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When the Command to be Perfect is Misunderstood

The country just recently celebrated motherhood as a whole. It’s a nice idea but Mother’s Day is hard for me. I do appreciate the gesture, but it’s hard. 

We hear beautiful talks about how mothers touch lives and are an influence for good. But what if the mother listening is bombarded with feelings of failure, of exhaustion or fatigue?

What about the mothers and fathers who combat anxiety or depression? What about those who feel they are missing the lofty mark of motherhood? It can become one of those topics better avoided. Are there brethren out there who feel like they need to look a certain way or have a specific image or have the right calling to feel valued or valuable?


We are overburdened as a society with “should-be’s” but this is a growing issue that has more and more people feeling less fulfilled and unhappy.

The Savior said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” When I hear the word perfect, it feels like a lost cause. How many times do I get frustrated or angry over little things which, at the moment feel like big deals? Why even try when you know you can’t accomplish the goal?

The should bes of life

The good news is that we are not expected to be perfect in mortality; it’s impossible. That’s the whole reason we have the Savior, to apply mercy and grace where we fall short. What then does the command to be perfect mean?

Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “In Matt. 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.” The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.” Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words.” 1

Be Perfect

Yes, we have been given the commandment to be perfect, but it is not something we are able to accomplish in a moment, a day, month or even a year. It takes a lifetime. It will take time beyond our mortal experience to reach the kind of perfection that the Savior asked of us.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect. With that concluding imperative, we want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our head. Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep… 

  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.” 2 

The gospel is a plan of happiness, not a plan of self-abuse. Elder Holland also said from the same conference talk, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.”

Our charge to be perfect has less to do with sinless behavior and more to do with ultimately realizing the promises of eternal life as we become like our Father in Heaven, eventually. The next time you have need of repentance, remember that you are becoming perfect little by little, right now.

1 “Perfection Pending”, Elder Russell M. Nelson, General Conference, October 1995

2 “Be Ye Therefore Perfect- Eventually”, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, October 2017

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