Friends, today I’d like to write to you about a speech I heard and read from one of our spiritual leaders, Elder Jeffery R. Holland. The talk was entitled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect, Eventually.” As I have studied his words, I have found that his message applies to everyone. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, children, grandparents, teachers…whatever your titles are in life.
Grocery Shopping Is Hard
To start, I’d like to give you a vision of a snippet into a day in the life of a Poll mama. Sometimes it’s hard to go grocery shopping. One of my children cries the whole time. The youngest just sits, he must know I’m stressed. One day, when I arrived at the store, I knew I would need a family cart. Ya know the ones with the big seats for two on the back and then the cart in the front. But, they were all outside in the 36-degree weather, wet and cold.
I had already strapped the boys in with the baby’s cart cover because I wasn’t sure I would get one of those perfect carts. When I saw them, I pushed my cart and the family cart inside. I went to customer service, hoping they would wipe them down for me. They did. Just as I suspected, one of my children screamed the whole time. I’m sure many people were watching me but, not once did I lose my cool.
Once I got to the checkout, with $250 worth of food, my screaming child was crying that he wanted candy. I didn’t feel like rewarding the crying behavior was a good idea, so I told him no. Then, he decided to throw his tantrum on the ground…pushing himself backward on the slick floor on his belly. The cashier noticed my plight and called for some help.
At this particular store, they don’t normally bag groceries, but they did for me! Unfortunately, he put all my groceries in another cart so I had to push 2 carts out to the car. On my way out, a nice woman gave my crying son a dollar so he could “get some candy.” Another man offered to help me to my car, obviously because pushing 2 carts with one trying to leap out like Superman is not as easy as it looks.
The Perfect, Flawless Family
What does this have to do with being a perfect mom? I’ll tell you. There was a time that I used to go out, hoping that I would be able to show everyone how perfect and flawless my family was. “Today is the day that they’re all going to be good. No one is going to cry. Their faces will be clean, their hair will be done, there will be no holes in their jeans, and no stains on their shirts.” I have finally come to realize that that will simply never happen.
Be Ye Therefore Perfect
Elder Holland said,
“The scriptures were written to bless and encourage us, and surely they do that. We thank heaven for every chapter and verse we have ever been given. But have you noticed that every now and then a passage will appear that reminds us we are falling a little short?
For example, the Sermon on the Mount begins with soothing, gentle beatitudes, but in the verses that follow, we are told—among other things—not only not to kill but also not even to be angry. We are told not only not to commit adultery but also not even to have impure thoughts. To those who ask for it, we are to give our coat and then give our cloak also. We are to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and do good to them who hate us.
If that is your morning scripture study, and after reading just that far you are pretty certain you are not going to get good marks on your gospel report card, then the final commandment in the chain is sure to finish the job: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect.”2 With that concluding imperative, we want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our head. Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep.”
Elder Holland then goes on to explain that he has heard many church members say that they are just not good enough. That they fall short or that they will never measure up. He hears this from teenagers, missionaries, new converts and lifelong members. An insightful sister points out that Satan has managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations.(See Darla Isackson, “Satan’s Counterfeit Gospel of Perfectionism,” Meridian Magazine, June 1, 2016, ldsmag.com.) He has figured out how to make faithful and covenant keeping members loathe in self-doubt and misery.
Loathing in Self-doubt and Misery
I know that I am not the only person who has felt self-doubt and misery. Especially when it comes to personal perfection. It is a constant daily battle to fight off the feelings of unworthiness. When comparing myself to other people, I have, in the past, beat myself up for my inadequacies. Sister Patricia T. Holland once said,
May I emphasize the words, “judge ourselves?”
At times I have felt that there is a laundry list of things I should do in order to be the “perfect” Latter-day Saint. Attend church, study my scriptures, say my morning and evening prayers, prepare the perfect lesson for Sunday meetings, prepare the perfect lesson for family home evening, HOLD family home evening, teach my children to pray, teach my children all about the Gospel, put together a quilt, or a scrapbook, and somehow, find time to visit the sick, shovel someone’s walk, or paint someone’s home.
While at the same time, keeping our home together by delegating household chores, playing spiritual music, daily exercise, making sure we eat healthy meals, signing papers, maintaining a budget, mending clothes, washing clothes, cleaning, cooking, gardening, teaching, praying…and somehow coming up for air.
As a result of this laundry list of things, some of us suffer what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” The Lord does NOT expect us to do all of these things. It is completely unfair of us to expect this of ourselves. Beating ourselves up for our imperfections is not going to make us the person God wants us to become.
I attended a small seminar where the main topic was anxiety and depression in our youth. I learned that many of our youth, meaning our children ages 12-17, are suffering from toxic perfectionism. Much of this perfectionism is learned behavior. Learned from the world they are in. They must have perfect hair, a perfect smile, be a perfect athlete, have perfect skin, a perfect GPA, the perfect clothes, or the perfect Instagram account. We were not put here on this earth, perfect. We live in a fallen world and for now are a fallen people. As Elder Holland quoted President Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection is pending.” I often sing to my children the song, “I’m Trying to be Like Jesus.” The words do not say, “I am like Jesus.” They say “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
The fact that we desire to be like Him and improve ourselves each day, is enough. Through the gift of repentance, we can become perfected in him. Leo Tolstoy wrote once of a priest who was criticized by one of his congregants for not living as resolutely as he should, the critic stated that the principles the preacher taught must also be false.
In response to that criticism, the priest says:
“Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.”
Unable to live up to the high ideals he taught, the priest admits he has failed. But he cries:
“Attack me, [if you wish,] I do this myself, but [don’t] attack … the path I follow. … If I know the way home [but] am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering from side to side?”(“The New Way,” Leo Tolstoy: Spiritual Writings, sel. Charles E. Moore (2006), 81–82.)
I’m Not Perfect, and I’m Okay With That
There was a time that I used to wake up thinking, “Today is the day I will read my scriptures, say my prayers, be the perfect mom, be the perfect wife, and be the perfect Christian. I will never be the sweet mama that quietly shushes her children at the library as she gently ushers them around while they quickly select their books. I’m the mama that’s wrangling the circus monkeys trying to make sure they don’t pull all the books off the shelf while they’re whisper screaming. And I’m okay with that. This is my circus, these are my monkeys.
I don’t think I will ever be a scripture scholar or faithfully do my laundry list of things I need to do to be a perfect Latter-day Saint. I may not be able to serve my fellow men like I want to or get my visiting teaching done every month.
To my husband and my children, I am the perfect wife and I am the perfect mom. To my Savior, I am the perfect daughter. Even though I don’t always feel that way. He gave his life for me, so that I may live with Him again. He loves me for who I am and He expects nothing more from me, other than my efforts to do my very best. I will continue to strive to be like Him in my daily efforts of self-improvement.
Perfection is Pending
Life is full of passion. It’s full of hurt, heartache, hope, and happiness. This passion doesn’t just happen from a life full of perfection. It happens from a life full of imperfections. This week, Flynn and I learned a new lesson from Daniel Tiger. “It’s okay to make mistakes, just try to fix them and learn from them too.”
There is not one mortal experience on this earth, save Jesus Christ that has been perfect. We are not perfect or flawless. To err is human! I know that our Savior Jesus Christ, alongside our Heavenly Parents are encouraging us to come home to their warm embrace. They love us, and they won’t give up on us. Perfection is pending.