Liahona
When God’s Definition of Progress Is Different Than Your Own
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Digital Only: Young Adults

When God’s Definition of Progress Is Different Than Your Own

I had to learn to look at growth and progress in a new way.

Sister Missionaries Star Idaho

Photograph by Susan Thomas

I distinctly remember trying to fall asleep on the top bunk in our studio apartment at the end of my first day with my new companion. She was a new missionary—a fireball for sure—and I was her terrified, inexperienced trainer.

I was still a new missionary myself, and to say that I felt overwhelmed was an understatement. The task of navigating the downtown streets of our inner-city area on public transportation felt massive to me. The pressure to build our teaching pool and develop relationships with the members seemed overwhelming. And even though I did my best to make good decisions, my new companion and I often disagreed, and we struggled to get along. It seemed like we were polar opposites, and I became discouraged.

I wanted so badly to just be a good missionary. But things were not going the way I had imagined they would, and I was frustrated.

A Humbling Epiphany

In the mornings when my companion was in the shower, I spent my alone time kneeling at the folding chair by my desk. One morning as I prayed, I pridefully expressed to Heavenly Father that I couldn’t help but feel that my companion was holding me back from being the missionary I wanted to be.

Then came the humbling epiphany I wasn’t expecting: My companion was not holding me back from being the missionary God wanted me to be. In actuality, being her companion was helping me become the missionary He wanted me to be.

The imperfections and challenges I was facing, though frustrating, were not holding me back. They were helping me to change and grow and progress—not in the way I wanted for myself, but in the way God wanted for me.

Progress in Imperfection

Mortality can be incredibly frustrating at times, and that certainly isn’t unique to missionaries. So many things about life are imperfect, and it can be easy for us to view these imperfections as obstacles that seem to be getting in the way of us reaching the perfection we seek.

But the thing is, experiencing imperfection is a valuable aspect of God’s plan.

Progress doesn’t come from living in perfect circumstances. That’s why this life is the ideal environment for us to reach our full potential. As Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once put it, the opposition we face is what gives us “the spiritual traction” we need to move forward and become what we are meant to become.1 It’s perfectly imperfect.

God’s Definition of Progress

Now, whenever I feel frustrated with the imperfections of life, I think back to my time as a new trainer and try to remember that God’s definition of progress is sometimes different than my own. I often see my progress as accomplishing certain goals, checking things off my list, and reaching big milestones. But Heavenly Father sees progress differently.

I believe that oftentimes God cares less about the outcome and more about the growth we experience along the way—the Christlike attributes we develop, the challenges we overcome, and the things we learn about ourselves and Him and the world around us.

And the amazing thing about Heavenly Father’s plan is that even when bad things happen to us, He can use them for our good. Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God.”2

Perfection in Christ

Most importantly, God measures our progress by our closeness to Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. As Elder Michael John U. Teh of the Seventy said, “We need to recognize that knowing the Savior is the most important pursuit of our lives.”3 As we strive to serve those around us, obey the commandments, keep our covenants, and carve out time to develop a personal relationship with Him, we are making progress—the progress that matters most—regardless of our circumstances. Ultimately, we must strive to accept Moroni’s invitation to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32), for that is the only way perfection and progress can really be attained.

So when I feel like circumstances beyond my control are holding me back, I remember this: It might just be that these circumstances are enabling me to become the person God intends for me to become. My imperfect situation might just be the perfect opportunity to draw closer to Him and the perfection He offers.