Sunday, March 15, 2015

Perfectionism and Faith


I have struggled with the need to be perfect in my religion since I was a little child. I thought I had to be perfect in keeping God's commandments so I could go to the Celestial Kingdom (Heaven) and be worthy of His love. But, when I knelt to pray every night I was filled with an embarrassing and demoralizing recollection of all the ways I had messed up and fell short of my lofty goal. Perfectionism had damaged my relationship with Heavenly Father and my self image. 

It was during my Senior year of high school that I finally realized I had a problem. I hadn't recognized perfectionism's extent in my life before. Now that I was aware of it, I was at an even greater loss for how to change. Stumbling across this passage one day in my Seminary class was a little answer to my prayers.

If you want context on how this passage fits in with Paul's epistle, read Philippians 3:7-10; it really helps! I would copy and paste it but I don't want to freak you out with the length of my spiel. 
In those verses above, Paul's basically saying that every earthly thing he has gained in his life really doesn't mean anything to him. Because, in the grand scheme of things, it's not important so long as he has Christ and His resurrection.
But here's the AWESOME passage:
Philippians 3: 12-15
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
I learned back then what I continue to remind myself of now: this is the attitude I'm supposed to have in the Gospel. I do not have to act and am not responsible to act as through I have already obtained perfection. I have not obtained the resurrection of the just, as Paul said in verse 11. That is the only time and way I will ever be perfect. But, I "follow after", that I can become like Christ.
This is what we are supposed to do: we are meant to "forget...those things which are behind, and reach... forth unto those things which are ahead." This is EXACTLY what we are meant to do when we make mistakes. We aren't supposed to beat ourselves up about and dwell on them. When we do that, we only continue to live in the past and we can't progress. We're stuck.
Instead, we "press toward the mark for the prize" - the wonderful opportunity to become like Christ.
"Be thus minded..." and then, if we have that attitude in the gospel, "God shall reveal even this unto you". He will reveal His mysteries to us.
How blessed I am to have a God who does not care about perfection! He has already provided the perfect life for my salvation through His Son. He has given me the perfect opportunity to learn and grow; this life is a safe environment to experiment, fall, and then use His hand to pick myself up again. That is how my mortal experiment is meant to be viewed. It is the chance to press forward unto Christ and fail many times because His passion (aka atonement) has made me safe.
When we are blessed with this outlook, life becomes so much easier. We better understand why we are asked to be obedient as a disciple: it is not to prove or justify our salvation, but only to seize the wonderful chance to become more like Him. It changes our prayers from a dreaded time of guilt and inadequacy to a moment of peace, trust and joy in repentance with my Father. It makes all the difference in our relationship with Him.
I promise that our Heavenly Father will one day make us perfect through the power of the passion/atonement of Christ. I take great hope in that promise. But the resurrection has not happened yet. Instead, I am filled with joy when I realize that my job now, as Brad Wilcox once said, "We are not earning heaven, we are learning heaven."

5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Thank you for your comments. I think it's important for us to remember that we don't need to be perfect. If we are striving for perfection, we are striving to better ourselves and become more like our Savior. We can never be perfect, like He is, but we can learn and grow and become more like Him through our actions and service to others. We have a loving Father in Heaven who is there for us, He knows us and cares about us. We will make mistakes in the life, but the important thing is how we learn from our mistakes and become better.

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  3. This is a great article. I think a lot of us struggle with perfectionism and think it means never making a mistake in this life ever and then beating ourselves up if we do. But as you wrote, God doesn't want us to beat ourselves up. He just wants us to repent and keep pressing forward. Someday in the next life we will be perfect but right now, we just do the best we can and become better in the gospel and through the Atonement.

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  4. Thank you. I agree that we should not be hard on ourselves when we fall short, for it only leads to doing worse. Not to mention, God judges us based upon our effort-level. If we do our best to do our best, then one day in the next life, we will be perfect in the sense that we do not sin. Until then, however, we can be perfect in Christ, meaning that we can be without sin in a different way, that is, each time we repent our sins are washed away.

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  5. I really like the sentence which says, " I do not have to act and am not responsible to act as through I have already obtained perfection." It really outlines how we as human beings are not supposed to get caught up in acting as if we have obtained a certain degree of glory in this life, but more as learners and repenters to become perfect and live the best we can to become so.

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