Perfectionism. It’s a slippery slope. Obsessing over doing everything perfectly can lead to anxiety, depression, and broken relationships—and a whole myriad of other problems. I’ve had friends fall victim to it, and I myself have tried to be perfect in everything I do.
So then what do we do when Christ has commanded us to “be ye therefore perfect”?
I know, I know. We’ve all heard the talks about how its translation really means “whole, complete, or finished.” (For an example of this explanation, see Elder Russell M. Nelson’s talk, “Perfection Pending.”) But these words definitely don’t describe my life. Those words sound just as intimidating as “perfect.” Anyone else nodding their heads at this? Is it just me?
Believe me, I understand how hard the divine refining process can be. As I was getting pounded in my mission day after day, month after month, I just kept telling myself that pressure makes diamonds. It was my personal mantra to my mission. I was going to go home a flawless diamond, and that’s all there was to it. No way was I walking off that plane as just an opal. (Sorry opal. You’re pretty, but you’re no diamond.)
Subconsciously, I think I probably felt like I had come home a diamond. I had everything put together. Work fell into place. School fell into place. Even dating fell into place (miraculously enough). And then two years later, it all fell apart.
So there I was, feeling like an opal again and finally realizing that even at the very top of my spiritual game, I still wasn’t perfect. (Anyone else nodding their heads at the feeling?)
But then a lightning bolt hit me in the form of Elder David A. Bednar’s new book, Power to Become. I stumbled upon an unexpected realization: God doesn’t expect me—or any of us—to be perfect. Not in this lifetime anyway. Confused? Let me show you what I read:
“Would you suppose the Savior [would suggest] a goal that was not possible of attainment and thus mock us in our efforts to live to attain that perfectness? It is impossible for us here in mortality to come to that state of perfection of which the Master spoke, but in this life we lay the foundation on which we will build in the eternity” (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, as quoted by Elder David A. Bednar).
Translation: God knows that we won’t be perfect in this lifetime, so we shouldn’t feel as if we’re unworthy of His love and blessings because we’re not perfect yet. Should we be laying the foundation for a future perfect life as exalted beings? Yes. Should we be striving to be the perfect Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood? Absolutely not. We should simply strive every day to be better than we were yesterday. It’s a slow, gradual process that the Lord helps us with line upon line, precept upon precept.
I guess I had always assumed that the commandment “Be ye therefore perfect” meant that God expected me to become perfect through Christ’s Atonement while I was here on earth. And I always felt guilty knowing that I wouldn’t get there as a mortal. What a relief to know that He doesn’t expect me to. I fully believe that God expects me to work toward it, of course. And I do. And I know that a lot of us really do. And so we shouldn’t feel unworthy of His help or His blessings because we don’t have all our spiritual ducks in a row. That’s exactly why we all need His help and blessings.
So how do you live with yourself when you know you’re imperfect? And how do you live with others who are just as imperfect as you are? Just take Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s advice: “Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteers, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”
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If you're looking for something to push you further along your path to perfection, this book is a definite must-read. Chapters in this thought-provoking book highlight the importance of the Atonement, the spiritual gift of personal peace, the importance of priesthood ordinances, and the responsibility we have to obey willingly and endure valiantly. Get it at Deseret Book stores or at deseretbook.com.