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Jen Scheuermann reflects on how her desire for perfection impacts her priorities and relationships with family, friends, and Jesus.

“Jesus, is my approach to life preventing me from really being in relationship with you?”

I sat in my room at the retreat center and reread the words I had just written in my journal. My random Google search for a local Catholic women’s retreat had led me to a preached Silent Ignatian Retreat. And despite the word “silent” in the description, I somehow had not realized I would not be speaking for three days!

So there I was, on retreat, relishing the silence. It was so peaceful … until it wasn’t.

The peace began to wane and anxiety crept in. I didn’t know what to DO with myself. This experience was most unsettling for my Type-A, To-Do list & Rule-following self. I was so afraid the retreat would end, and I would look back with regret because I hadn’t been “productive.” By the time I met with a spiritual director on the first full day of the retreat, I was so distressed at the thought of wasting my retreat experience that I burst into tears before even introducing myself. The spiritual director responded with two things I desperately needed – tissues, and a reminder of one of my favorite Bible verses, “BE STILL and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:11, emphasis added).

This reminder somehow allowed me to approach the retreat in a manner quite unlike the way I approach life: I could STOP STRIVING for perfection, LET GO of expectations, and instead, JUST BE with the Lord.  

As I reflected on my life, I realized my desire for perfection had impacted my priorities as well as my relationships with family and friends. I questioned whether it had also affected my relationship with Jesus. In this setting I opened my Bible to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, and as I read the verses, the scene came alive in a new and unexpected way. I heard Jesus ask the woman for water, but in response she only focused on the rules of that time period – cultural rules that prevented her, as a Samaritan woman, from interacting with Jesus, a Jewish man.  Jesus heard her concern about the rules and responded,

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Suddenly I couldn’t read another word. For the first time ever, as I read my Bible, the voice I heard was loving, kind, and inviting. It wasn’t the typical voice I hear when I read; it wasn’t critical, harsh, or sarcastic like my own.  

A stillness came over me as I repeatedly heard this loving and kind voice call out to me.

“Jen, I’m right in front of you. You keep looking at the arbitrary rules you’ve made for your life and your never ending To-Do list. But those things will never satisfy you. They’ll never give you the peace you desire. I’m right in front of you. Just look at ME and ASK ME to satisfy you.”

I left my room and went to the empty, dark chapel. The voice followed … or perhaps it led. “Jen, all you have to do is ask me. JUST. ASK. ME.”  

Tears began to fall, and I realized they were mine. But these weren’t tears of sadness or regret. As I looked at the cross above the altar, I realized that right in front of me was the only thing that would ever completely satisfy my soul. If I continued chasing the unobtainable image of perfection that I painted in my head, I would never be whole. A feeling of peace and freedom washed over me. I felt safe and loved in a way I had never before experienced. 

I knew at that moment the voice I heard was Jesus, and He was speaking to my heart.  I also know, without a doubt, that I was only able to hear His voice so clearly because I made space for Him. I stopped doing things in front of and for Him and instead just sat with Him, with no agenda or plan. 

If I continued chasing the unobtainable image of perfection that I painted in my head, I would never be whole. #catholicmom

As the retreat ended, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to remain where it was easy to be still with Him so I could continue to hear Him.  I had learned the importance of carving out time in my normal day to sit quietly with Jesus so I can hear Him. 

I’m forever grateful to the spiritual director who gave me permission to stop doing and stop performing, so that I could actually hear Him. In turn, I now give you permission to do the same ... 

Take time to put down your To–Do list. 
Ignore some of the arbitrary rules you’ve created for your life. 
Let go of some of the expectations you’ve set for yourself.   
Close your eyes.  
Open your ears.  
And listen for Him. 

Copyright 2020 Jen Scheuermann
Image: Ben White (2016), Unsplash