In this last conference, Elder Jeffrey R Holland gave a talk entitled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect” but adds the word “eventually” at the end. He starts by saying how uplifting and encouraging the scriptures are for us. But, how sometimes there are those passages that make us realize just how far off the mark we really are.
He says “If, after reading these passages 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.”
How true is that? How many of us struggle with the idea that we are supposed to be “model Mormons”? Or, my favorite is the idea that because we have and know the “plan of happiness”, that our lives are supposed to be always happy and free from trials? How many of us have thought to ourselves…. “If we just do fhe and scripture study and say regular prayers and go to church and do our callings, that our children will somehow never make mistakes” We kid ourselves that there is a perfect way to live this life.
After all the word perfect by definition is “having all the required or desired elements, qualities or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. Absolute and complete”.
That is a huge word to live up to. And then the end of that verse…. “even as your Father in heaven is perfect”. The only true and perfect being to ever exist. My goodness, it’s a wonder we are all still here and didn’t throw in the towel ages ago. That feels like so much pressure.
Elder Holland goes on to say “Around the church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough. I fall so far short. I will never measure up. I hear this from teenagers, missionaries, new converts and lifelong members.”
I have been giving firesides to youth and women of the church for the last two years. I share with them my story about surviving a rare form of Leukemia when I was younger and converting to the church. I talk about how I have struggled with PTSD, survivor’s guilt, depression and suicidal thoughts….to the point that I planned on ending my life when I was about 18 years old.
Because of the things I had been through, I never felt worthy of the miracle of life that I had received. I had watched several tiny babies and kids die of the same disease that I had survived. I watched a couple of my friends that were amazing (almost perfect in my eyes) pass away at 18 and 19 years old. I didn’t think I was “good enough” to still be here when they didn’t get that chance.
The first couple of firesides I spoke at, I had a few teenagers reach out to me and tell me that they had been planning on committing suicide because they didn’t feel like they were enough. This struggle is very real, very now and very hard.
We have had many family members leave the church in the last several years, and I can’t count how many times I have been told “if you’re not perfect, you don’t belong in the church. If you aren’t doing ABC and D, then you aren’t going to heaven…..that’s what you believe. That’s what you are taught. When I left a weight was lifted. I didn’t have to feel guilty for everything anymore, or feel like I wasn’t good enough. It was a huge relief.”
And I will say that we as members do have some added pressure. We have the scriptures that teach us about the most perfect man that we should be like, and we come to church and hear lists of things we should be doing and are reminded that we probably aren’t doing them as often or as well as we should be. We have callings to fulfill and people to watch over and care for. We are asked to be missionaries and share the gospel. We are asked to serve and go to the temple. To care for our families first but fit all the rest in with it. AND, still live in this world during all of it.
The added pressures of a completely narcissistic society that wants you to only think about ME and do whatever continues making ME happy.
It’s a lot…..it feels completely hopeless at times and totally unrealistic. Well, before you run home thinking I just ruined your whole week and made you feel unworthy listen to the words of Elder Holland.
“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.”
And President Russell M. Nelson taught “here in mortality perfection is still “pending”.
I’m reminded of something that I teach the youth. I tell them all that it’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to be scarred and broken. It is in those broken pieces that we find out who we really are. Ernest Hemingway put it brilliantly when he said “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in”.
There is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi. It is a method used to fix broken ceramics and beautiful serving pieces. When a piece is broken, they repair it with gold. The idea is that the broken pieces can be put back together to reveal something much more beautiful. That the history of the piece now can make it a piece of art.
How amazing would it be if we were all repaired with gold? First of all, I would look like a walking Oscar statue, but my brokenness would be admired and applauded instead of judged and turned away from.
The difference between our Gospel centered lives and those of the nay-sayers and those that think it’s just too hard…..is the beautiful knowledge that we have of our Savior. He is our potter. He is our creator. He made us and when we are broken, He fixes us. No, not with gold….He fixes us with His blood. His ultimate, unconditional love.
There is a gorgeous painting by a man named Yongsung Kim called The Hand of God. It is an image of Christ standing above and reaching down water. The perspective of the image is that of someone drowning and looking up.
This image will always be my favorite. It is the perfect depiction of who my Savior always has been and always will be in my life. My very literal Savior, saving me from drowning. The most beautiful part of this image for me is that He is not coming down into the water. He is staying strong on the surface and reaching down. It is up to me to fight and kick and use every ounce I have to get to His outstretched hand.
He will always be there. No matter the reasons I am going under; depression, sin, choices I’ve made, things both in and out of my control. No matter why I am drowning, as long as I look up, He will be there. He doesn’t care how or why I am where I am, He just wants to help. He wants to bring me back up to the surface of the water where He will walk with me and be there extending His grace every time I start to drown again.
He doesn’t need to go down to the deepest, darkest depths, because He already has. He made the ultimate sacrifice and took on all of it so that He could understand us and help us know that we are not alone. In those deep depths of despair, only He will be the light to guide us to safety.
Our Savior will always be found in the hardest times and the darkest places. Only He is there when we feel abandoned or alone or not good enough. He is our voice of reason.
All of the lists and the obedience and the hard work that come along with this Gospel are there to help us make something of our lives. They are there to remind us that this life is a gift and we need to work to the best of our abilities to show our love for that gift. They are not shackles or chains designed to hold us back, but the momentum we need to fly. Living a life in the service of God is ultimately living a life to serve others. Giving away our lives will make them more fulfilled and beautiful.
However, do not run harder than you have the energy for. Do what you can, when you can, with what you have. If everyone in this church were living the “ideal Mormon life” and doing all that was required, we wouldn’t need the constant reminders.
Elder Holland says “Brothers and sisters, every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living. If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human”.
Moroni says “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him….Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”
IN being the key word. We cannot do it alone. We were not meant to do it alone. It is only by and through His grace that we will ever be able to qualify for that beautiful life in the eternities. We could never live long enough or work hard enough to repay our debt if Christ hadn’t taken it for us.
Elder Holland’s words echo in my heart, “Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven…… If we persevere, then somehow in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete ”
He continues, “I testify of that grand destiny, made available to us by the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself continued from “grace to grace”…. I testify that in this and every hour He is, with nail-scarred hands, extending to us that same grace, holding on to us and encouraging us, refusing to let us go until we are safely home in the embrace of Heavenly parents..”
It is my Savior that kept me from ending my life. It is my Savior that has stayed with me through all the ups and downs, and more than anyone He knows how imperfect I am. But I know, in the deepest parts of my soul that He loves me no matter what. That He knows the intentions of my heart and that He will be there to catch me when I fall again and again. His grace is the greatest gift I have ever been given and will continue to be given while I am persevering in this life. For that, I am eternally grateful.