Relief Society Lesson Plan “Be Ye Therefore Perfect — Eventually” by Jeffrey Holland

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

First off, let me say that this is an important topic and a great talk.

Elder Holland begins by saying that sometimes, for some people, the Lord’s commandment to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect,” can be intimidating or even paralyzing.

Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. One insightful Latter-day Saint, Sister Darla Isackson, has observed that Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making.

Have any of you experienced this feeling of not measuring up, not being enough or have known other LDS people who have? Raise your hands if you’re familiar with these feelings.

I’ll never forget my husband telling me once about a couple in our ward. The man, Jim, was teaching Elders Quorum and mentioned that his good kind wife Julie felt like she just wasn’t going to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. Jim was baffled — he himself was confident he would make it — after all, he did his home teaching nearly every month. When my husband told me this story — especially the part about the home teaching –we chuckled. The confidence!The irony!  While Jim was, I’m sure, a good enough guy and a serious rule-stickler, Julie had the reputation of being an absolute saint, always ready to reach out and help wherever it was needed. We both wished that we could somehow assure Julie that she was terrific, awesome, and seriously, she had nothing to worry about. From a distance,, we could see how wonderful Julie was. But Julie herself felt like she wasn’t measuring up.

Elder Holland connects these feelings particularly to scriptural injunctions to be perfect. Can you think of other reasons why people (often women, in my experience) feel like they just aren’t good enough?

How have you (or they) dealt with these feelings? What words of advice would you give your younger self, or perhaps a beloved friend, dealing with feelings of not being good enough? 

 

Elder Holland has advice for those who suffer and stress over not being good enough, saying “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. That is not what the Lord wants for Primary children or anyone else who honestly sings, ‘I’m trying to be like Jesus.’”

Elder Holland recommends keeping in mind that:

a) perfection is not something that can be achieved in this world. (This is a good point. But if that’s the case, What type of perfection should you be seeking in this life? what kind of perfection ought you to be beholding yourself to?)

b) we can only find perfection through Christ’s grace — which we can never earn. It’s a gift. He says, “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.”

To illustrate this point, Holland recounted a parable of Christ about a servant whose king forgave him a debt of 10,000 talents (an astronomical, almost unimaginable sum). This same servant turned around and would not forgive the debt of a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence. The king was upset that the servant had not treated another with compassion over this small debt, when he himself had forgiven the servant a fortune.

Holland’s punchline:

Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.

In other words, Holland advises us to be compassionate with ourselves. Yes, try to improve, try to be kind, try to forgive and repent, but God doesn’t expect the kind of perfection that God and Christ embody. Don’t have unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. If you’re honestly trying to walk a good and righteous path, then that is enough. He says, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.” 

Do any of you have any anecdotes from your own life about falling short and coming to terms with that? About learning perspective, patience, and compassion toward yourself or others who are not perfect?

I’ve personally had to learn self-compassion and patience towards myself. About 8 years ago I had the epiphany that I needed to become a vegetarian. It wasn’t a welcome realization, but it was the strongest moment in my life where I felt that I needed to utterly change my life. In religious language, I felt it was a moment where God was clearly calling me to change. It was awful and depressing. The first time I went to Whole Foods and came back with almond milk and fake bacon I cried as I carried the groceries in.  Those first 5 years I fell off the wagon many times and even abandoned the wagon for a couple of years in there. But two years ago I buckled down and have made great strides. I still eat fish so I’m not a true vegetarian, and every 3 or 4 months I take a bite of chicken, but that’s still a major stride forward. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and not beat myself up too much for not being 100%. I tell people I’m on the 20 year plan toward vegetarianism (or if I shoot for the moon, veganism), and honestly, I think God must be seriously impressed with me. Rather than being disappointed when I fall short on this, I figure my Heavenly Parents are pretty pleased and astounded that I have done this well.

What do you think God’s attitude or feeling is to you when you make mistakes? Angry? Disappointed? Philosophical?

For me, the idea of God as loving, patient parents is helpful to me. I doubt my Heavenly Parents are expecting perfection at this stage, just as I don’t expect perfection from my kids. Sometimes my kids make pretty big mistakes, but as long as they learn from them, say they are sorry, pick themselves up and try to be more kind, it’s ok.  I figure that’s God’s attitude toward us.

How do we strike the right balance between not berating ourselves for messing up sometimes and also holding ourselves to a high standard? What are realistic standards for yourself or others? What are the overriding principles/attributes you hope to cultivate in yourselves? Why do you think those ones are so important? 

My overriding principles are concern, compassion, and justice. If I can do a decent job of living up to those principles, I’ll be pretty happy with myself at the end of my life. I think those are the qualities I associate most with Jesus.

Last thoughts: I like to think of Jesus’s words to us in the New Testament. “Love others as you love yourself.” In that short phrase I see an injunction to love myself. I am to love myself as I love others. Part of that, I think, is to not beat myself up for my shortcomings and failures. It’s to not get down on myself because I’m not ______ enough. Part of loving myself is to have patience with myself and realize that I’m in process.  I’m experiencing things, I’m messing up, but I’m learning. And that’s the point.

As always, the inimitable Chieko Okazaki has wise words for us on this topic. She, I think, makes great points about the importance of doing, acting, moving forward, even if that forward movement inevitably leads to missteps. After all, good and important things can arise out of  messiness and failure.

Let me remind you of another great kitchen proverb: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” To me, that proverb gives us permission to take a chance, to risk a little, to make a mistake. Sometimes we want so badly to do everything just right that our desire for perfection paralyzes us. Well, if we’re not moving, we can’t get closer to our goal. I don’t think that the Lord is hovering over us just waiting to pounce on us if we make a mistake. Instead, I think he’s behind us, giving us a gentle nudge and saying, “Take one step. That’s good. Now take another.”

 

 

 

 

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Excellent lesson! Thank you, Caroline!

  2. Melinda Roth says:

    Thank you so much! You’ve helped me out a bunch. It’s my first time teaching by the “come follow me” way and I’ve been super nervous. You’ve totally lightened my stress load. You’re awesome!

  3. Brittany says:

    “For me, the idea of God as loving, patient parents is helpful to me. I doubt my Heavenly Parents are expecting perfection at this stage, just as I don’t expect perfection from my kids.”

    Thank you for this insight! When I was growing up, I saw God as a strict, harsh father who punished people for sinning. This understanding of an unconditionally loving and patient parent has been so fundamental to my spiritual growth, and I love its applicability in this lesson. To our Heavenly Parents, we really are just children struggling with the basics. If a child was learning to write the alphabet for the first time and wrote the letter “e” backwards, their parent wouldn’t berate them for failure but gently help them try again. Even if the child made the same mistake over and over, the loving and patient parent would continue to make gentle corrections with the big picture in mind. A parent doesn’t just want a child to learn their letters; they want their child to grow and learn how to compose great, meaningful works of writing.

    I love thinking about our Heavenly Parents this way. They don’t just want to raise children who can do what they’re told perfectly–they want us to grow into magnificent, compassionate beings, and trial and error and learning from mistakes are a huge part of that growth. Rather than berate us for failure, they are so, so ready to help us learn and try again.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this lesson! I love the thought-provoking questions.

  4. Dani Addante says:

    Great lesson! Thank you!

  5. Annie says:

    Thank you for this! It helps me a lot. One thing I have been t hinting about as I prepare my lesson/discussion is that we sometimes get wrapped up in the appearance of perfection and not really pursuing the values we need to work on. We may be fooled into thinking others are perfect because their house is decorated like a magazine, everything in order all the time, maybe others are more fit, more stylish or appear to be more intelligent, more well spoken… what have you. We in turn may be fooled into thinking that we are not perfect until we look like our neighbors, act like our neighbors. When in fact, of course, everyone puts their best foot forward and we are just comparing their best with our worst. No one in this scenario has accomplished perfection. All we have accomplished by comparing is to run ourselves ragged and drive ourselves and our family crazy in the pursuit of appearing perfect.Christ did not tell us to give him a facade of perfection or an outward veneer of perfection that is only skin deep.

Leave a Reply