todoWe had a Stake Relief Society Conference this past weekend. My husband worries when I go to things like this, the same way he frets a bit as general conference weekend approaches. He says its because I come home discouraged and stressed out. I go with enthusiasm, furiously take notes, listen, try to focus and really soak it all in. This isn’t the part he’s worried about, it’s the lists I come home with, usually long and detailed about ways I’m not measuring up, things I should have already been doing, goals to do it all, do it right and do it better than before. Okay, I’ll concede the point, those lists are stressful and discouraging.

This weekend’s conference was different; the perfectionism that drives me to write those lists (you now have my follow-up confession to yesterday’s discussion) was called out. A few things helped me identify it as a harmful tool of Satan. Here are some of the quotes that helped me know the Lord wanted me to really hear and learn, not leave overwhelmed and frustrated by my weakness. I’m paraphrasing since I just have notes. One of the speakers referenced how “idealized perfection” that we are unable to live up to estranges us from the spirit of the Lord. This idea was paired with a quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, something like, “Who wants us to feel that someone else’s gift or success somehow diminishes what we have?” And he answered, “Satan, the Father of Lies.” Doesn’t that make so much sense? When we are constantly feeling let down by our failures it is more difficult to feel the Spirit of the Lord; we are more susceptible to Satan’s lies. Working to fulfill the Lord’s commandments and be better, or “become perfect” should not leave us feeling discouraged, sad, frustrated. As we strive for perfection it shouldn’t be about how much better we’re doing than someone else, or how awful we are because we’re not measuring up. Perfectionism is just a hiding place for pride. And if we’re constantly worried about doing everything perfectly, isn’t that just another form of selfishness?

I think it is Satan who wants us to feel that. A couple of years ago I was reading the scripture story about Satan tempting Jesus to my 3-year-old daughter. She had so many questions. “Who is the Devil? Why are they on top of that building? Why is he telling him to jump?” Surprised at the depth with which she was paying attention I tried to explain that the devil wants us to disobey and make bad choices. “Who is he? Why does he want us to make bad choices?” she asked. I tried to trim it down and give here some basic principles. I decided the most important part of that story was that if we think the devil is trying to tempt us, we should do like Jesus did and say, “No! Get Away!”

The next day while we were having a confrontation about going to bed she was throwing a bit of a tantrum. Perfect time to reinforce some of our previous night’s discussion. This time I asked the questions. “What does Jesus want us to do so we can be happy?” Silence from her cranky little face. I supplied her with the correct answer, “Obey.”

” And who did we learn about last night that wants us to disobey?”

A light went on this time, “The devil!” She said with excitement, and went on “But mom, we’re supposed to say, ‘No way Jose!’ to the devil.”

“That’s right!” I smiled at her translation as she continued, “We don’t want the devil in our house, because he’s a meanie.”

How true it is! He is a meanie, so my new list has one thing on it (can it be a list if it’s just one thing?):
1. Remember when I compare myself to those around me and feel superior or inferior, or when the “idealized perfection” I seek has me estranged from my Heavenly Father, I need to say, “No way Jose! Go away! Get thee hence Satan!”

Do you have a list to scrap? Want to write a new one? What do you think?

Heather H.

Emerita

30 Comments

  1. Rachel Leavitt

    March 10, 2009

    I have a funny way of getting through those times when I feel discouraged by my imperfections. I imagine the most perfect me possible…but the thing is, this most perfect me is also filled with a perfect love. Not only does she love those around me, but she loves this little imperfect self that she used to be. Then I imagine how Christ loves me the same way. So I tell that most perfect image of myself that is so full of love, that someday I will be you. And I’m glad that for now, as I’m working at it, that I can feel loved.

  2. martha

    March 10, 2009

    Heather, this is going to sound cliche and cheesy (but you know me and you know I’m not either) but I felt the spirit whisper to me while reading your words.

    I am able to feel when others complain and criticize that the root of the problem is pride, and I take it to heart to avoid this behavior. Yet, it is difficult to identify the pride when I grow discouraged with myself. I know I need to replace this pride with love, but it is difficult to always see myself as worthy of it. Discouragement is a great tool of the devil.

    Today, I will try to be more aware and replace those feelings with the Lord’s love. I love you Heather!

  3. SilverRain

    March 10, 2009

    The same thing holds true for mistakes we make. When we obsess over our mistakes, we are not feeling “godly sorrow” which leads to repentance. We are suffering from our own pride.

    At least, this is what I have seen in myself of late.

  4. jendoop

    March 10, 2009

    Your words reminded me of words from Elder Holland, a few years ago in a talk called The Other Prodigal:

    “Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies.. I am convinced the commandment not to covet is meant to keep us from hurting ourselves… Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, ‘robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb.’ May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize is my earnest prayer..”

    (Sorry for the long quote, it’s so good.)

    To all of my sisters at Segullah-
    Keep Running! <3

  5. Michelle L.

    March 10, 2009

    Thank you for this beautiful post Heather– I’m going to borrow your list!

  6. Michelle L.

    March 10, 2009

    and jendoop– that is one of my favorite quotes EVER. I oftenthink “The Other Prodigal” was written just for my prideful heart.

  7. Sue

    March 10, 2009

    It seems to me that all forms of love bring us closer to God, and that includes loving OURSELVES. Sadly, I’m not always good at it…and neither are my friends. Even when we are actively trying to be gentle with ourselves, we often fall short, which prompted me to write the following poem a few years ago:

    POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS
    ©1999, Susan Noyes Anderson, “Awaken Your Spiritual Power”

    I’m good and kind and loyal
    (except for when I’m not).
    I’m friendly, and I’m willing
    (if you don’t expect a lot).
    My house is always tidy
    (just don’t open any drawers).
    I’m frugal with my spending
    (but I binge at discount stores).
    I’m conscious of my diet;
    (now, if only I would do it).
    I’m thankful every day for life
    (and hope I can get through it).
    Hey, I’m not feeling all that great.
    Why all these agitations?
    I should be feeling A-okay
    with all these affirmations!

    Every single one of us will be a happier woman and a better person when we can manage to get rid of the parentheses in our internal dialogue. I’m absolutely certain of this. It’s only when we truly affirm ourselves (especially about the things that really matter) that we can begin to realize our various destinies as Women of God.

    And besides, remember what Oscar Wilde said? “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” How can that be a bad thing?

    =)

  8. meems

    March 10, 2009

    What a lovely Elder Holland quote. Thanks for sharing that, jendoop. A few weeks ago Elder Holland spoke at our stake conference. He was filled with love, and one of his key points was emphasizing the fact that Heavenly Father LOVES us so so so so so much. (OK, I added all the extra so’s).

    It’s a message I often need to hear. Thanks again for the quote.

    Oh yah, and then my home teachers came by the other night and read the quote from President Monson (I don’t have it handy), that says something to the effect that Satan trembles when we get on our knees to pray. He is that scared of our relationship with God. No Way, Jose indeed!

  9. m&m

    March 10, 2009

    My new year’s resolution was simple this year:

    Be more gentle with myself.

    And I loved that Elder Holland talk.

    I recently read a couple of chapters in Romans (six and seven, I think) that got to some of this (the JST helped a lot). It’s so easy to want to be saved by our lists (the law) rather than by the Savior. If we can keep up with our checklists, what of the Atonement?

    It’s that whole doing/becoming thing. While goals are important, and principles are, too, it’s too easy for me to focus on trying to DO those things, rather than going to God for help changing me so I can become better.

  10. Kay

    March 10, 2009

    When I was called onto the R.S. presidency the Bishop said that one of the most important things he wanted us to achieve as a presidency was that sisters would leave church happy. He felt that often sisters, including his amazing wife, come home discouraged because of everything they are suddenly aware of that they are not doing. They leave lessons with a huge to do list, with a feeling of inadequecy. This is not how the gospel should be. We have tried to make the lessons more positive. As the eduaction counsellor I have aasked all techers to think about this when they plan their lessons. At the end of each lesson we remind sisters that really we do not want them to go home with a to do list. We want them to focus on just one thing, two if they are feeling really brave. We should come away from class thinking I am good at this or that, I am succeeding, but now I will strive in this area or that. Changing our life baby steps at a time is what it is all about. We need to put one spiritual foot in front of another each day, slowly and carefully. We are not doing the 100m sprint to the celestial kingdom, that is when we get worn out and trip up. We all need more positive reinforcement in life from ourselves and others. In our R.S. looking for the positive for our sisters we hope is helping them to not leave church under a cloud. (That sentence looks like really bad grammar, but you know what I mean I hope.)

  11. angie f

    March 10, 2009

    Baby steps indeed. I think focusing on the baby steps and forcing myself to see the progress, however miniscule, that has been made, is most essential in my sanity these days. Key in my development as a Latter-day woman and as a Relief Society sister (as in, finally beginning to feel I have a place in the room) is the realization that everyone is struggling. Despite the shining perfection of our Sunday faces, no one has it entirely together. We all have gifts and weaknesses. I used to always think that everything that every other sister could do that I couldn’t was special and the things that came easily to me were the things that everyone could and did do. Wrong. It was a great eye opener to me to learn that people felt the same about me. I’m in a funny position right now, as the “bishop’s wife” but also the mother of 5 rambunctious young children. It is painfully apparent that (well to me at least) I don’t have everything under control and I find more and more that I want to shout that to the rooftops. I do NOT have all the balls in the air. I am juggling just like everyone else. More now than ever I have no desire to be the stick with which someone beats themself up. Sisterhood is a powerful concept. There is so much good that can be done when we hold hands and withhold judgment of others and of ourselves. I guess my sole list this year is “notice the baby steps”–mine and others. I love m&m’s goal to be gentle with herself. I think it expresses so tenderly how the Savior would have us treat ourselves and each other. What wonderful love the post and comments of today have spoken. Thank you.

  12. Heather H.

    March 10, 2009

    This is such a wonderful discussion. Thank you, thank you jendoop for the quote. I searched this morning looking for it because I wanted to include it and then my baby woke up and I ran out of time, so I’m really glad you posted it. 🙂

    Rachel, I love that idea, our perfect Christlike love loving our imperfect selves.

    Martha, I too often feel like I have to earn the right or privilege to be loved, by anyone, but especially by myself. I love others though they have imperfections, I deserve the same charity! Thanks for sharing.

    SilverRain, good point. Another quote I read by Elder Holland today was about nothing in the Universe being neutral. It’s either leading us toward God or away from him. So, if we feel discouraged or sorrow that causes us to beat ourselves up and wallow and stagnate, that’s not from God. It’s not helping apply the atonement. Yeah!

    Sue, love the poem! Thank you for sharing it. Getting rid of our parenthetical dialogue will go along way toward genuine happiness, and a life-long romance. What an awesome way to look at it.

    m&m, when I was in college a friend of mine and I had an epiphany about how the gospel wasn’t actually about a list of checks and demerits. Someone looking over our shoulder making sure we were doing it all right. Luckily, because we used to laugh about being “repeat offenders”, but we realized the same thing, and I have to relearn it often, it’s about becoming who the Lord wants us to be and a journey of hard work and small changes, not doing everything “right”!

    Kay, AMEN! And if the spirit is what guides us to choose that one thing to work on, all the better. Elder Eyring talked about that a couple of conferences ago. Right? We are in it for the long haul, it’s an endurance activity, not a sprint, which ties in nicely back to Elder Holland’s quote.

  13. Heather H.

    March 10, 2009

    angie f, Thank you! It’s so easy to assume that the things we do, that come easily for us are what everyone else is good at and therefore not worth celebrating or sharing. Then we never give ourselves any props. Really, not even ourselves, but our Father in Heaven who blessed us with those talents. When we minimize those, we are really saying that what the Lord gave us, blessed us with, made us isn’t all that special. I just had that little epiphany. I don’t want to do that!

    I agree about the love. I’m feeling it!

  14. wendy

    March 10, 2009

    Satan is a big meanie.

    I enjoyed this, Heather, and all the comments. It’s an interesting balance to me, not being a perfectionist, not being too hard on ourselves, yet still striving to improve our efforts to be more Christlike. I think, for the most part, I am not too hard on myself. I know there are a few areas I get a little tough on myself over now and then, but the Lord has really helped me let go of that sort of stuff for the most part. It’s so much happier and peaceful. Reminders like these still help.

  15. Sue

    March 10, 2009

    I’m reminded of that great Michael Mclean song about being gentle with yourself. Here are the lyrics:

    GENTLE

    Like a gentle wind can blow the clouds from the sky,
    Like a gentle touch can ease the pain of goodbye,
    Like a gentle smile embraces empty souls in lonely places,
    We should be more gentle with ourselves.

    Like the friend who gently builds us up when we’re down,
    Like a gentle kiss can turn our world all around,
    We’ve been hurt by others often; we’ve forgiven and forgotten.
    We should be as gentle with ourselves.

    Life can hard, but we need not be
    so hard on ourselves, if we will see…

    Like the shepherd leads his flock with gentle commands,
    With his gentle voice that only hearts understand.
    One thing we can know for certain; He has borne the awful burdens
    So we can be gentle with ourselves.

    One thing that I know for certain, He will bear my every burden
    So I can be gentle with myself.

    I love this song, and it definitely seems germane to this discussion. (I like it even better sung by a woman whose name I can’t remember. Mclean’s own version isn’t nearly as lyrical as hers.) But his words are sure lyrical!

    And I love what they say about the atonement and our use of it.

  16. homeschoolin'henn

    March 10, 2009

    Thank you for this post Heather. It has taken me many years to realize that we all feel basically the same about ourselves, and even though we have our “shining perfection Sunday faces”, underneath we each are fighting to keep it all together. In trying to figure out how to combat that, I have found gratitude for my situation; reaching out to one or two other sisters has opened my eyes to how blessed I am, as I don’t think I could cope with their lives. Although not a perfectionist by any stretch, gratitude helps me fend off the fiery darts of Satan which he aims so well at my own self image.

  17. traci

    March 10, 2009

    Years ago at a retreat I heard a meditation to do with breathing – Abba Father, I am Yours! After awhile you really feel as – Daddy’s little girl!
    I am perfect as all you ladies are – perfected by the Blood of Christ, presented to the Father. WHAT A RELIEF!!!!!

    I do lists – but when I am overwhelmed I do – Have Done Lists, so I can see what my day has been full of. and I always have done more than I thot.

    I am working on the house. Organizing, getting daily routines, but I have one big draw back:
    I THINK CLUTTER SHOWS LOVE!

    oh, well, smile

  18. Proud Daughter of Eve

    March 10, 2009

    Thank you for this. You’ve opened my eyes to the cause of — and thus, hopefully to a solution to — the depression and dissatisfaction that have been plaguing me lately. I never would have pinned it on pride, but looking at it in this new light, that’s totally what it is. Huh.

  19. anon

    March 10, 2009

    Hmm, you are making it impossible to imagine how to teach my stake women’s conference class. It is a practical type of class. I would hope that I give people some focus and motivation and information on what steps to take. It’s not like I’m going to tell them they have to do things my way or anything.
    But I’m not going to just tell them “Whatever you are doing is fine, just pat yourself on the back and be happy.” I assume they actually want some suggestions, right? I mean, they have a choice as to what class to go to. If they come to mine they want some real, practical ideas on how to spend less at the grocery store while keeping it healthy. If they are all going to leave my class discouraged why am I even doing this?
    Don’t we want some education? Don’t we want to learn and discuss ideas with others to live our lives better?

  20. Heather H.

    March 10, 2009

    Of course anon. And if someone comes to a class like that they do want practical suggestions. And lists of things to do are often great tools to help us get a handle on something that overwhelms us. Go ahead and give them ideas; they’ll be so glad to get it.

    My new list is specifically in reference to my perfectionism that becomes debilitating. If a conference talks gives me a couple of suggestions I come away with a list of 15 things I’m not doing. Recognizing that when I get overwhelmed and feel that discouragement it’s due to Satan is a way for me to lean on the spirit more, that will help me get the guidance I need.

  21. Malisa

    March 10, 2009

    I can so relate to all of this. This is such a good topic.

    Sometimes I do okay with this, but other times I get on a compare-myself-with-others kick. I’ll look at each person’s strengths and see how I stack up. One woman in my ward keeps an amazingly clean house. I honestly think about it a few times a day – worrying that someone will realize my house is as messy as it is! I sometimes have imaginary conversations about how I would excuse it. How pathetic!

    The problem is that there are so many aspects to compare. When I finally let one thing go, there’s another waiting in the wings – cleaning, raising kids, serving, testimony, hobbies, exercising, friendships, money, energy… The list could go on forever.

    I don’t want people to compare themselves to me, good or bad. I need to stop doing it at all! I think I need to go blog about this!

  22. An Unnamed Woman

    March 11, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this. I too struggle with pride. I love my lists – they do keep me sane and moderately organized – but I need to realize that certain things (like serving my husband) take precedence over checking off my list…

  23. Shalissa

    March 11, 2009

    Thank you everybody for giving me lots of wonderful tidbits to chew on.

    I’d just add a reference to Revelation 12:10-11 (below), which gives one of Satan’s names as “the accuser, who accused them before God day and night.” I think when he accuses us, he uses the first person. So instead of “you’re not good enough” he whispers “I’m not good enough” and we think the thoughts are coming from our own hearts instead of from him as temptations. That’s the way he tried to keep us from following Christ in the pre-existence, same as now. And then, as now, we respond: “You’re right; I’m not good enough, but Christ is…and his grace will save me.”

    Revelation 12:10-11
    10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
    11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony…

  24. Sharlee

    March 11, 2009

    Shalissa, wow. Powerful stuff. Thank you.

  25. Kristin

    March 11, 2009

    I really appreciated the original post, and the thoughtful comments.

    I have been participating in an interesting email thread with the women in my husband’s family that relates to this list idea.

    I don’t feel comfortable scrapping the list completely. Here is a portion of one of the emails I wrote:

    “We have been counseled recently by the brethren, that although we need to be sensitive to those who do not have the ideal family situation, that we should continue to teach the ideal, allowing mercy and kindness towards those who are not able to experience that at this time. The ideal, in this case, would describe the traditional family of mother, father, and children, who are striving to do the will of the Lord.

    I would apply this concept to what we strive for as women. Just because we can’t perfect ourselves all at once, doesn’t mean that we should lower the bar. Our ultimate goal is perfection. However, (I know I have been a hypocrite on this one here), we should be more merciful and kind to ourselves and each other as we journey back to the Savior. We should do more to seek the cleansing and comforting power of the Atonement, and find peace in giving our best, whatever that may be at the time, and do more to encourage others in a positive manner, giving the benefit of the doubt.”

    I DO agree that when Satan is beating us over the head with the list, that this discouragement is clearly not of God.

    I also think we need to be careful about what kinds of things we put on the list. Sometimes we put things there that God would not choose for us to put there.

    And finally, I think we need to keep a better eternal perspective. I can be perfect in Christ now, because I am in a partnership with him. Someday, I may be perfected through him, and be perfect on my own, but not yet.

    And to anon…of course the sisters who come to your class want practical suggestions! And I am guessing you have some great information to offer since you were asked to teach it. I think the key is to just acknowledge that learning to spend less at the grocery store while eating healthy is a process for most of us, and the sisters should leave your class encouraged that they can make progress in this area. Maybe they can take one or two ideas you’ve offered to start on right away, and that they can add others as they progress in this area.

    PS On my list right now:

    1. Practice showing mercy, to others and myself.

    2. Organize my home better so I can enjoy more time with my family and friends.

    There are other things on my back burner list…increase food storage, increase temple attendance, increase time spent in the scriptures, figure out how to teach my children to help at home more, lose 30 more pounds, train for a 5K, write a book, etc etc…but those are not the focus right now. Some days I do make a little progress in these other areas, and at some point in the future, I will focus on these other things. But not now, this is not the season for these things.

    Sorry that was so long!

  26. Katie Lila

    March 11, 2009

    “Perfectionism is a place for pride to hide.” Impressive Heath, have you been reading C.S. Lewis? My goal for 2009 is based on A of Faith #13, to seek out the LOVELINESS in all around me. This whole discussion has been wonderful, thank you authors. I had an ah-ha moment when trying to process the many insights; if we are seeking the lovely in others we don’t worry about how we are measuring up. It’s very liberating. like a treasure hunt. Some people’s loveliness is easily detected or obviouse in certain areas. Others I have to search. The fun part is I find myself excited when I pin-point something, as if i did find a sparkly prize. This could also work on a self-rediscovery level too, couldn’t it? Searching for loveliness within could replace the negative labeling I tend to mumble when the going get tuff.

  27. Tori

    March 11, 2009

    What a beautiful blog post and SUCH lovely follow-up commentary!! ^_^

  28. Carly

    March 12, 2009

    I’m a little late on joining the conversation but I truly enjoyed this discussion. I’ve noticed that when I read a parenting magazine I often walk away feeling overwhelmed and dissapointed in myself yet when I listen to conference I am always uplifted and encouraged. I thought about this for awhile, it both cases I am reminded of things I could do better but the difference is the spirit. I walk away from conference with the desire to grow but not feeling like I have to do everything perfectly right now. I think if we replace perfection with being christlike we grow but we are HAPPY while we grow not burdened. The spirit also changes how we interact with others, you know those people who you look up too yet you feel encouraged and comforted around them, contrast that with those people in your life that you feel you have to compete with…you always leave feeling exhausted. You and Katie have been that comfort to me all my life. Two women who I look up too and feel lifted every time I’m around you. To be able to lift another and encourage is truly a gift of the spirit that comes from righteous living. With the spirit active in our life it makes it easier to see ourselves (and others) how the Lord sees us….and to recognize Satan’s lies for what they are.

  29. Heidi Ashworth

    March 13, 2009

    After giving birth to a child with many disabilities (i.e. far less than perfect) which made it difficult for me to raise him “right” (i.e. perfect) I had to really give up on the perfectionism. It was hard but I am very grateful to have the opportunity to learn that perfectionism is a disease, not a virtue. However, now that he is 19 and I have totally accepted him as he is and things are getting easier for our family (we have two younger children) I find that I am expecting more of myself again. I have never been to Women’s Conference (I live in Calfornia and did I mention?–disabled son) but I watch them on BYU TV and I have really mixed feelings about it. Sometimes the speakers can be inspiring, sometimes they make it clear that they understand that we can’t do it all but then sometimes you get someone (or a panel of women) discussing how they “did it” (i.e. “right”) and it makes me feel like I am just not keeping up. I have to remind myself that my whole family has had severe setbacks b/c of this one beloved son (too much to go into here but trust me, it’s been crazy!)but I am starting to feel like I should be doing better. I am shocked at myself! I thought I was over feeling bad about not being “good enough”. I guess I still have a long way to go.

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