Do you constantly feel like you’re falling short? Do you spend hours trying to get something exactly right or, worse, spend hours waiting to begin because you believe your efforts won’t measure up? You could be struggling with perfectionism.
One more quick question: is your spirit currently housed in your resurrected body? If so, feel free to move right along. Nothing to read here. But if not, then this message is for you. Because no matter how righteous your daily actions are (or aren’t), no matter your grade point average, family life, or career, if you’re still in mortality, then you are still a work in progress.
President Russell M. Nelson once taught something he learned while studying the original Greek text of the New Testament alongside the English translation. He was looking for instances of the word perfect.
One scripture that seems to discourage many is Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And yet, significantly, the original Greek text did not refer to being sinless or error-free.
President Nelson then gave a profound example of this truth: “Just prior to his crucifixion, [Jesus Christ] said that on ‘the third day I shall be perfected.’ Think of that! The sinless, errorless Lord—already perfect by our mortal standards—proclaimed his own state of perfection yet to be in the future. His eternal perfection would follow his resurrection.’”2
Even so, it’s a common tendency to set aside our need for divine help and attempt to go it alone and live error-free. When we do, we inevitably fall short.
Behavioral scientists describe perfectionism as “a fast and enduring track to unhappiness.” And it’s true! Perfectionism is a thief of happiness and satisfaction. It steals your self-esteem, makes your best efforts feel wildly insufficient, and can put you on an endless grind of attempting more than is possible.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t ‘earn’ it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”3
Are you your own worst enemy? Do you know how to toss yourself into a ditch better than anybody else? Well, stop it! Instead, start inviting that “grace of Christ” into your life to find the assistance you need.
In this fallen world, there will never be a shortage of voices willing to tell you that you’re not measuring up one way or another. You don’t need to add yourself to that list of critics.
It’s time to be a little easier on yourself. Strive for improvement, yes, but please also remember the following counsel from Elder Holland: “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.”4
If you find this easier said than done, consider starting with some practice.
Ultimately, this life is too short to feel like you’re constantly messing up. President Nelson said it best: “We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!”5
As a work in progress, your complete perfection comes not until the next life. Meanwhile, simply keep doing the best you can. You’ll get there with the Lord’s help and in the Lord’s time.