FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Is Perfectionism Stealing Your Peace? Faith Chang

with Faith Chang | July 8, 2024
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Struggling with perfectionism and anxiety in your relationship with God? The peace God offers can feel elusive. Join Faith Chang and hosts Dave and Ann Wilson for a discussion on how to recognize perfectionism, its spiritual impact, and how to move towards God's peace and freedom.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Do you struggle with perfectionism and anxiety with God? Faith Chang shares her story, offering hope for relief and freedom for the Christian life.

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Is Perfectionism Stealing Your Peace? Faith Chang

With Faith Chang
July 08, 2024
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Dave: Okay, let’s start here: one of the things I loved about you—I still do—

Ann: —wait! You said “loved.”

Dave: —when we were dating!

Ann: Oh, okay.

Dave: This—

Ann: —you mean you don’t love it anymore?

Dave: No, I just said I still do! [Laughter] But it was marking, because I remember thinking, you have such a high drive for doing whatever it is you’re doing the right way, excellently; never settling for even 93%. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it right, and I’m doing it with everything I’ve got.”

Ann: “buuuuuut. . .”


Dave: No, I love that! [Laughter]

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Have you ever thought that you might be a perfectionist?

Ann: Yes! I think—

Dave: a—and that’s a good thing?

Ann: Umm, I think we all can have tendencies of that, depending on our past.

Dave: Oh, so you’re going to connect it to your past?

Ann: I’m just saying that my family—I mean, some of the words were, “We are the Barrons, and we are the best.”

Dave: Oh, yes!

Ann: “So, don’t settle for anything unless you are the best. Don’t come home with anything other than first place.” So, that tends to drive you, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. It’s not as much now. I feel like I’m more free from that; but man, it still lingers.

Dave: Yes; well, we’re going to talk about this topic today. And you know what? At FamilyLife Today, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about perfectionism; and a word I’ve never heard of: “Christian perfection.”

We’ve got Faith Chang with us today. She wrote a book about this, and I’m guessing, Faith, you’re a perfectionist? Would you say that?

Faith: [Slow Response] Yes. [Laughter]

Dave: You’re acting like you didn’t want to say that.

Faith: Yes. People ask me, “What did you write on?” And I say, “I’m writing about this topic. Basically, it’s a book for myself.” [Laughter]

Ann: Well, I love the title of it: Peace Over Perfection.


Faith: Yes.

Ann: That’s part of it for me, at least; it’s hard to find that contentment and the peace with something I have done, because I’m always thinking, “How could I have made it better?”

Faith: Yes.

Dave: I can endorse that. She does not find peace.

Ann: Yes; I’m thinking, “I could have done better.”

Dave: Yes, all of the time. And I’m sort of the opposite. I mean, I’d have the worst high school football game of my life, and my mom [would say], “You’re amazing!” I’d say, “Mom, I was terrible!” “You’re amazing!” [Laughter] So, I didn’t have that as much.

Faith: Yes, yes.

Dave: So, talk about how that worked out in your own life. You’re a pastor’s wife; --

Faith: —yes—

Dave: —you’ve got four kids. I mean, all of that pressure on you—is this something you deal with every day, every hour?

Faith: Yes, yes, it is something that I deal with every day, even coming into this interview. [Laughter] People keep on joking with me, now that I’ve written it. People that I know—friends—say, “Well, you did write a book on this very thing that you’re saying you’re struggling with right now as this book comes out.”

Ann: Faith, where did your journey start? Can you point back? Because I think we all ponder: “Where did this come from? Why am I such a perfectionist?”

Faith: Yes; that is a really great question. One of the things that I tried to do in the book was to share how perfectionism doesn’t just have one root or one cause.

Ann: Yes.

Faith: I think one reason why I wrote it was because, a lot of times when I read about perfectionism addressed, it was so simplistic, and kind of like, “You just try too hard, you know? You’ve just got to stop. Maybe it’s your personality; maybe it’s because you’re a Type A personality; so, you’ve just got to chill. Just stop trying,” you know?

Ann: And that doesn’t work, does it?

Faith: No! It’s basically like telling a perfectionist: “If you want to really be perfect, stop being a perfectionist.” [Laughter] You know? So, it’s like, “Okay, I can’t do this, I can’t do that, and I also can’t be a perfectionist!” Adding to that: what I wrote about specifically was spiritual perfectionism. It’s perfectionism that plays out in our relationship with God.

Ann: The subtitle says it all: Enjoying a Good God When You Feel You’re Never Good Enough.

Faith: Yes.

Ann: Because you’re right: our perfectionism can pour into our walk with God and affect it.

Dave: I did what you just said. Faith, when you were saying that, I thought, “That describes the first five-seven years of our marriage. I would continually tell Ann: “Just relax! What do you get so uptight about?”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I thought I was helping!

Ann: The last thing I needed to hear was the word “relax.” [Laughter]

Dave: Oh, she just started saying, “Never say that word again!” [Laughter] But from somebody who, maybe, doesn’t struggle as much—

Faith: —yes—

Dave: —how do you know? Define it.

Faith: Yes.

Dave: What are the symptoms?

Faith: Part of what was helpful for me in thinking about perfectionism was drawing from some research on it (from psychology). The way that researchers define it is (two things): they talk about perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns. So, perfectionistic strivings are somebody’s high standards. It can happen in many areas: athletics, academics, physical appearance; or, you know, someone that has very high standards. Those high standards can be helpful, for example, in sports, when you’re thinking about elite athletes, right?

Dave: Yes.

Faith: They’re not saying, “Whatever! I don’t care.” But the problem is that perfectionistic strivings, for perfectionists, are paired with perfectionistic concerns. So, those are overly critical self-assessments; sometimes, there are doubts about actions: “Am I really doing it right? Could I have done better? What should I do?” Indecision, because you want to make the right choice; fear of failure; guilt and regret; rumination after you fail.

So, like I said, this can come up in many different areas of life. Because I didn’t struggle with perfectionism in, really, many of these other domains, —

Ann: —yes—

Faith: —I didn’t think I was a perfectionist. So, in my circles—in terms of Christian circles, people would say: “I knew that I struggled in terms of receiving God’s grace and understanding grace. I knew that I struggled with anxiety and guilt and fear of disappointing God. I knew those things: I just never thought of those as perfectionism.” I had heard that was just, “You don’t believe enough. You don’t believe God’s love enough.” Or “You just need to remember you’re forgiven.”

But that wasn’t always helpful, because I thought, “I’m forgiven, but I still want to live for God, and I’m failing! So, how do I deal with that tension?” Don Carson described [what] he called “a species of discouragement” that he saw in a lot of devout believers. He talked about a pastor who thought, “Maybe I can’t even be a pastor anymore, because I can’t put the work in that I think God wants me to.” If you looked at the hours it would take, it would be too much.

And it wasn’t performance; it wasn’t like he was trying to build his ego. He just felt like he wasn’t doing what God wanted. He wasn’t able to live up to that standard that God wanted for him. So, Dr. Don Carson writes about believers who really do treasure the gospel, who love Jesus and know God’s love, and yet, still struggle, because they don’t know how to live in the tension of: “I’ve been forgiven; God loves me; yet, there’s this call to holiness and to righteousness that God gives believers, not in order to gain God’s love, not in order to gain salvation, but out of that.”

What do we do? How do experience God when we fail?

Dave: Okay, there’s my question right there.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: What do you do? I feel like I’m sitting with two women who have that leaning.

Faith: Yes.

Ann: What does that look like in your life with God?

Dave: Yes, because I know there are a lot of listeners that are resonating with what you’re saying.

Ann: Yes!

Dave: They’re thinking, “Help me! How do I manage this tension?”

Ann: Yes.

Faith: Well, in terms of what it looks like, it’s kind of hard to think of even just one example, because it manifests in so many ways.

Ann: Yes.

Faith: It could be something like feeling unsure when somebody asks me to serve. I say, “Yes, that’s a great opportunity! I would love it,” then feeling afraid of my motives, feeling afraid that I’m not pure enough in my motives. [Thinking], “Oh, is it because I want to do it? Is it for my sake? Is it just for me? Is it because of my pride?” and all these things. Then something that’s a joyful opportunity becomes kind of fearful and wrought with anxiety.

Or I’ll remember my past—you know, friendships or choices that I made twenty years ago—and still feel so regretful of them; of how I wasn’t who I should have been for somebody. Thankfully, I’m not who I was back then. Now I’m not that person anymore; God has changed me and grown me. But it’s hard for me to look back at even my teenage self and think, “Why did I treat that person like that?!” “Why did I miss that opportunity to share the gospel or the love of God?” [Laughter]

Or even, every day, I’ll walk away from conversations that I had at church and think, “I could have listened better. I could have loved better.” Dave, you mentioned, as a pastor’s wife and as a mom, those pressures. I think for Christian perfectionists, those pressures aren’t coming as much from outside. There are outside pressures, I think, but it’s from this inner drive and an inner desire.

I really love how you started out saying that you loved that about Ann; that that was a good desire. I think, since we experience it as difficult sometimes, we even feel ashamed of wanting that. I would feel like striving is in the Scriptures. Jesus says to “be perfect” as my heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:48, paraphrased] Paul says, “I’m striving toward that goal! I have not attained perfection yet.” [Philippians 3:13-15, paraphrased] And that is something that I think I would first want to affirm in somebody, saying, “Hey, that is a good desire that God’s given you. He doesn’t condemn you.”

It's easier, sometimes, for us as perfectionists, to kind of imagine God that way.

Ann: It is interesting, isn’t it?

Faith: Yes, and I think that, in many ways, is part of the heart of it: how we see and how we imagine God deals with us as imperfect people.

Ann: Tell me what you’ve seen in God when it was a warped view?

Faith: Yes.

Ann: Because you know, intellectually, and you know, through Scripture, “This is the correct view,” but where would your mind generally go when you’re not in a good place of how the Father could view you?

Faith: Yes; I think the first word that comes to mind is disappointment, because I know He loves me; I know He—thankfully, I was taught that. I was in the church, and early on in my Christian life, when I heard the gospel, I knew [that] I don’t earn salvation. So, I knew that part. It’s not like He doesn’t love me, but what does that love look like? That’s the hard part, because we have views of human love that are mixed in there.

Ann: Yes.

Faith: Human love can be—

Ann: —conditional!

Faith: Or even if it’s unconditional, like my kids, you know—

Ann: —yes—

Faith: —I do love them. I’ll die for them! I will love them no matter what, but I act unlovingly, for sure, you know?

Ann: For sure.

Faith: So, I think that view of God, then, is like, “Let’s be messed up again, Faith! You can do better, you know?” Not in an encouraging way.

Dave: You know, Ann was saying earlier that some of hers was from her background.

Faith: Yes.

Dave: From her dad, whom I know, and I love. Is that common for perfectionists? Is there somebody or something in their life that has raised the bar so high and been disappointed if they didn’t hit that bar? So, we sort of attach that to our spiritual walk?

Faith: Yes, it is common. There are many different causes of perfectionism. [For] some of us, it’s just our makeup; our biological makeup.

Dave: It’s how we’re wired?

Faith: Yes. I think I see it, because I have four different kids, and they just process life so differently.

Ann: Yes.

Faith: Some are more introspective, and some are more like, “I just walk through the world, and whatever happens, happens,” right? [Laughter] So, there’s the biological makeup; there’s explicit church teaching. Some people are growing up in churches that do tell them, “God is mad at you because you’re not doing the right thing.” And God is kind of this cosmic, unhappy coach, who’s just holding a whistle, and marking down how you’re inept.

Ann: Yes, or a teacher who’s saying, “Oh! C-minus!”

Faith: Yes.

Ann: Or “D” or “F.”

Faith: Yes, all the time: “F, F, F, F.”

Ann: Yes.

Faith: “This is how you failed,” and never how you did well.

So, that’s some of it; it can be explicit teaching. And then, some of it can be—or much of it can be—our closest relationships, right? Because our understanding of who our Father is, as our heavenly Father, comes from our earthly father. That’s how God made it to be, even our understanding of love.

And that’s why, sometimes, it’s hard to just hear, “Well, God loves you,” because my understanding of love can be, “Well, He loves me, but He doesn’t like me,” you know? [Laughter] “Just because He loves me doesn’t mean He’s happy with me!”

And sometimes, it’s cultural, too; culturally in a family, [saying], “This is what love is. I hold you to these standards because I love you; because I want you to succeed.” Or it can be cultural—you know, I’m Chinese American, and in Chinese immigrant culture, at least in America (Chinese-American immigrant culture), love is expressed deeply through sacrifice. We have sacrificed everything so that you can be here.

So, I, and a lot of people in my community, have no problem believing God loves us, because He gave us this huge sacrifice of Jesus; but the idea of God saying, “I’m happy with what you did. Good job!” doesn’t come as naturally, because in a lot of our families, that’s not necessarily how love was portrayed. So, I think the Scriptures are so important, not just in terms of the word “love”—“God loves you! Remember God loves you.”—but it describes what that looks like.

What does God’s love look like to imperfect people?

Dave: Now, how have you found—it’s in your title—peace?

Faith: Yes.

Dave: Because you know, one of the things you said early on in the book—I love it! You said, “This book is for weary believers”—

Ann: —I like that—

Dave: —“who strive to serve God but find themselves weeping bitterly over their failures more often than not.”

Ann: So, give us some application of finding that peace.

Dave: Yes, how do I find rest if that’s me?

Faith: This is where it gets hard, because, for the how, I think this is what we, as perfectionists, latch onto. [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Faith: We say, “Give me the solution!” Even if it’s [about] knowing God, then it’s like, “Oh, I have to know God better!” Or “That means I have to read the Bible this many times or do this—”

That’s where it gets a little difficult. And I feel like Jesus flips that question, or just answers it in a way that’s surprising. We say, “Tell me the way—tell me what truth I have to know; tell me what I have to do.” And Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” [John 14:6] He says, “Come to Me, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28-30] This rest, I believe, fundamentally, is found in relationship with God.

I know that sounds like a simple answer, but if you think about a scared child, what would you tell them? [For] the scared child who’s going to their parent, it’s everything about the parent that helps. It’s the truth that the parent says; it’s the presence of the parent; it’s the love of the parent. I think that’s what, for Christian perfectionists, Jesus’s invitation is: to receive rest and receive peace.

You know how the hymn says, “just from Jesus, simply taking, life and rest and joy and peace.” So, [it’s] coming to Jesus weary, heavy-laden, because He is gentle and humble in heart. As we do that, He gives us rest for our souls.

Ann: I totally agree with that, Faith. I think one of the hardest things for me, over the years, even in seminary [was], I thought, “Finally!” I already understand Who God is and His love for me intellectually, but I just couldn’t feel it in my heart (not that that always has to be there).

Faith: Yes.

Ann: But I think the more I have been in the Scriptures over the years, and I’ve seen God’s unconditional love, even in the Old Testament—I know some people [think]: “This is the scary judging God!” but even in the Old Testament—His covenantal love and His pursuit of His people is mind-blowing. Then, when you get into the [New Testament] Scriptures, and even the Gospels and the parables, of the Prodigal Son, and the father running toward him, I think that gradually—I wish it would come in a night, don’t you? We would just be changed overnight. Some of us, maybe, could be, but I’m not.

Faith: Yes.

Ann: I have been changed over years of being in God’s Word, of understanding that unconditional love and pursuit of us, no matter our actions.

Dave: What I heard you say (and I think it’s beautiful) is “peace is a Person.” It’s Jesus! “Come to Me all you who labor”—

Ann: —“who are weary”—

Dave: —“and I will give you rest.”

Ann: Yes.

Faith: Yes.

Dave: I’m just wondering: do you guys feel like you go to Him, then you pile some more stuff on, and you’ve got to just keep going back? Which is fine, because that’s what He wants us to do.

Faith: Yes, yes.

Dave: I’m just, from a Christian perfectionist—and I’m sitting with two of them—

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; it’s a beautiful thing.

Ann: I know, we’re pretty great, aren’t we? I’d always want Faith on my team!

Faith: I want to see that. [Laughter] He’s making us sound like a genius!

Dave: That is who you want on your team.

Ann: Exactly!


Dave: Because they are striving; they’re not settling.

Faith: Yes.

Dave: And the worst thing you want on any team is somebody who settles, but I think that can be a curse in ways, because it’s like, “I’m never satisfied.” But you sound like there are moments of satisfaction; and that’s what the book’s about, right?

Faith: Yes, you know, that’s a good question. [With] both of you guys, I’m thinking, “I should be taking notes. I need to add in some more pages to this book.” [Laughter]

That is such a good question in terms of that peace, because the reality is that our sense of peace can be fleeting.

Dave: Yes.

Faith: It’s just such a gift—the moments where we feel God’s delight, it’s like, “Oh, God! That is such a gift!” Yes, because, for now, we struggle with it. I don’t think we’ll struggle with that forever.

Dave: Yes.

Faith: When we see Jesus face-to-face—

Ann: —right—

Faith: —and when He says to us—

Dave: —“you’re good”—

Faith: —“I am delighted in you. Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Dave: Yes.

Faith: You’re not going to—you won’t struggle the same way, but the reality is we do struggle with that. I think what’s really helpful is to remember that our peace with God is not dependent upon our subjective experience of His peace. It says in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ann: Yes; that’s good!

Faith: Our relationship with Him is unshakeable. So, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience before, where you think that someone’s mad at you, and upset at you, or something like that—

Dave: —that’s called marriage.

Faith: [Laughter] Yes! Not necessarily all the time, but I think, “I think my husband, Jeff”—my husband’s name is Jeff, and I say, “I think he’s mad at me.” Then, when I finally come to him, it’s like, “Wait! You’re actually not mad?” [Laughter] He says, “What are you talking about?” And I say, “I thought you were upset with me!” He says, “No; no, I wasn’t.” The reality is, you know, sometimes he is upset in marriage, or I’m upset, too; but with God, we have this peace that is unshakeable, because we’re reconciled with God.

Sometimes, we don’t feel it, and that’s okay. We can ask God: “Help me to experience this peace, Lord.” But for us—or for me, as a perfectionist—it helps to not add to the stress of needing to feel peace. That’s the thing about perfectionism; we just spiral, you know? Everything can become like an accusation; even the fact that you don’t feel peace. But to be [able to know]: “Hey, I’m at peace with God. God and me—things with us—are good, even though I don’t feel it,” is deeply comforting.

Shelby: You know, Ann’s got some reflections that you’ll want to hear, in response to Faith’s words. That’s in just a second, but first, I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Faith Chang on FamilyLife Today. Faith has written a book called Peace Over Perfection: Enjoying a Good God When You Feel You’re Never Good Enough. Many of us can connect with that perspective, because we wrestle with that. I am actually one of those people wrestling with perfectionism.

Faith’s book offers a fresh perspective on God’s character, and it provides reassurance and guidance for Christians struggling with the burdens of perfectionism. This book is going to be our gift to you when you give today to FamilyLife. You can get your copy right now, with any donation, by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or just give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Alright, let’s hear some insight from Ann about intentional encouragement.

Ann: I know that, when I’ve spoken with other women at conferences—especially younger women—when they’ll come off the stage, I’ll look at them and pray over them and put my hands on them; but I’ll also say, “Hey, I want you to know that this was an amazing job! You encouraged us!” And then, I would go through, specifically, how they helped people. “God used you today! But I also want you to know this: it’s not going to do any good for you to go back and beat yourself up over what you didn’t say, because the Holy Spirit was in that. Even if there are parts that you feel like you failed in—and this could be for any area of our lives. This could be in parenting; this could be in marriage—I just want you to know: God was delighting in everything that you offered up today. It was like a sacrifice that you gave.”

“So, tomorrow or the next day, when your head is all over the place, and you’re starting to go over what you said, or maybe, what people didn’t say to you or how you offended somebody, just know the Enemy, the Accuser, is going to want to steal all of your joy. Take those thoughts captive and lay them at the feet of Jesus. Allow Him to love you. He’s saying, ‘Well done! That was a great step of faith!’”

Shelby: Now, coming up tomorrow, Faith Chang is back, and she invites us to navigate marriage, parenting, and spiritual growth amidst perfectionism. How do you do that? Well, she’s going to talk about that tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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