Monday, June 9, 2014

The Perfectionist Preaches.

My boss asked me the other day, "Is it possible for your greatest strength to be your greatest weakness?"  Of course.  I, Rebekah Michele Hood, am living and breathing proof.  I am a perfectionist, but more like a perfectionist on steroids.

This is embarrassingly accurate.
I hold myself to a high standard, and while my work ethic has ensured success in my endeavors, it has also become a curse.  I am accustomed to being told that my work is excellent.  I don't mean to sound snotty, but it's true — my mom is proud of my accomplishments and tells me so; my childhood "award" book is bursting at the seams; my school teachers keep my work as models for future students; my sister went as far to tell me that I was like Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way."  As you can imagine, the pressure was on.

While I'm flattered, and I appreciate the endless support, such praise has, in a way, doomed me.  I am far from perfect, and yet, I strive for perfection because I feel as if that's what everybody else expects. For the longest time, "Be ye therefore perfect" meant be perfect or you can kiss celestial glory "goodbye!" Even now, what others might deem "good enough," to me, means failure.  But because I am an imperfect being, disappointments and frustrations come often, as it is impossible for me to reach my unrealistic standards.  

So, what can I do?  How can I convince myself that my best effort is good enough?  I found council and hope from Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "Notwithstanding My Weakness."  I know that I work diligently.  I know that I strive to be a good person.  But like Elder Maxwell says, I "have recurring feelings of falling forever short."  I know that I stand before no more harsh a judge than myself.  Turning to the scriptures, however, shows us gradual growth.  We see the gradual growth of our prophets, great leaders we desire to emulate, and even our Savior who "received not of the fulness at first, but received grace for grace" (D&C 93:12).  The invitation to become perfect is a long journey, filled with many pitfalls.

C.S. Lewis writes, "God's demand for perfect need not discourage you in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures.  Each time you fall, He will pick you up again.  And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.  On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal."

We cannot achieve perfection in this mortal existence, and our Savior is aware of this truth.  But he does not condemn us for our failure to achieve perfection, nor does he shun us.  On the contrary, he expects our best, and when we fall short, he "can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care." Satan would have us believe that we will forever be inadequate — he encourages self-contempt, self-pity, and self-disdain.  If we operate under this mindset, discouragement will be our constant companion.  Our motivation to do good will be destroyed.

The Savior shows us another way — a path that is empowering and hopeful.  While we must continually make efforts to improve ourselves, let us acknowledge the progress we have already made and our personal growth! When we truly give our best, we must remember that this effort is all that is asked of us.  The widow cast in her two mites, and while the monetary value of her contribution was not substantial, it was all that she had, and therefore, she lived with satisfaction knowing that her best effort was gratefully accepted by the Lord.  The Savior encourages paced progress, and he acknowledges that "following celestial road signs while in telestial traffic jams is not easy." If we try to go too fast, we'll stall and break down.  While we strive for perfection, we must remember that it's a process of becoming.  We are constant Christians, rather than instant Christians.  If we can remember these things, if we truly give our best, if we realize that we are adequate...precious, in fact, in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, how sweet the day will be when we stand before our Master, and he declares, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21)!

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