In the October general conference after my book was published, Elder Holland gave a talk entitled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually.” I met with some BYU professors in October after conference, and one of them got excited when he learned that I had sent my book to Elder Holland before this talk. He wondered if perhaps it had somehow inspired him to talk about this “toxic perfectionism.”
I don’t know and make no claims, but it would be cool 🙂
Regardless, I appreciated Elder Holland’s reminder that perfection does not come for us in this life and his acknowledgement that sometimes the wording of the scriptures can make us entirely overwhelmed. He quotes Sister Darla Isackson in saying that “Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations.” I think many of us, especially those of us with mental illness, can understand that sentiment. Sometimes things just seem too difficult, or we convince ourselves that we have to perfectly keep those covenants and commandments, not allowing or giving ourselves room to make mistakes and learn from them.
Elder Holland reminds us that while we are not perfect, we should be grateful that God is. He said, “I am grateful that God is merciful and a peacemaker because I need mercy and the world needs peace.”
How do we become Perfect?
Another crucial thing that Elder Holland teaches us, especially those of us with moral or religious scrupulosity, is that we cannot be perfect through our own efforts and merits. It’s just simply not possible. “Our only hope for true perfection,” says Elder Holland, “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.”
Improvement vs. Perfection
As such, he asks that we lower our sights a little from “perfectionism.” He said, “while in mortality, let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call ‘toxic perfectionism.'”
I’ve had to learn this in my own life. Treating OCD is about improvement over time. We have times when we fall back into old habits or compulsions. We don’t usually improve immediately and perfectly. Some things are easier, and others sometimes feel impossible. Even when we feel like we’ve recovered, something can happen that throws off our progress and makes us regress. We can’t be perfect in our recovery. We have to strive for steady improvement, whether that improvement comes in leaps and bounds or tiny footsteps forward and backward and forward again.
I appreciated Elder Holland’s statement that if we “are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human.” Give yourself permission to be human. It means that yes, you are going to struggle. No, you are not going to perfect right now. Yes, you may have to struggle with mental illness. No, you may not always have the upper hand against it. But yes, hope and help are there and possible. You can get going and you can keep going. You have so much going for you.
Did you read or listen to Elder Holland’s talk? What did you think?