Heart of Perfection

How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God's

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An award-winning author, former presidential speechwriter, and mother of four weaves stories of her own struggles against comparison and impossible expectations with those of seven ex-perfectionist saints (and one heretic) who show us how to pursue a new kind of perfection: freedom in Christ. 

Spiritual perfectionism—an obsession with flawlessness rooted in the belief that we can earn God’s love—is the most dangerous form of perfectionism because so many of us mistake it for virtue, or deny that it afflicts us at all. Its toxic cycle of pride, sin, shame, blame, and despair distorts our vision, dulls our faith, and leads us to view others through the same hypercritical lens we think God is using to view us.

As a lifelong overachiever who drafted her first résumé in sixth grade and spell-checked her high-school boyfriend’s love letters, Colleen Campbell knows something about the perfectionist trap. But it was only after she became a mother that she started to see how insidiously perfectionism had infected her spiritual life, how lethal it could be to her happiness and her family, and how disproportionately it afflicts the people working hardest to serve God.

In the ruins of her own perfectionist mistakes, Colleen dug into Scripture and the lives of the canonized saints for answers. She discovered to her surprise that many holy men and women she once saw as encouraging her perfectionism were, in fact, recovering perfectionists. And their grace-fueled victory over this malady—not perfectionist striving—was the key to their heroic virtue and contagious joy. 

She weaves the stories and wisdom of these saints with Scripture and connects that wisdom to her life. She introduces us to saints like Jane de Chantal, a single mother who conquered her impatience only after her ex-perfectionist friend St. Francis de Sales convinced her to trade punishing prayer regimens for the tougher discipline of showing gentleness to rude in-laws, rowdy kids, and herself. Colleen describes the battle against obsessive guilt that turned timid people-pleaser St. Alphonsus Liguori into a fearless defender of God’s mercy; the discernment rules that helped St. Ignatius of Loyola overcome crippling discouragement and distraction; the concern for reputation that almost cost the world the radical witness of St. Francis of Assisi; and the biblical work-life balance that St. Benedict of Nursia pioneered after years of driving himself and others too hard—and without surrendering his holy zeal. 

Gorgeously written and deeply insightful, The Heart of Perfection shows that the solution to perfectionism is not to squelch our hard-wired desires for excellence but to allow God to purify and redirect them, by swapping the chains of control and comparison for pursuit of a new kind of perfection: the freedom of the children of God.

Colleen Carroll Campbell

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an award-winning author, print and broadcast journalist, and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful, and spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which won two national awards and has been published in five languagesColleen has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, America, and National Review, and she has appeared on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS, NPR, and EWTN, where she hosted her own television and radio shows for eight years. Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work. She speaks to audiences across North America and Europe and lives in St. Louis with her husband and their four children, whom she homeschools. Visit her online at Colleen-Campbell.com.


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"Today's culture preaches salvation through perfectionism, and many of us have ended up stressed out and miserable from trying to do everything the 'right' way. The Heart of Perfection gives us permission to step out of the straitjackets we've forced ourselves into, and walk in the freedom of God's unconditional love."
-Jennifer Fulwiler, SiriusXM radio host; Author, Something Other Than God

“Perfectionists already know many of the truths that can set us free. For instance, we know that God loves us, that he’s trustworthy, and that we don’t have to earn his love. But knowing is not enough. We also need such truths to penetrate our hardened hearts and calm our frazzled nerves. This book is here to help. Through engaging personal testimony and the masterful re-telling of lives of relatable saints, it effectively heals wounds that keep us from the joyful freedom of the children of God.”
-Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, Author, 33 Days to Morning Glory and 33 Days to Merciful Love

“Colleen explores the real lives of saints with the scrutiny of an investigative journalist and highlights their quest for the perfect love of God.  … Like so many women (and men) today who are caught in the endless hamster wheel of trying to be perfect, Campbell spent her life striving for her ideal self, and surpassed her own goals. … In this deep and thoughtful reflection on herself, the generations of perfectionist women she came from, and with a broad-daylight exposé of the lives of the not-so perfect saints, Campbell realizes that setting the bar so high is detrimental; trying to be perfect only results in beating yourself up for not being perfect. The Heart of Perfection is a must-read for those of us whose pursuit of perfection is just creating the ‘perfect’ trap.”
-Jeannie Gaffigan, Writer and executive producer of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and four Grammy-nominated comedy albums 

"This book is absolutely excellent and meets a very present need of many people. I wish it to be read by everyone! Not always consciously, we are marked by a certain perfectionism, the feeling that to deserve God’s love and the love of others we must be perfect beings and follow a faultless journey to God. This perfectionism may seem generous and express the commitment to be good Christians, but it is actually disastrous. It prevents us from achieving true perfection, not the one we imagine, but the one God wants for us. Colleen shows us with great spiritual truth and psychological sharpness how this perfectionism manifests itself, its consequences, and how to get rid of it to enter into the true freedom of the children of God. This is an immense encouragement to lay people today who sometimes think that struggling with the problems of everyday family life may be an impediment to progress in the spiritual life. Colleen shows us that it’s the opposite, and we should be very grateful to her."
-Fr. Jacques Philippe, Bestselling author of nine books, including Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Interior Freedom, and Time for God.

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