Working on Perfectionism

By James Henderson

I’m a part of a group of Mexico soul group leaders and good friends that we call a “one thing group”.  Each person chooses one thing that we want to work on from a deep place, asking ourselves the central question, “How do we continue to press into the most important issues and places that need change in our lives?” 


So we spend six months to a year together identifying our “one thing” and pursuing the necessary disciplines, experiences, knowledge or relationships that catalyze spiritual growth in that area.


The one thing that I have chosen to work on is my drivenness - evidenced in my strong hunger to achieve more, my constant full-court press, my full calendar.  I’ve never found a disciplined balance between work and rest.  I’m aware of the toll this takes on my family and our joy.


Working through my one thing, I’ve noticed some deeper issues in my life.  Like a trapdoor, I’m dropped to a lower level as I notice my unsatisfied need to be loved more.  I’ve seen more clearly my thirty-year addiction to approval; especially family approval and the approval of people I respect.


Most recently, I’ve noticed that my drivenness is linked to perfectionism.  When I make a mistake, I’ll often beat myself up for days.  If it’s a big enough mistake, like lying to a friend, I’ve kicked myself for months over an offense like that.  I can hold myself under the water for a long time.


•   Perfectionism hinders spiritual growth.   Anne Lamont says that “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”  It is one of the main obstacles between you and what you are wanting to do with your life. 

•   “Perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you’ll be ok...”.  The truth is that you will stumble anyway and a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

•   Perfectionism blocks the joyful chapters were able to write lives about with God.  It blocks our attentiveness. 

•   It blocks the “playfulness and life force” of the kingdom of God. 

•   “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up.  Even though the clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.

The following metaphor may help us understand how perfectionism can often be associated with our wounds.  When Anne Lamont was twenty-one, she had her tonsils removed.  For the entire week afterward, swallowing hurt that she could barely open her mouth for a straw.  She had a prescription for painkillers that ran out before the pain did.  When she called her doctor for another prescription for pain, the doctor recommended that she chew some gum, of all things, and to chew it vigorously.  The thought of which made her clutch her throat.

Her doctor explained that when we have a wound in our body, the nearby muscles cramp around it to protect it from any more violation and from infection and that we need to use these muscles if we want them to relax again.

As she began to chew the gum (with great hostility and skepticism), the first bites caused a ripping sensation in the back of her throat, but within minutes all the pain was gone, permanently.

Something similar happens with our soul's muscles.  They cramp around our wounds - pain from childhood, he loses and disappointments of adulthood, the many humiliations suffered in both - to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out.  So these wounds never have a chance to heal.  Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp.  In some cases, we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us.  They keep us moving and working in tight, worried ways.  They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.

So how do we break with perfectionism?

Do we see that our sloppy, imperfect messes have value?

Does our image of God have it that God is uptight, he a perfectionist?  Do I see God as a high school principal in a gray suit who never remembered my name but is always leafing unhappily through my files?  We must be very careful that we are not projecting our perfectionism onto God, thinking that he is judgmental and angry about us.  Maybe we need to blend in the influence of thinking about God as someone who is ever so slightly more amused by us...someone less anal.

Geneen Roth says that awareness is learning to keep yourself company.  And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you were fond of and wish to encourage.

In my spiritual growth, at least now, I’m not going to get very far until I start getting over my perfectionism.  I need to stretch toward a quiet doggedness of compassion for myself and others.  And if I don’t, perfectionism will only drive me mad.  Again quoting Lamont, “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”

My day’s work might turn out to have been a mess.  So what?  I botched it on that what?  In our one thing group, I think we need to take risks and make stretches that help us try on what living differently feels like.  We go ahead and make mistakes; accept them.  We call out our shadows.  We make the mistakes, learn from them, pick ourselves off the mat with a gracious look and an open hand.

Adapted from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont


Update News

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?”
 - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 In this update, as we share about this mission work, we will scatter throughout some of our favorite words from Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.       

One reason we share from Fyodor is so that James will never forget how to spell Dostoyevsky, :) and also to honor our new coworkers, Ethan (Russian born), Rachel, Misha, and Nicolai Desjarlais, who will arrive here soon to begin a two-year commitment of kingdom adventure in Mexico City.

Updated stats:

Over the last two and a half years, 600 people have been hosted and served through ASHREI’s urban retreat center.

We are doing 2-3 crucible retreats annually:  155 men have gone through life-changing crucible retreats.

We are serving leaders from 14 cities and 12 different states across the country.

7 active men’s and women’s soul groups

Numerous church, leader gatherings, and youth group retreats hosted at the urban retreat center  

Mentoring 3 missionary family units

Numerous spiritual direction relationships offered to Christian leaders and God-seekers throughout Latin America and the United States.

Training 14 children inongoing spiritual formation community

18 marriages ministered to through the center over the last year.

Over 1200 meals shared annually at Mexico’s national pediatric hospital.

A writing and translation team that has begun the process of making available in Spanish an estimated 120 articles per year on Christian spiritual formation, in partnership with Renovaré. (To see articles in Spanish, go to

155 men have now experienced the life-changing Crucible retreat.  

“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth...the awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The leaders we are privileged to accompany continue to build strong ministries together.  

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The sign reads, "and after suffering, crying, and complaining, what else do you know?" For a our friend, Javier Perez, this sign began a journey from alcoholism to 26 years of sobriety.  He has begun countless AA groups since, and now serves people however he can.

People come from many places to serve alongside Mexican friends in the mission trenches.  In this picture, friends from Texas Tech accompany Javier Perez in serving at a home that cares for those dying alone of terminal illnesses.

"We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  

Pictured here, Leonardo, blind and living at the home for those with terminal illnesses, with singing and a wonderful sense of humor, describes what it's like to "see" the world through his eyes.  He said, "everyone to me is beautiful...I can feel your smiles."

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The vibrant church community we get to be a part of sticks together through thick and thin, in prayer and joy, together in God's kingdom, with our families and friends.
StrengthsFinder workshop for the church with Dr. Carmen Morrison

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

While doing a lion's share of much of the work in community we do, women are also stretching their lives to God in deepening soul work and women's ministry.

With regularity, the church serves meals and offers prayer for suffering families at Mexico's national pediatric clinic.

“If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know a man, don't bother analyzing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, of seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you will get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he's a good man.” - Fyodor Dostoyevski

We couldn't do what we do without a LOT of help.  Pictured here on retreat, dear mentor and friend, Chadd Shroeder, serves chicken molé poblano to Mexican friends.  Pictured also is our dear friend and coworker, Omar Palafox, who has worked tirelessly on our website and social media feeds.  If you haven't seen it yet, surf over to

Among the helpers we're most grateful for are our partners from Missions Resource Network.  Pictured here, longtime friends, mentor, Jay Jarboe, and missionary counselor, Dr. Dottie Schulz, recently came for a visit to talk about future partnership with MRN, while encouraging, counseling, and blessing our family.

“What matters most is that which guides us in God — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Good men like this are scattered across the nation. They meet in virtual soul groups to stay in their deep transformation work while men's work in their communities gain momentum. Recently James had the honor of officiating the wedding of Omar and Lola. We love Flatirons church, and we are constantly struck by how good God is to us through our friends there...Recently, these partners and dear friends had our family up to Colorado where James taught a piece in the series, "What in the World is God Doing?"  
Meet Erin the history teacher.  She has found her groove in teaching history and cultural geography, where her class is like human history itself - never a dull moment.  The kids love her class - falling in love with history and learning about the resilience of human beings across time and cultures.
James loves doing spiritual formation with children and teenagers.  Considering himself more of a learner than a teacher in these groups, every Friday morning, he experiences what Fyodor Dostoevsky called "the soul being healed by being with children."

Connected through longtime friends, David and Abby Kitchin, we have hosted the Tisthammer family for the last few weeks.  Troy and Jackie work with Intervarsity Fellowship in Sonoma, California, and designed part of their sabbatical to experience family mission rhythms with us here in Mexico.

Ethan, Rachel, Misha, and Nikolai Desjarlais have committed to joining us beginning in two weeks (arrival date: June 14) to teach at the school and help in ministry.  Please be praying for our friends!
Caleb continues to enjoy and excel at baseball.  This is a shot of Caleb in last week's championship game.  For you stat lovers, in this game, Caleb went 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored, 2 runs batted in, and on defense gunned out a runner trying to steal second base on our scrappy catcher.

Our Kate has always had an eye for beauty.  Like recognizes like.  She is enjoying photography, softball, and backyard basketball with the family.  She turns 16 in August, which we can't believe.
And finally, from Dostoyevsky, “Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn't calculate his happiness.”  With that, we send along to you our heartfelt appreciation for your many prayers, enduring love, and steady commitment to us and to the overall adventure of God's kingdom vision.  

Your friendship and partnership overwhelm us as we progressively learn the art of "calculating happiness." With gratitude and joy, James, Erin, Kate, and Caleb

Copyright © 2018 Ashrei Centro de Formación Espiritual, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:  Ashrei Centro de Formación Espiritual   800 Ave G NW Childress, TX 79201