of Perfect is one that often weighs on my mind. I think it is one of those
words that is defined by the Lord in one way but used in a different way by our
current society. Some speak it with adoration describing something so beautiful
and wonderful it is beyond description. For others, it brings fear of
overwhelming and unattainable standards. In trying to find a way to enjoy the
beauty of perfection without being crushed by it, I’ve started to distinguish
Perfectionism from actual Perfection.
I used to be
excited about my perfectionism. I enjoyed designing the perfect masterpiece,
doing the very best I could, or even performing the perfect experiment using
all the proper controls and not forgetting a step so that everything would work
just as it was supposed to do. I could focus for hours on what I wanted to
accomplish, excited about the final product, and also thrilled when there was a
problem to solve for it kept my mind fully engaged on something worthwhile and
wonderful. I would get a tremendous rush when I finished something I was proud
of, and that got me a good grade, but somehow, as I grew up, all of these
things turned into a burden.
noticed that I could not be as fully engaged in my projects as I wanted to
because there were so many of them. Mother’s with full lives, however, cannot
cut out everything. There are so many things to try and do perfectly. I became
impatient with myself for not moving faster, doing more, being better. The
pictures in my head, my dreams of what I wanted to accomplish, seemed so far
away. Problems were no longer exciting puzzles, but more indications that I
lacked ability or talent. I couldn’t do anything the way it should be done.
Eventually, projects became so daunting that I would abandon them. I was afraid
sermon in Matthew chapter 5 he says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your
Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This seems like a very tall order. In
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we emphasize that faith
without works is dead and we do tend to keep ourselves very busy. However,
defining Perfect, or Faith, or Value according to what I could do had
become my problem.
Nelson taught in a 1995 General Conference that the word perfect in this
scripture was translated from the Greek word telios meaning complete,
finished, fully developed. He continued by saying, “Please note that the word
does not imply ‘freedom from error’; it implies ‘achieving a distant
objective.’” In 2017, Elder Holland taught us to “strive for steady improvement
without obsessing over…’toxic perfectionism.’” We are to look forward to
perfection, to be patient and forgiving of shortcomings for we are not yet
While I love
these messages, and I do try to be more patient and gentler with myself, I
still get frustrated. About a year ago, I looked around and noticed I had not
finished anything in a very long time. I had started various projects and
worked intermittently on them, but never completed them. And I realized that
one of the fears of Perfectionism is that you won’t reach the end unless you do
everything right. Where is my hope to come from that I will reach that “distant
objective” if I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do?
again, determined to finish my goals, even if they still held errors. I simply
wanted to finish because I thought these small things would be my progress
markers and boost my confident that I could do larger ones. I told myself, Christen,
just finish something-even if it’s flawed, it will be done. And I couldn’t.
I found that my efforts never met my expectations of what I wanted, and thus
held me back from getting any joy from any accomplishment. Were my standards
too high? Did I need to lower my dreams, accept less from myself, just so I
could finish something that didn’t make me happy anyway? I took a long look at
what was actually holding me back. This is when I really started to see the
difference between Perfectionism and actual Perfection.
The fear of
Perfectionism still held me back because I kept thinking about what other
people would say. When I presented my finished product, what would be my grade?
Would they see my errors? I realized that I was trying to prove myself,
individually, to others who were outside waiting to judge me. Perfectionism is
very disconnecting. We are like neighbors throwing things at each other over a
fence. I, striving to meet the expectations thrown at me, throw my projects
out, only to have them thrown back with criticism or praise, probably a mixture
of both. But I am never with my neighbors—we never actually work
together. I work by myself and then await the judgement. And they do the same
in their own way, in their own yard.
part of the intercessory prayer, found in John 17:21-23, is when Jesus pleads
with the Father, “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I
in thee, that they also may be one in us;…that they may be made perfect in
one.” As I have thought about all of this, I have come to the conclusion that
Perfection and Unity go together hand in hand. I cannot be whole if I allow
others to dictate what I should do at the expense of my own yearnings. Neither
can I be whole without true compassion, the ability to learn from others such
that they can fill the holes left from my own limitations. No one can be truly
Perfect alone. The final achievement of this is after this life when we are
reunited with God and loved ones in a way that cannot be fully accomplished
here. That is our distant objective. Yet, we can find unity here and now and
thus have the assurance that we are going the right way.
approached my projects again with a determination to finish them and do it
correctly—not by looking for flaws but by looking for unity. What is the
motivation behind this goal? What is the purpose of this project? Am I trying
to create something I can hold up to others or am I trying to connect with
myself means that the goal must be mine and mine alone. That is not to say that
my goals are selfish or that I’ve completely cut myself off from others.
Rather, seeking someone’s praise is very different from seeking to help them or
to be their friend. I make an effort to involve others in my goal. Asking for
advice, learning from them. While their input changes the appearance of the
final product and the methods to achieve it, the end goal is the same. And it’s
easier to have patience when you can feel that it is working.
Unity is love, peace, patience, understanding, joy, strength, and
friendship. Doesn’t that sound Perfect.