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Monday, July 18, 2005 

I Care, But I Don't Compare...

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48

The idea of perfection overwhelms A LOT of people. Many people reject the idea that perfection is even attainable, and therefore cease to strive for it altogether.

Justification for not striving for perfection might run along the lines of “it is wholly unattainable in this life”, “I am not perfect today, therefore I never will be”, or “where do I even begin?”

Let me ask you…did anything wholly satisfying and worthwhile ever come easily (besides winning the lottery…)? What are you most proud of? Was it handed to you on a platter? What excruciating experience made you stronger and wiser? Was is a pleasant one?

In our world of ease and convenience, we have lost sight of the struggle. In the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of people were striving for the enlightened state, and making an effort at it. People traveled thousands of miles, denied themselves food and water, walked many miles, and gave up lives of convenience to seek something higher. Sure they were called hippies, crackpots, and Beatles, but can you see the effort put into it?...the sacrafices and effort put into gaining something more?

I think it helps us feel better to focus on the fact that nobody’s perfect. It slightly relieves us in our efforts to look around and say, “Phew, THEY are CERTAINLY not perfect, so I’m OK.”

This isn’t a competition. Heavenly Father isn’t going to compare me to my neighbor to determine my eligibility for heaven. He won’t say, “Well, for a white woman who lived in Provo for XX years, she did OK considering her demographics, age of death, etc…”

Perfection is not relative. However, perfection IS somewhat vague. If you want the hardcore on perfection read what Bruce R. McConkie has to say about it in “Mormon Doctrine” (pgs 567-568). If you want a more digestible version, read Spencer W. Kimball’s take in “The Miracle of Forgiveness” (pgs 208-210).

I love that President Kimball puts it this way:

“Perfection really comes through overcoming. The Lord Revealed through John: ‘To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21)”

So ask yourself: What do I (personally, not relatively) need to overcome to be perfect?

Maybe word it this way: What do I need to “give up”? What is stopping me, or to be evangelical, "damning" my progression. What will keep me from the prize that is rightfully mine? What small (or large thing) will be the “duh” moment at the Judgment? What little more could I have done?

I care about all y’all, but I’m not comparing myself to you. I can’t worry about your sins making my sins look “not so bad after all.” You gotta take care of your own stuff. Knowing that you’re not perfect does not help me one bit. Knowing that I’m not perfect and that there’s something I can do about it keeps me going.

Does worrying about being perfect keep me up at night? Occasionally. Is the occasional sleepless night good for my salvation? Probably. Where we meant to worry about this subject a little? Heavens, yes!

I just tell myself to suck it up…if I accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ I accept the idea of striving for perfection….IN THIS LIFE. However, honestly, you will worry a TON about it unnecessarily if you don’t seek out the meaning of perfection in this life. So do some homework…it made me feel TONS better… Seriously, go read what President Kimball said about it…

Pefection is a tricky thing to deal with. You have some good thoughts. I think people's ideas of perfection come a lot from comparing themselves to others, which really is a sin of envy, or so I would argue. Envy breeds pride, which is all about comparing oneself to others on a constant basis.

I have always believed that a person by themselves striving for perfection is a vain endeavour. We are only truly made perfect through Christ and the atonement. But others may disagree. I once heard someone say they need to be perfect before they could ask for God's forgiveness. I would suggest that is a distortion of doctrine, and a rejection of the atonement.

Your point on comparison leading to envy and pride are excellent.

You are correct in that a private striving for perfection is a vain attempt; the principle of grace plays heavily into this discussion, but it is a bit of a HUGE tangent. Another topic for another week perhaps....

You do have some great insights into this topic, Carrie Ann. I especially like what you have to say about hippies. I'm really sure I would have been one... is it too late? And the quote by President Kimball puts my trials in a whole new light. I needed that. Thanks.

When I kneel and pray regularly, and study the scriptures regularly, I am a better person, life goes better. But I will never be perfect in this life.

There was a woman in our ward whose house was always spotless, and beautifully decorated, she did everything, it seemed. One day, I (as compassionate service leader)at her request went over to her house to pick up a casserole from her kitchen.

Her house was a complete wreck. Cheerios crushed all over the floor, dirty dishes, it was a mess. It was a wonderful sight to behold. And I told everybody and I thanked her for sharing that with me because it made the rest of us feel so much better. We still laugh about it.

Nobody's as perfect as we think they are.

I don't see how we can have a discussion of perfection without bringing the atonement into it. Hebrews 10:1 in effect says that we will never be perfect by following 'the law'. In Colossians we read, "...that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." The atonement is not a tangent, but everything we need to understand about perfection. It may be to our benefit to gain as much light and knowledge as we can in this life, but that is different than striving to be perfect. The good news of the gosepel is not that it teaches us to be perfect, but that it tells us how much God loves us in spite of our imperfection.

I am sorry if I sound preachy or rude, but I see so much pain in so many people's lives because they are trying to be perfect and experience incredible guilt when they inevitably fall short. I believe we truly are, as Dallas R. said, rejecting the atonement when we let feelings of guilt and inadequacy separate us from feeling God's love.

No, you're right, of course. I personally believe that perfectionism is sinful. I think it leads us to despair and criticism and comparisons which are unhealthy. I think we should relax.

I sure wish I could.

CA brings up so many good points...as do all of you who have commented.

Sometimes I hate the word perfect...but I'll expand on that on Thursday. :D

Of course we cannot leave the atonement out of this discussion, but I am trying to make the point that once we understand a commandment, a law, we are expected to follow it, to be "perfect" in obeying it. We are asked to do everything we can do before the principle of grace comes in to play. The principle of grace is not the same thing as the atonement.

Frankly, I think it's a copout to say that we can never be perfect in this life without understanding what that really means. It omits my responsibility to try. And maybe that's why our church's official teachings (not what my Relief Society teacher says) says that it is attainable and that we need to strive for it.

But like I said, this is a new concept for me, I feel weird even having an opinion about something which I haven't researched very well. You'd better believe I'm going to look this one up and study it a bit!

"One could multiply references almost inidefinitely but enough has been said to establish the point that the repentant life, the life which constantly reaches for perfection, must rely on works as well as on faith. The gospel is a program of action--of DOING things. Man's immortality and eternal life are God's goals. Immortality has been accomplished by the Savior's sacrifice. Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men.

This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us... 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' (Matt. 5:48) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything form his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal." Spencer W. Kimbal "The Miracle of Forgivness"

My point is that culturally we rally around the false idea that we cannot attain perfection, when the Lord himself (and his prophets) tells us we can and should. Now figuring out how is where it gets really juicy...but it is certain that we cannot obtain perfection without understanding and using the atonement in our lives.

Carrie Ann-
I appreciate your willingness to discuss this issue. It is something I have researched and thought a lot about. Obviously I can only give my humble veiw of what I believe to be true. First, I must respectfully disagree with Pres. Kimbal's statement that, "..being perfect means triumphing over sin." As fallen beings we will never triumph over sin by ourselves. If I were to even consider that I were getting close to being righteous enough to triumph over sin, I would be guilty of the sin of pride.
For me the bottom line is we can not overcome sin by ourselves, not matter how hard we try. This does not mean I am saying we should not try to live the gospel the best that we can. Of course we should. Think about Paul and what an amazing missionary he was and still is through his writings. In chapter 12 of 2nd Corinthians he talks about weaknesses he seems unable to rid himself of. At first he is discouraged and wonders why God wont take them away. Later he understands how important his weaknesses are in helping him remember that he needs Christ. He says, "..I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me." He is made perfect through Christ because he believes in that power, not because he is able to triumph over sin.
I feel strongly thatGod sent us to learn through our experience, which will always entail sins. We are prideful, selfish, and more. We can work on becoming more humble and selfless, but even then are we not acting to benefit ourselves. This does not mean we are bad, just human. How grateful I am that I know that I can experience the joy and love that comes from learning in spite of my weaknesses.
I hope I have communicated this in a way that makes sense. This is what I believe God has helped me to understand. It helps me feel closer to him, not lazy or indifferent about striving to do better.

Anonymous: I don't think that most of what you are saying is disagreeing with either Carrie Ann or Pres. Kimball. Neither of them say that we will be able to triumph over sin by ourselves (which seems to be where you are taking issue).

Of course the atonement is a necessary part of the process and we could not achieve perfection without it. To me, being perfect means to be at one with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Sin separates us from them and we overcome sin through repentance.

There are times when I feel very much at one with Them and times when I feel much farther than I should. But when I feel at one with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ I know that it is a result of the atonement. This doesn't lessen the commandment to be perfect or to be at one. It makes it achievable.

Amen, Christian F.

Anony...thank you for sharing your testimony on the matter.

Christian...thanks for clearing up my poor writing.

But where is everyone this week? Is everyone on vacation and I didn't get the email?

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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