of myself as a perfectionist. After all, I seem to be physically incapable of following precise instructions or recipes and I am quite haphazard in my housekeeping. How could I be a perfectionist if I can’t stand ironing and if I don’t even fold the laundry?
Perhaps, however, the reason I don’t iron or fold the laundry is that I can’t do it perfectly and it doesn’t stay folded or crease-free, so I’m unwilling to do it at all.
I’ve seen perfectionism creep in subtly, and it was hard to identify it as such at first. But when we correctly identify our problem, then we can repent, address it, and begin to change. It is important to correctly name our problems.
One such time was when I was trying to build the habit of reading my Bible before the kids were up in the morning. Obviously, if the kids were up, then it was too late to read my Bible and I’d missed my chance. Right?
Then my friend mentioned that she’s been trying to remember to have her phone with her while nursing so she can read her Bible while she nurses. It struck me that I had not even thought of that possibility. My first reaction was wondering if that was “good enough” to “count”?
Count? What’s the point here? Perfect execution or actually reading my Bible at all?
To combat my paralyzing perfectionism, I decided to give myself more options than “first thing” prayer time:
- While nursing, read a chapter on my phone; breath and pray.
- If there is a quiet time, take a few minutes to read my Bible and pray at my desk with the happy light on.
- While folding laundry or washing dishes, listen to the Bible on audio.
- Be more mindful during our homeschool Morning Time, not absentmindedly keeping things going, but paying attention to the Scripture we’re reciting.
Rather than thinking, even unconsciously, that I had to do it this one right way or not at all, I had to change my attitude and focus to that of being happy to turn to the Word in any moment given to me.
Perhaps then I could spent that time refreshing myself rather than berating myself for how awful the house is – and, my extension, how awful I am. I need to read Truth instead of whispering discouragement to myself. You do, too.
God’s Word is the foundation of a truly, deeply happy home, carried along by God rather than by our feelings.
Perfectionism paralyzes our organization attempts. We need strategies for beating perfectionism so we get organize life and get things done.
Perfectionism is a mindset. It is all in our heads. So we beat perfectionism by starting with our attitudes.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!— Psalm 119:9-12
Step #2: Write a habit statement.
Reading our Bibles is one of the most important daily habits we need to work on. Scripture is food for our souls and minds, and we need it just as much as our bodies need literal food.
Let’s form a habit of increasing faithfulness, without getting stuck in perfectionism.
List out at least 5 different ways you could work Bible reading and prayer into your day in unconventional or simple ways. Read through the list often and remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be ideal to count.
Write a habit statement. Fill in this phrase: “Because I want ___________,”. Then add your main clause: “I will _____________”. Next, add your cue to perform the action: “when ________________________.” Conclude the statement with the reward you will notice as you do your action “so that I ________________________.”
On an index card you keep in a prominent place, copy your habit statement. Don’t get hung up on an ideal time, setting, and method for reading your Bible. What matters is that you do it, bit by bit.
Bible Reading Habit Statement Examples:
Because I want be deeply familiar with Scripture, I will listen to the day’s Bible Reading Challenge assignment when I start out for my morning walk so that I can start my day thinking about God’s Word.
Faithfulness over perfectionism
Perfectionism that says you need to be able to be fully in charge in the situation. You need to be completely capable of doing this job perfectly, of fulfilling this role excellently. When it becomes plain that you’re not, perfectionism says to stop and eliminate until you are fully in control.
Instead, we need to answer that feeling with knowing what we’re called to do. I’m just called to be faithful not necessarily successful in the world’s eyes.
But what does success in a day, in our life, really look like? And who defines what a successful day is? Who defines what a successful mom is? A successful life?
A successful person (according to the world) is completely in charge of everything determining their life, always calm, always completely competent to handle everything that comes their way.
We don’t feel that way. So we think something is wrong. However, feeling like we can’t handle what’s coming our way can also be seen as a challenge that we are being called to meet, not so we can accomplish it perfectly and successfully on our own. Rather, we see it as a call to growth and maturity and change and sanctification.
So, of course, God’s the one who defines what success is for our day, for our life, for our roles and responsibilities. We are not called to be in and of ourselves all that we need to be because we can’t. We aren’t.
We are called to faithfulness, and a part of the faithfulness is recognizing that we are weak and not capable of handling everything that comes our way. Yet we have a dependable, fully capable God who gives us the strength that we need, not necessarily to be the most awesome version of ourselves, but rather to be loving, faithful servants who are ready and willing and excited to see God be awesome in our lives and not us.
To be dependent on God and to grow in sanctification (which Scripture says in several places is God’s will for our lives) is our call that we can be faithful to and successful in. Sanctification is growth in holiness and in love of God and neighbor. That doesn’t look like success a lot of times in the world’s terms, but it does look like growth.
Growing our capacity for love and faithfulness is not necessarily doing all the things with calm awesomeness. The awesomeness is God’s, not ours. God is in control of every situation in our lives, and He is the strength and salvation and love that we need.
So every time we come to a point in our life where we feel inadequate, then we’re in the right spot because that’s the truth. We’re realizing the truth of the matter. We’re not capable, but God is. We can rely on Him to work through our feeble efforts.
Stress brings on perfectionism and perfectionism brings on stress. Yet we can remember that we’re not called to calmly and completely handle everything in and of ourselves, but also we are not called to stressful anxiety.
Anxiety is actually called out explicitly in Scripture as a sin. And so when we find ourselves falling into stress and anxiety, we know that we can give that up, we can we can repent, rejoice, repeat. We can recognize that anxiety is a sin, that self-sufficiency is a sin, and we can successfully repent of those things because of Christ.
So success is not that we fulfill all of our duties perfectly. It’s that through our duties we walk in repentance and faithfulness and love with God.
Improving habits and skills is not about getting to some certain end goal at which point you’ll be awesome and on top of everything all the time.
We can have a successful day if we have repented and rejoiced and repeated that process over and over. Success isn’t defined by life looking the way I wanted it to look. We haven’t ruined anything by a bad decision. We don’t ruin God’s plan when we mess up, and we don’t make it impossible for ourselves to move forward in obedience from that point.
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’— Luke 17:10
Step #3: Start with a baby step
Sometimes baby steps are not even the first step of getting a thing done, but just getting yourself ready to do the next step.
Look up Ephesians 6:5-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-21, and 1 John 2:15-17. Summarize in your own words what God’s overarching will for you is as a human being.
Look up Romans 12:1-6, and Romans 8 (especially verse 27). Summarize in your own words what God’s overarching will for you is as a human being.
What is one set-up step you can take to make reading the Bible more likely to happen? Figure out a logistical obstacle you can streamline, then appreciate the preparation you gave yourself next time you follow through on your Bible reading habit statement.
Step #4: Iterate for progress
We need a thinking strategy that will help us to talk back to perfectionism. I call this strategy iteration. Iteration means that we take a small steps forward, looking back to assess and learn after each step.
Instead of holding out for the ideal or trying to jump to the final goal, iteration looks for progress and learns and grows and adapts as progress is made.
What worked before won’t necessarily always work. When something – like your Bible reading habit – stops working, it might just be time to change things up.
What is one area where you are most tempted to want perfection or a final outcome? List some short-term baby steps you can make improvements on in that area and focus on improving & faithfulness, not the end result.
Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.
Instead of focusing in on the struggle as a problem, we need to see that what’s hard and what we’re working on is what God is teaching us right now and what we are growing by.
When we get the hang of it that, we’re not going to be at some amazing plateau or finish line. Let’s keep learning and growing and not looking for an end-point plateau version of success. Success is learning and growing, every day.
Related Seminars & Meetups:
|Read or listen to the lesson.|
|Spend 5-10 minutes brain dumping with the prompts.|
|Write a Bible-reading habit statement.|
|Take a small step to streamline your Bible reading logistics.|