Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior commands us: “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word for perfect can be translated as “complete, finished, fully developed” (in Matthew 5:48, footnote b). Our Savior asks us to become complete, finished, fully developed—to be perfected in the virtues and attributes He and our Father in Heaven exemplify.2
Let us see how applying the doctrine of the Atonement may help those who feel they need to find perfection or to be perfect.
A misunderstanding of what it means to be perfect can result in perfectionism—an attitude or behavior that takes an admirable desire to be good and turns it into an unrealistic expectation to be perfect now. Perfectionism sometimes arises from the feeling that only those who are perfect deserve to be loved or that we do not deserve to be happy unless we are perfect.
Perfectionism can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, procrastination, discouragement, self-justification, and depression. These feelings can crowd out the peace, joy, and assurance our Savior wants us to have.
What helps those who battle perfectionist tendencies? Open-ended, supportive inquiries communicate acceptance and love. They invite others to focus on the positive. They allow us to define what we feel is going well. Family and friends can avoid competitive comparisons and instead offer sincere encouragement.
Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults (insert: or older) may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion.
Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling.
Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom.
Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect.
Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.
Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet (insert: Camilla Kimball) was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received.4 In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple.
The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.
For those who may feel chronically burdened or anxious, sincerely ask yourself, “Do I define perfection and success by the doctrines of the Savior’s atoning love or by the world’s standards? Do I measure success or failure by the Holy Ghost confirming my righteous desires or by some worldly standard?”
For those who feel physically or emotionally exhausted, start getting regular sleep and rest, and make time to eat and relax. Recognize that being busy is not the same as being worthy, and being worthy does not require perfection.5
For those prone to see their own weaknesses or shortcomings, celebrate with gratitude the things you do well, however large or small.
by Amanda Waterhouse
Marriage is not simply a relationship or tax status in our church. It’s a blessing, a rite of passage, a necessary part of salvation; which leaves single adults in a tricky place. If marriage is a blessing, why haven’t you received it yet? Why don’t you deserve it? What did you do wrong?
Of course, the flip side to the myth that single adults are single because of some worthiness issue is the idea that it’s not your fault at all. You just haven’t been given the opportunity to get married yet. All too often I have been reassured, “I’m sure you’ll be married in the next life!” by well-meaning members who don’t recognize the inherent double blow to self-esteem in a message that implies:
1) you’ll be better (i.e. “fixed”) in the next life, thus reinforcing the idea that something is wrong with you now, and
2) you are not enough. It’s tricky to maintain a strong sense of individual worth when you are constantly reminded that no matter how good you are, you won’t be good enough until you are partnered with somebody else. I am a child of God, but I’m not worthy of exaltation so long as I’m a single child of God.
Free agency further complicates this idea. When marriage becomes a matter of choice rather than a spiritual achievement or opportunity, it’s a gendered choice – men do the choosing and are failures if they do not choose correctly; women wait to be chosen and are failures if they are not picked.
And it’s just that – waiting. The idea that your life doesn’t actually begin until you’re married and have “a family of your own” traps single adults in a liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. A wedding, particularly a temple wedding, acts as a significant rite of passage in the church; and the church doesn’t know quite when to treat those who have not completed that ritual as full-fledged adults.
Marriage equals maturity; therefore singles must be immature. Singles wards and groups are not only given second-class citizen status in their segregation, but they are assigned married couples to “lead” them. When a newly-married couple in their early 20’s is placed in a leadership position over older single adults, the message is clear – a marriage certificate bestows more life-experience and capabilities than years of living as an independent adult. No wonder many Mormon single adults buy into this myth as much as non-single member do, to damaging effect. All too often single adults embrace a semi-adolescent lifestyle, neglecting critical responsibilities such as creating wills, saving for retirement, or establishing their own homes. We lose sight of the “adult” by focusing too much on the “single.”
Some of the most damaging myths about singles in the church are rooted in some of the most beautiful doctrines of the gospel, which makes it so much harder to untangle the truths from the myths. It’s worth it, though. Free agency, eternal families, celestial progression, and a real understanding of individual worth are worth the struggle to remind my fellow members and the struggle to convince myself over and over again that myths about single adults are indeed just myths.
Amanda Waterhouse teaches theater and a whole lot more in a high school outside of Denver. She loves traveling, Michelin restaurants, Marvel movies, and the Oxford comma.
I invite you to reflect on the last time you experienced the feeling of fear. Was it wondering if you’d be accepted into one of the many competitive degree programs here at Brigham Young University? Or waiting to see if the girl you asked out wants to go out again? Or worse yet, wondering what to do if she does? For me the feeling is as recent as sitting on this stand, looking into the faces of so many, and knowing that, through the miracle of technology, thousands more are watching this message.
Like you, I can testify that the feeling of fear is real. Indeed, of this powerful emotion, Elder Bednar taught in last April’s General Conference:
Notably, One of the first effects of the fall was for Adam and Eve to experience fear. This potent emotion is an important element of our mortal existence.
Today I want to visit with you about overcoming the fears that are an essential part of our experience in this Earth life.
One of my favorite classes to teach here on campus is the Doctrine and Covenants, because I find it highly relevant in my own life and in the lives of my students. In a well-known episode from the text, Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, was offered the opportunity of the lifetime: to join Joseph Smith as a translator of that sacred book of scripture. Oliver was instructed,
“Ask that ye may know the mysteries of God, and that ye may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up according to your faith, and it shall it be done unto you.”
(unsure on source, text of talk still unavailable)
Shortly thereafter, when Oliver failed in his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, the Lord explained the reasons for his failure, outlining several causes:
5 And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Doctrine & Covenants 9:11
I’ve long wondered what it was that Oliver feared that he did not continue as he had commenced. Knowing that the project was of eternal importance, did he fear making a mistake, and thus marring the sacred publication?
I was the age of most of you when this scriptural episode came to have special meaning to me. I was in grad school here at BYU, and began asking out a particular girl. And, as things progressed, I became scared. Fear caused me to not continue as I had commenced. I was afraid of making the wrong decision; one that I knew was important and, ideally, eternal. My poorly thought out solution to this fear was to stop asking the girl out. As weeks turned into months, I buried myself in other things, all the while praying if I should pursue the relationship that I clearly wasn’t doing anything to nurture.
Finally one Sunday I was in church here on campus when I finally made up my mind: I would pursue the relationship. What would be the worst that could happen? “Maybe I would get married,” I thought. I called her apartment, only to learn that she had gone home that weekend. I left a message for her to call me when she returned, which, incidentally, is ideal for someone gripped by dating paralysis. The last thing a young man really wants to do is talk.
That afternoon my dad called. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. The girl was engaged.
She returned my call later that night. “Scott, I heard you called.” “Yes, I was just calling to congratulate you on your engagement” was my response. Fear of the future had kept me from continuing what I had commenced, and the time had passed. I thought often about that experience, and the Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery concerning fear, the next six years of my single life.
So how do we overcome fears, act in faith, and move forward towards an uncertain future? Eleven years ago last fall I was dating my wife Janice. The week before Thanksgiving I invited her to come home with me to Southern Utah for the holiday weekend. She accepted. And then, once again, I became really scared. I’d taken girls home on road trips before. And for those familiar with Interstate 15 between Provo and Southern Utah, usually by about the town of Nephi, they became the longest weekends of my life.
I started to think of the ways I could uninvite Janice. With fear swirling in my head, I came to campus on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Preparing to teach my class that day, I stumbled across these words at the beginning of Doctrine and Covenants Section 67.
1 Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
As a 30 year old Elder, I had a desire, and had been praying for a long time that I might find a spouse and begin an eternal companionship. I could relate to these early saints. The Lord continues:
2 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
In my office at the Joseph Smith Building that morning, the thought struck me: maybe marriage is one of the riches of eternity, and maybe it is God’s to give. The revelation then warns:
3 Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.
I realized if I didn’t face my fear of an uncertain future, I might never receive the blessings the Lord had in store for me.
I took Janice home for Thanksgiving, and the weekend went wonderfully. Returning to Provo, however, my worst fears of carrying on an extended conversation with a girl were realized: a snowstorm forced the closure of Interstate 15 and the two of us were stranded together in the car between the Utah towns of Beaver and Fillmore for several hours with no choice but to simply talk to each other. As our three hour road trip turned into seven, I realized that if we could survive this time together, maybe we could also face my fears of eternal marriage.
From these experiences I learned a valuable lesson: as you experience faith to overcome future fears and uncertainty, you will see God’s hand in your life. In fact, just a few short verses later in the Doctrine and Covenants, in Section 67, the Lord promises:
10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
I now look back on those years of post-mission single life, and like the saints in the Doctrine and Covenants, realize that God was in my midst, and I couldn’t see him. There were lessons I needed to learn, primarily about overcoming fear, coupled with experiences both my wife and I needed to have, that eventually prepared us for each other and our future together. As I stripped myself of fear, the day came that I could see God’s hand, and receive the riches of eternity, but they only came as I exercised faith.
Facing fear in our life isn’t limited to dramatic experiences involving unknown future events like relocating at the command of the Lord or finding an eternal companion. Indeed, the happiness of some is crippled by fears of past failures and the foreboding worry that the present and future can never become bright again.
My voice teacher in college, whom I looked up to. once said that it takes a lifetime to discern between emotion and the Spirit. Emotion can be overwhelming, whether it’s positive emotions or negative. Sometimes the positive emotions we get swept up in can be particularly hard to tell from the Spirit. Emotions, temptations, and fears can play just as much a part in confusing us in dating as they do with any other aspect of our lives.
Things that can get in the way understanding promptings in our dating lives:
When I was a kid, my older sister had a copy of a book by Brenton G. Yorgason called From First Date to Chosen Mate that I would guiltily sneak into her room sometimes to read. She was seven years older than me and that made her stuff….cool. Later I inherited the book and didn’t have to sneak to read it anymore.
One section of it that I really appreciated was the section on “real love” versus “infatuation.” To sum up, some of the counterfeits of love found in infatuation, you may already guess: you like how you look with that person, you like how they make you look to others, they fill an emotional need for self-esteem, etc. You can still get a used copy of it on Amazon.
Or, this blog post, “7 Signs That You’re Not Really in Love”on Family Share by Yordanka Pérez does a pretty good job of summing up the same idea. We like to think that we’re not affected by our emotions as much as we are sometimes, but emotions can be powerful and something we always need to work at to be aware of in our relationships.
Speaking of pressing forward in faith, “Mental Dating” is a term that I learned from a friend who is a therapist with a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA. It’s what a lot of us do when we meet someone attractive who strikes our fancy: we think about what they might be like, and in the extreme, spend a lot of time thinking about it. It’s not a truly productive form of work for your dating life. I’m not claiming that some escapism in the form of entertainment or even daydreams don’t have their place, but we need to realize that sometimes when we engage in “mental dating” in our heads, the made up scenarios on the stage in our mind may be replacing reality via the lack of interaction that we’ve actually had with them. I can pretend in my mind that, for instance, that actor Chris Pine is my best friend and woos me the same way he does Anne Hathaway’s character in Princess Diaries II, but it does not mean that if I met him in real life that we would or could or would even want to interact in that way. And we may find ourselves “understanding” this when it comes to Hollywood crushes, and yet we’ll let it mess with our minds with that handsome man or charming woman we met at church or an activity. In our minds they already have a slew of qualities that we’re looking for, yet we’ve never been on a date with them to actually find that out. In contrast, the person you’ve never talked to may have qualities you’re not aware of until you actually do talk to them and get to know them.
The Spirit leads us to do good things, and sometimes things we’re afraid to do. However, it won’t take away from the God-given plan of agency. The Doctrine and Covenants talks about God’s use of “stewardship,” something that is applied throughout the Church and in our own families. We can receive a positive answer about someone else: that they may be good for us or even a good marriage partner. However, we do not have stewardship over others when it comes to answers they receive for themselves. I may find that Heavenly Father gives me favorable impressions via the Holy Ghost about someone else, but as that person is looking at their possibilities, I may not be the best for them. Heavenly Father may not let me know that I am right for them. I believe this may be one of the most confusing kinds of answers we can receive that may take more picking apart and time to think over after receiving. For me, I’ve decided that it’s not the feeling that I need to concern myself over, but rather, “What did the feeling/prompting really mean?” (Positive promptings about someone else may mean that getting to know them is a good idea, but not necessarily that they’re “the one.”) And that once I can set aside the overwhelming emotions associated with dating and relationships, I can once again have heaven’s help in helping me interpret answers with humility: with my heart and my head, and come to some conclusions that follow all of God’s laws, including the stewardship of others, without feeling like the misinterpretation of the answer means that must be a foolish, silly person. God loves us. Always use that lens of His love.
So what things will help us recognize the Spirit? Obviously church leaders and the scriptures are full of advice on this.
From the recent “Face to Face” for the youth with Elder Rasband, Sister Bonnie Oscarson, and Brother Owen. (And yes, it was geared towards the youth, but it contains great stuff for us older people too.) One of the youth asked a question about recognizing the Holy Ghost, and this was some of the advice they received. You can find this about 22 minutes into the broadcast:
-Act on small promptings and over time you’ll get better at recognizing the Spirit, and the Lord will trust you with more. There is always room for all of us to improve on recognizing the Holy Ghost: if it invites you to do good, it’s the Holy Ghost.
Elder Rasband, quoting the Young Women/Young Men theme for 2016: “Press Forward with steadfastness in Christ. Feast Upon the Words of Christ.” That will help you feel the Spirit more often. (See more on this below.)
Sister Oscarson: The Holy Ghost may come as a thought, a feeling, or a clear thought: move forward and trust he’ll give us corrections on individual promptings if need be. (Think Nephi getting the plates from Laban.)
Sister Oscarson: Moroni 7:16
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
President Monson said recently in General Conference that “I reiterate what we have been told repeatedly—that in order to gain and to keep the faith we need, it is essential that we read and study and ponder the scriptures. Communication with our Heavenly Father through prayer is vital. We cannot afford to neglect these things, for the adversary and his hosts are relentlessly seeking for a chink in our armor, a lapse in our faithfulness. Said the Lord, ‘Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.'(D&C 90:24)” If we aren’t doing are part with our prayers and scripture reading, to improve and learn, how can we expect more blessings when it comes to receiving the Spirit? Conversely, by doing all we can in these areas, we can expect blessings.
Galatians 5: 22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Developing spiritual strength doesn’t come from leaning back; it comes from pressing forward, constantly seeking more light and knowledge from heaven… We cannot rest. Press forward.
As was said by Elder Rasband and Sister Oscarson, sometimes we receive just a little bit of light and we need to trust it and “try it out” by moving forward with it, believing that Heavenly Father will give us more when it is needed.
I have discovered that what sometimes seems an impenetrable barrier to communication is a giant step to be taken in trust. Seldom will you receive a complete response all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth.
He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow.
Recognizing the Spirit while dating: dare I even go there? What a complicated subject! I am going to attempt a couple of posts on it. It may not be that bad when we go with the basics we’ve already learned, and then apply them to our dating lives.
This story comes from my friends Jennifer and Parker, who are on their second marriage. I’ve shared stories from them before because they’re both masterful storytellers. This one comes from Jennifer. They’ve been married a few years now and have six children (four boys and two girls) between them from their first marriage (almost exactly like the Brady Bunch).
When I decided to begin dating as a 33 year old divorced mom of 4, I knew things would be different than dating as a 19 year old college student. I was looking for physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and familial compatibility with a potential spouse. That may seem very specific, but I knew if I could click with a man in at least 3-4 of these categories, he was someone I should consider.
For both Parker and I, living as close to the Spirit as possible was absolutely essential as we considered who to date, and more importantly, who to involve our children with. We prayed and studied scriptures daily, magnified our callings, attended church regularly, looked for opportunities to serve (and be served), attended the temple, counseled with our bishops, and sought blessings when needed. We chose friends and activities that would help us to keep holding to the rod during a time when it is easy to feel so vulnerable, helpless, and alone.
I still don’t know if it was the Spirit initially that told me as soon as I saw Parker’s picture that he was “the one,” because I had had warm, encouraging feelings towards at least one other person I had seriously dated that didn’t work out–but I do know that the Spirit helped both of us during our dating to overcome some major fears and hang ups we had–especially dating long distance with some big life changes one or the other of us would have to make in order for us to be together.
I think one of the biggest moments for us was a sort of “Liahona moment” we had when out for a walk one evening. We were both feeling very drawn to one another–(for my part, totally compatible in all the categories I mentioned before) but Parker was scared as to whether or not asking my children and I to move and being able to provide for such a large family (6 combined kids) would be a wise choice, and just scared in general. Based on a few bad past relationships, I was looking for some type of a commitment from him, even if it was just declaring that we wouldn’t date anyone else. It was hard to leave him for 3-4 weeks at a time and go back to Idaho and kind of worry about all the other girls I knew were trying to get his attention. Anyway, as we were out walking that night–Parker just happened to find a little flashlight on the sidewalk someone had dropped. He clicked it on and it worked. We didn’t think much about it until I also found a gold bubble gum machine ring someone had dropped. We laughed, but also felt very sober towards the fact that he had found his “light” and direction, and I had found a symbol of commitment. We still keep these two objects on the dresser in our bedroom to remind us that the Lord very much meant for us to be together. As we continued to date and counsel and attend the temple together, we just knew that we could overcome any trial or hardship together. Despite a lot of difficulties in getting us together and in adjusting to a new life in a new state in a new family situation, the peace from the Spirit was stronger than any outside trial.
Saw this on LDS Living and loved it. I have LDS LGBT friends who are both “out” and not “out,” so any negative comments are not appreciated and will not be posted. Thank you for striving to follow Christ’s example in this. This is meant to be an uplifting post.