“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
I have a confession. There is something I’m really good at that I wish I wasn’t. In fact, if it was a college major, I would hold a PhD in it. If it was a sport, I would be the team’s MVP.
What is this “skill,” this quality, this thing I’m confessing to be so good at? I’ll tell you. I could win an Academy Award, the Stanley cup, the World Cup, a Pulitzer, Grammy, and the Nobel Prize in imperfection. My fingers would be weighed down by the Super Bowl rings of inconsistency. I would be the World Series winner of human weakness.
I am, in fact, perfectly imperfect. I’m consistently, reliably and predictably so. You could even set your watch by it.
But here’s the thing: If imperfection was an Olympic sport, each one of us would hold Gold Medals in that particular event.
We are all in the same club, honorary members of that human condition. Paul called us out some 2,000 years ago when he said that we all sin and “come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
A Culture of Perfection
“When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing.”
-Russell M. Nelson
And yet in the midst of this messy, clumsy, broken, mortal experience, we can sometimes find ourselves trapped in a culture of perfection.
We look at the lists of Ward, Stake, Area and Church-wide initiatives, a panoply of do’s and don’ts, a smorgasbord of great ideas to make us better, more faithful, kinder, forgiving, repentant, charitable, family-centered, temple-oriented, missionary-minded and less imperfect children of a perfect God.
And we shrink a little.
We compare ourselves to the ideal, recognizing how few of the items on those lists we’re very good or consistent at doing for very long and note how terribly much we fall inexcusably short. Or so we tell ourselves.
“Be ye therefore perfect” is the celestial injunction, after all! Christ said it himself!
So yes, perfection is the endgame, the ultimate target we organize our ultimate efforts around. It’s right to be reminded that there is such a target and that there are inspired steps to it, that there is a final destination at the end of the road we’re on. Your GPS only works when you first identify the place you want to end up, after all.
“If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.”
-Jeffrey R. Holland
But the path to perfection doesn’t end at 78.8 years, or whatever life expectancy is these days. The plan of perfection includes a period of time between when we pass and when the Second Coming occurs. How many years is that? Only God knows! But the Spirit World offers us some extended playtime to work on our game.
We also have overtime play of 1,000 Millennial years to score a few more goals in the game of our personal development.
But wait, that’s not all, as marketers remind us. Turns out that perfection is not even required for the Celestial Kingdom (or it would be a very lonely place indeed), which means we have the whole of eternity to buff out our countless flaws and fix all our broken parts.
And yet so many of us are harshly judgmental of ourselves for not being at the very beginning of the game what we hope to one day be by the very end of it.
What About Jesus?
“We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord.”
-Russell M. Nelson
By the way, think about what we may be unintentionally implying when we condemn ourselves for falling short of perfection in the first place.
What that seems to mean is that we expect ourselves to be at a place where we don’t need Christ anymore, where He’s become superfluous, unnecessary and redundant, where the atonement need not apply because, well, we’ve finally got it all worked out on our own.
That’s probably not the intended message, but if you think about it, that’s kind of what it suggests.
Broken, Flawed, Imperfect
“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.”
-Jeffrey R. Holland
So please don’t get down on yourself because you’re not now where you will one day eventually be some thousands or millions of years from now! There’s a reason for all that extended play time.
Accept yourself as you are—broken, flawed, imperfect—even as you work on your discipleship. Set a goal and move toward it. And please try to find joy in that process.
In other words (and please forgive the mixed metaphors!), stop beating yourself up for not already being in New York when you have only been on the road a couple hours in west-coast traffic! Enjoy the view along the way.
Life is a journey, not a finish line.
So don’t hate on yourself for not running a 4-minute mile as a toddler in the gospel. We’re all still on page one of our eternal journey. We’ve really only barely started!
So let’s all give ourselves some slack since no one can really do more than they can do. “Enough” for God is a very different number than “enough” for you or me because our capacities are so immeasurably different.
And, by the way, since obviously none of us are God or Christ, maybe we can content ourselves at just being their imperfect disciples, stumbling down the road after them, offering them our hearts and letting Christ heal our wounds.
“[E]very 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.”
-Jeffrey R. Holland
The bottom line is that God does perfect perfectly. But for you and me, perfect is just a spot on the horizon Heavenly Father wants us oriented toward.
It’s the address we enter into our spiritual GPS so most of our driving is generally headed in the right direction and so we know how to re-orient ourselves when we climb out of the ditches we will sometimes drive into.
Remember that just as my children don’t have to reach some minimal level of righteousness to qualify for my love or sufficiently repent of some prescribed number of weaknesses for me to accept them, neither does the Lord require that of you.
Free yourself of the anxiety of perfection while looking in the mirror to see what Christ-like qualities can use some attention. Accept yourself as a spiritual toddler even as you aim at becoming spiritually mature.
These are not mutually exclusive propositions. One does not cancel out the other. At least not as our own personal progress becomes a joyful endeavor, a richly meaningful adventure rather than a shame-ridden path of self-abuse.
So when the Guinness people come by once again to record yet another world record in imperfection, smile, get your imperfect self back up, brush off your imperfect spiritual knees, and try (however imperfectly) once again.
Life is not measured by the times we stumble and fall, but by the times we get back up, repent, and take the next step forward.
That, I think, is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments…
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