Sunday, July 14, 2013

Readers Questions Answered: How to be Perfect

Thanks for all of the question I have received. I have enjoyed reading them and look forward to getting to them all. If you have a question for me please send them to

Be sure to let me know if you wish to remain anonymous.

Onward and upward then.

Dear AWV,

I have a friend who has been very down lately (which is not typical for them). I don't want to stir the pot, but I am worried about them. I finally talked to them the other night and they told me that they just want to give up on the whole dating thing, and the whole church thing too. I asked if their testimony was gone and they said that they just didn't have the energy to be perfect anymore. What advice should I give to my friend? I don't think giving up is the right way to go, but I don't know what else to say because all of the Sunday school answers seem so lame. 


A concerned friend

Dear "Friend",

I totally identify with where your friend is coming from. I was actually having this discussion with a friend of mine the other day. The problem is that being "perfect" is that it is impossible. The problem with thinking it is possible is that it makes you miserable. 

The issue we sometimes find in the church is that there are people walking around telling you that even though it is impossible, you should be "trying" to achieve it anyway. These people are right in one sense. If we are talking from an eternal perspective then yes, eventually we will all have to be perfect to achieve eternal glory and so on. However, (and this is the part many people miss, including myself) As far as I can tell, God has not placed a timeline or expiration date for when this achievement must take place.

Every single person on this planet is a unique individual with their own separate set of struggles and short comings. In fact, it would appear that one of the only common threads we share is that we are all really good at messing up. I think part of the problem here is the sort of black and white thinking that seems to be a common thread among any devote member of any particular belief system. 

We start to see the world as either "All Good" or "All Bad". I don't know what it is about Mormons, and maybe devote people in general, but they don't do well with shades of grey.

No no, that kid of grey. I know plenty of Mormon house wives that are perfectly fine with that particular shade of grey.

In the matter of spiritual and lifestyle and righteous vs. sinful action, I think shades of grey bother people because we have been taught that grey is where the devil lives and lies in wait to drag us slowly to hell. In a way I can see what I think they are trying to say. I think what they must mean is that there are rules, and when you start to justify why you aren't living them, then you are living in that grey world of "I will interpret the gospel as it suits me"...picking and choosing from the commandments like they are a buffet. In this sense, grey becomes something they create instead of something that already exists. 

Nobody will achieve perfection in this life. Nobody. And as such, perfection is not a state a being, it is a process. It is not the house we live in, it is the house we are building.
Perfection is not an all or nothing thing, it is a good, better, best thing. And then to take it a step further, it is also a subjective thing. Your good, better, and best, are not the same as my good, better, and best, because I am not you and you are not me. I don't know what you have had to endure in your life emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, socially, maternally, biochemically, and so forth; and because I don't know what has gone into making you YOU, then it is impossible for me to say where and what and how and when God expects perfection from you.

Look at it this way.

We are all soup.

I don't know what kind of soup you are exactly because I haven't been privy to all of the ingredients that have gone into making you.

Sometimes people would have us believe that God wants us all to be Chicken Noodle soup. If we believe these people then we will spend our whole lives trying to make ourselves Chicken Noodle, and then when we do a little taste test and realize that we are a far cry from anything Chicken Noodley, we get depressed and frustrated and have the inclination to pour the whole mixture down the drain.

But may I suggest that what God wants from us, is not specifically and exclusively Chicken Noodle, but rather, what God wants is for us to be the best version of whatever kind of soup we happen to be. God wants to be able to serve us a 5 star fine dining establishment, but He never said that only Chicken Noodle was worthy of such an honer.

God alone knows what went into your soup. He knows the ingredients you have been given, and He alone knows if you are personally making the best with what you have been given.

So let's say one person is given water, potatoes, and an onion, while another is given cream, steak, fresh veggies, and a pantry of spices. And now let's say both have been working with these ingredients for 30 years, with perhaps some additions. If the person who has been given less compares their soup to the one who has been given more, then they are more than likely going to feel like their soup is crap and that they are falling short. Conversely, it appears like it is quite common place for the one who has been given more to look at what the one who has been given less is offering and become quite proud and pleased with themselves, along with being very condescending and critical of the person with less than.  

Both parties are being less productive.

Any chef knows that creating a good soup is a process. Any chef could also tell you that the quality of ingredients available to are going to heavily influence the number of options you have when deciding what kind of soup you will make. The chef with the entire pantry would be an ignorant jerk to judge or condemn the chef who had only been given water and potatoes. But again, the problem here is that we don't know what ingredients everyone else is working with. It's's like.....

That's it!

It's a mystery basket. Except for in this case, everyone's basket of ingredients is different. But at the end of the day, you aren't cooking for anyone but God, and again, only God knows the ingredients you were given. If we were all given the exact same ingredients then mayyyyyyybe one could make a case for one fixed ideal of cooking perfection......but we didn't.

When our lives end, when we leave this life, we will stand before God with our meager yet genuine soup offerings. Some of us might be a creamy tomato bisque, while others might be a spicy Thai curry, some of us might have a soup far less spectacular in comparison to the culinary delights surrounding us, but you know doesn't matter. 

God isn't judging your soup off of what your neighbor, brother, mother, wife, co-worker, elders quorum president, prophet, or mail man offered. He is taking your soup on it's own merits and based off of the ingredients that were available to YOU. As long as you did something with what you were long as you legitimately tried to make more than that which you began with, (Which by the way...AGAIN...Only GOD will know), then your offering will be pleasing to Him. 

So if anyone tells you that you should be chicken noodle, then politely tell them that they are basing their judgements off of their own mystery basket, and that yourself and God are going to perfect your own recipe, in your own time, and in your own way. 

I may not know what kind of soup I'm going to end up as, but whatever it is, it is going to be delicious. 


  1. If I may suggest a simplified form of your explanation, AWV:

    I do agree with it, but perhaps slightly differently. I have been referred to as a Rule Nazi in a lot of cases, but I'm definitely not perfect when it comes to following the laws God has given us. As you say, no one is.

    So, my simplified way is a quote I've heard a few times from different sources.

    "I'd rather be five steps (or five minutes) from Hell, heading towards Heaven, than five steps (or minutes) from Heaven, heading towards Hell."

    To support that, my favorite conference talk of all time, I think by President Uchdorf (I'm not even sure I spelled his name right), says to work on one area at a time and perfect that. Daily prayers, for example. If you are obedient in that commandment, that is, praying earnestly daily in the morning and evening, then you are perfect in that sphere. I actually made a brief FHE lesson out of this concept using old school LEGO blocks for imagery. Each additional sphere, or area, we become perfect in is one more step on a literal stairway to Heaven.

    Christ doesn't expect us to be perfect overnight. In fact, the lesson I had in Sunday School yesterday touched on this briefly. Someone commented that they think that Christ is more interested in the direction we're going and our progress than where we're actually at. Therefore, as you said, it is very much a process, and a life-long one at that. As long as we are putting forth our best effort, doing what we can within what we know, Christ will make up the rest with His Atonement.

    1. I get where you're coming from, and while spiritually your points are valid for you, it's more of a cultural norm that is the culprit,at least from my perspective,and for women especially. There is a pressure for perfection that exists culturally among LDS church members(esp in the 'Mormon belt'..ut,id,az,nv,ca).It is damaging self-esteem,testimonies and relationships all through the church. Many women have an all or nothing philosophy, touched on by AWV, that if we aren't 'perfect' we have no value. If we aren't the cutest, most fit, most fashionable, smartest, most talented, most spiritual girl in the room we won't get married. This myth damages us to the core because NO ONE FITS INTO IT. It's been created, perpetuated and cemented in culture. It is not doctrinally accurate in any way, shape or form. For a single woman, we feel this is why we aren't married. 'If I was more like this, or this, surely someone would pick me from obscurity and choose me for his own.' The older I've gotten, the more I'm able to see it for what it is, but it is culturally pervasive. Once they ARE married, they feel that now they are responsible for maintaining perfection to the outside in no problems, no faults, no weakness..everything is hunky dory and my life is great! If it wasn't, it would mean I'm not 'blessed' for my obedience, so I must be doing something wrong (ie unrighteous). That's why 'keeping up with the joneses' is so prevalent in Mormon culture. It's why Utah has one of the highest-it was while I was living there-bankruptcy rates in the US, is a plastic surgery mecca, and the use of antidepressants is also high. These are all cultural effects of the false idea of perfection, not doctrinal. I'm from Las Vegas and while there is some of the above here, it's not nearly compared to what I saw when I was going to school in Salt Lake and living in Utah County. This idea is also not as pervasive in other parts of the country and is practically nonexistent in other parts of the world. (From what I can tell in my travels).
      For me, the word 'Perfect' means whole. It means balanced. It means peace and accessing the atonement and being grateful every day for grace and hope. It means trying and making mistakes and loving myself and other people anyway,especially if they aren't perfect. Not even at prayers or tithing or going to church every week or not swearing or not watching r rated movies..which according to your philosophy is kind of where I think you are going. And it may work for a lot of people. But for me, the pressure of being 'perfect' (in the way we define it as a culture) even at one thing, is too much. It kind of makes it sound like once you are there, there's no room for error..and when you do mess up, then you aren't perfect any more, so what happens then? Repenting for not being perfect seems counter-intuitive to me.He already knows I'm not perfect. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from. I'm not saying your position isn't doctrinally accurate.I'd have to research and find out for myself.But for me,as a recovering perfectionist, it doesn't help me feel those fruits of the spirit we talk about in Galatians.While I agree with you that Christ doesn't expect us to be perfect overnight, in my head perfection means whole. And I won't be perfect until I'm resurrected. I won't even be remotely close here, even if I'm 100% at all the examples I listed above. I recommend the talk "His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox if you haven't seen it/read it already. It puts the idea of perfection in an entirely different light.Please know that I don't see your view as 'wrong' because it works for you and helps you grow and progress and you feel good about it. I just have had to find a different way of looking at it that helps me do the same. Thanks, AWV, for the discussion!