Perfection. What comes to mind when you hear the world perfection? Particularly when it concerns you?
Perfection is a commandment that has been given to us. We have been commanded to be perfect . “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect.” Out of all the commandments given, this may be the most intimidating.
This commandment comes from the Sermon on the Mount, a speech full of many instructions that in and of themselves are plenty overwhelming, and then we are instructed to become perfect. Elder Holland described one as reading that scripture for morning scripture study and then wanting to pull the cover back overhead. It’s a lot to take in, when we are imperfect and foolish mortals in an imperfect world.
Why do you think we are given such a commandment?
The great purpose here of our journey here in mortality is to return to our Heavenly Father and we know that no unclean thing can dwell in His purpose. Ultimately, we know we must become perfect. Yet many of us, probably most of us, make a terrible mistake in considering this commandment. Satan is a master of lies, and he often twists the good and lovely commandments and blessings given to us. If we consider the commandment and the gospel logically and prayerfully, we would rationally realize that of course this is a reasonable commandment to take upon ourselves. Of course it’s necessary for our salvation. And of course we would not be commanded to do something impossible. Satan however takes away this logic and reason and faith and only paints a picture of the size of this task.
Elder Holland quotes a sister in the church, Sister Darla Isakson, who says Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making.
This notion struck a deep cord with me. Like many others I have found myself nearly buried in the tasks of life: keeping a semi-neat home, being a good mom, being a good wife, being successful in my career. I have a friend who lives on the surface the perfect Mormon housewife life of a beautiful clean home, a happy kid, and a home business who yet is comfortable decrying how hard life is. Just the other day in a group I’m in someone posted a musing and comment of a Mormon blogger lady who is fabulously wealthy in the millionaire status with a seemingly charmed life. The musing consisted of if this perfection might be a trial in and of itself, and this led to a fascination conversation of just what mattered most.
Was any of this wrong? Maybe. Why are we agonizing over the blessings we have been given? Why are we weeping over where we are in our journey to perfection? Why are we comparing ourselves to others?
Like Sister Isakson said, this is possibly Satan’s doing. We have been given this beautiful commandment, one I would rather call a promise, of attaining perfection. We have been promised that if we follow our Father’s commandments, we can return to His presence. We have been given all that we need to achieve it. In fact, unlike other times in history, we have the full gospel itself right here on Earth—and this is not to say that people in other times did not have their own sources of God-given inspiration and help. But we in this dispensation have the gospel. We have a prophet and his counselors who help us. We have the organization of the church to help the teachings get to us. We have incredible technology to make this near effortless in comparison to days of the past. We have communities, families, friends if we seek them out or even ask for them. Even the social media of perfection can be used rather to inspire us if we use it and view in the right frame of mind.
Satan instead takes all these blessings and masks them in ugliness. The help the Church and gospel gives us in attaining perfection becomes a derision of how we aren’t good enough and that the gospel expects far too much of us. The communities we have been given become unenlightened cliques that makes us feel unworthy. The general ideas of help and inspiration become subcultures of intolerance and hated. Even this littlest tweek from the adversary makes what ought to be a good and inspiring goal become unattainable.
What I find interesting is that this lie of Satan isn’t so much saying that these goals and promises of perfection are too high, but that we are too lowly to reach for them. Our Father in Heaven cheers us on, helps us, builds us up; Satan pulls us down.
Elder Holland says I believe in His perfection, and I know we are His spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as He is. I also know that, as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That is not what the Lord wants for Primary children or anyone else who honestly sings, “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
While I doubt anyone meant the road to attaining perfection was to be an easy, effortless one, I don’t think it was meant to be the sort of road that destroyed us, either.
Elder Holland reminds us we live in a telestial world. By nature of mortality, God-like perfection isn’t possible. This does not excuse us from the commandment, however. When we think of this commandment to be perfect, we need to look beyond this blink of mortality and look into the eternities. The commandment, Elder Holland says, should be thought of as a tribute. We ought to look at what God is, what He stands for, and what we can become with H is help and the grace of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Moroni says “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.”
I can’t think of anything worse than to be limited in what we can do, and what we can become. We often seek toward perfection, often without thinking about it. I’m sure that all of us want to become better in at least one area of our lives. Very few of us are so satisfied with not becoming better that we do nothing. From birth we seek to become better. I believe it is our part of our God-given nature to seek improvement and betterment. It’s Satan’s whispers that would even dare suggest the worst-case scenario is good enough. Now, I’m a big believer in the “good enough” concept in much of life. I use this to balance out the desire for the wrong sort of perfection, to step back, take a deep breath, and think about what really matters the most at whatever time, to perhaps work towards perfecting that. That “good enough” mentality never means living in sin, or living in squalor, or doing beneath what it means to get by.
In the gospel and life, of course we are not meant to lower our standards or excuse sin. But we are to take the help that is offered to us: repentance through the Atonement, learning of and practicing the gospel, seeking to become more like Our Savior. We are to understand that we are imperfect and that is why we have the gospel. If we were not to improve towards perfection, why would the gospel even have been given to us?
It might seem like a tricky balance, seeking perfection yet realizing we can’t attain it in this life, but there it is and it can be done.
Elder Holland brings up the parable of the indebted servant, who was unable to pay an astronomical debt of 10,000 talents to his master. Yet, when he was forgiven of this debt, he refused to forgive the debt he himself was owed of a measly 100 talents. The master in the parable asked “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?”
Elder Holland uses this as an example of that balance of perfection. We are mortally incapable of solving the sin-equivalent debt of 10,000 talents, so the Savior atones for us. In return, we are commanded to handle forgving the debt of 100 talents. This is the level of perfection we are asked to take on. Perhaps we may struggle, but it’s ultimately doable for each of us, whatever that 100 talents is for each of us.
We are not asked to live a level of perfection beyond the reality of mortality. We are asked to improve, to aspire to the best we can and to use the Atonement and all the blessings of the gospel we have been given to achieve that. Of course, we won’t be godly perfect… now. But we have not been given an impossible commandment.
We need to turn ourselves away from what the talk called “toxic perfectionism.” Instead of wondering “why aren’t I at such-n-such point yet?” why don’t we calmly, happily, and prayerfully find a way to get ourselves there? Instead of comparing ourselves with others and their location on the path to perfection, why don’t we cheer each other on, celebrate each other, and perhaps even take inspiration from each other? Why don’t we build each other and ourselves up? Instead of hoping for perfection all at once, why don’t we just put ourselves toward it without becoming bogged down in the seeming impossibility of us all? Why don’t we focus first on things that matter?
Yes, we have been commanded to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect. Embrace the commandment and what it truly means. Thin k of the Primary Song “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus”, whith its use of the verbs “trying” and “following”. Don’t get caught up in what the world thinks as perfect, but don’t be afraid to prayerfully seek betterment and improvement in important things.
We were not thrown on this Earth to immediately burst into perfection, whether is be through Pinterest/Instragram wonder or those spiritual giants around us. We are here to improve ourselves, to study the gospel, to seek God… and yes, one day in the eternities, become perfect.