The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 3

The Perfect Mormon

A member of the church who wishes to remain anonymous sent me the following:

I used to think I was normal. I am almost certain I started out as a normal little girl. I wanted to please my parents. I wanted to do what is right. I had the personality that was assertive and very aggressive, goal oriented. I craved making goals and then completing them. It gave me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, even when I was very young. Even in early school years, I recall being a devoted list maker.

I was raised by loving parents in a devoted Mormon family. As the seventh child, the highly organized routine of faithful living was already well established when I entered the scene. Every day of my life started out with individual prayer, scripture reading and family prayer. Every week was filled with Family Home Evenings, church meetings, and almost always a dinner with the local missionaries. My mother was also a list maker, and she religiously applied this habit to the belief system. It made perfect sense to do so. For in Mormonism, one is judged according to their works, and the line-upon-line, precept upon precept principle applied in ones progression towards exaltation.

I loved it. I, being the goal maker that I was, had stumbled upon the ultimate goal: perfection. And it was possible! According to our scriptures and our doctrine, perfection, becoming as a god, was an attainable goal. And not only attainable, but the most worthy and lofty goal of all. I mapped out a plan. I charted a course. And I set out on the great and awesome adventure of becoming perfect.

I started with the basics. After all, these were easy enough to do given the family environment I was living in. Pray daily. Read scriptures. Follow the Word of Wisdom. Attend church. The daily lists were formed and marked off as each goal was accomplished. As I grew older the lists grew longer and success remained attainable if I maintained the proper discipline. And discipline was a necessity if I wanted to become perfect. Magnify my calling. Love my neighbor. Attend BYU where I would be surrounded by others who could help me achieve my goals. Serve others. Date worthy young men. Marry in the temple.

I got married in the temple. To a worthy young man capable and prepared to assist me on my way up the rungs of perfection. My lists were always being built upon, as each goal was a task that needed to be repeated on a daily basis. Perfection was, after all, a compilation of perfectly completed little goals. Among the goals I set and achieved was having children. I soon discovered that these precious little goals made my job of perfection inherently more difficult by compounding my daily tasks.

But I maintained my list. I WAS going to be the most perfect person I could be.

Because of my goal and detail oriented personality, I was given prominent leadership responsibilities in the church at a very young age.

I found myself changing as my responsibilities increased. My eye for perfection was causing a critical outlook difference. I had learned to be a weakness exterminator. In every venue, in every aspect, I was the great finder of all that was flawed so that it could be eradicated. The flaw had, out of necessity, become the focal point. And the positive aspects were diminished. It was harder and harder for me to stay focused on the positive which was needed for my emotional and spiritual health and still have the capacity and strength to pluck out the obvious imperfections I was finding everywhere.

I didn’t like what I was becoming.

I felt overwhelmed. I felt tired. Very tired. I maintained my task lists. I wondered if it would kill me. I vowed to persevere. I was, after all, on a quest for perfection and this was not a quest for the faint of weak of heart.

Until I had a breakthrough. I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was 24 years old. I had three young children. Ages 3,2, and 1. My husband was out of town on business as he frequently was during this time of our lives. I had put the children to bed. My perfect children were sleeping in their perfect beds. In their perfect rooms where everything was in order. I sat in my living room reading my scriptures for the day and planning the Sunday school lesson for my young women as I was the Young Women’s president at the time. I was in a state of total exhaustion. I looked around at my perfect life and I felt nothing but drained. Perfection was affording me no sense of satisfaction. The lists were the same, every day, and they had to be redone every day. There was no sense of completion.

I gave in to my fatigue. I stared in horror at my own flaws. It didn’t matter how much I was doing, or how well intentioned I was. I was still imperfect. I observed that the closer I got to perfection, the less happy I was. I was not happy. I wondered what I was doing wrong (of course that was my first response, I was trained to pluck out the error). Wasn’t perfection supposed to bring happiness? Wasn’t God perfect? Was he this unhappy as well? Why did I feel tired? And alone? Had I missed the dance class where the two step line/precept was taught? How could I maintain a grasp on the positive as I rooted out imperfection? And why had this penchant for imperfection extermination become so prominent?

I took a good long look at where I was, and what kind of person I had become. My accomplishments were tremendous. Everything I had touched in my life had been done to the very best of my abilities. I had been the perfect student. I was the perfect wife and mother. I had followed my belief system without failing. And I realized that being a perfectionist oriented person in a perfection oriented belief system had created an absolutely unbalanced mental drive.

But there it sat. That realization that it didn’t matter how much I did, I was not ever going to be perfect. Despite all of my efforts towards that goal, I was still going to be a flawed individual. And so was everyone else. That inadequacy was humbling, and excruciatingly painful for me, as my hopes and aspirations were pinned on my abilities to overcome.

I thought that because of my driven nature, I was the one who had unbalanced the concept of what was required. I went through my scriptures to see if my interpretation of them was incorrect. But there it was. Over and over again. Hundreds of times, the word perfection made itself known. With the stark directive, “Be ye therefore perfect” that had begun to have a haunting echoing effect in my head.

I was suddenly angry as I consumed scripture after scripture, book after book. Why would someone want me in a state of constant angst by holding an unreachable goal over my head? While goals were lofty things, they must be done in the right way. No matter how I tried, there was no way I could feasibly plan perfection into a workable system.

For my own health, I removed myself from my goal of perfection. I decided that the perfection standard of measurement was doing more harm than good, and I would simply work on doing my best for me. Perfection was simply not worth it, and I did not want to be perfect if it was making me be critical and not happy. If God was perfect, then I did not want to be a god in any way, shape or form.

That was ten years ago. A year ago, while having a discussion about perfection with a fellow Mormon, he informed me that in the hebraic language, the word “perfect” did not mean without flaw, but it meant “to be complete.”

It isn’t without a huge sense of irony that I realized that in order for me to feel complete, I had to completely eradicate myself from the belief system that taught me that I could be perfect.


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