Perfection

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I am a former Mormon. Many of you know this. I wondered today how much of the Mo I still have in me. I like to think that I am completely over being Mo. No more anger, no more hallucinations…that sort of thing.

But I don’t think I am.

I have a very dear friend who is re-thinking Mormonism. She has discovered some things that have made her feel very dubious about it’s origins, it’s truthfulness, and frankly, it’s validity from the get-go. I mean, what DO 14 year old boys do alone in the woods, but go to “see God”…?

She called me in a panic. She has a dear friend going into surgery next week, and her logical mind is telling her the truth, but another part of her mind is whispering to her that maybe things will not turn out alright because she is leaving the Church. Because SHE is leaving the Church. This is not her fault. I know that intellectually she knows that God won’t smite down her friend to punish her for leaving. She KNOWS this. But the thought is there. The intellectual mind is wonderful at telling us that what we are thinking, saying or doing is ridiculous. Yet, we still drink the little cup of water. This is my blood. Eat the stale bread. This is my body. Put on the shiny green apron. You are Eve; you are ashamed of your nakedness. Bow your heads and say ‘yes’. Obey.

Yet we still worry that our imperfections, our actions will cause bad things to happen.

I wondered today how much of that thinking is still ‘in’ me? I had it vocalized the other day (week) by my well-meaning brother. He said “Juls, do you ever think that maybe your life needs the structure of the Church, and that is why things are falling apart for you? That maybe if you were to come back, your life would fall back into place?” Back into place.

My brain intellectually knows that my life has never been ‘in place’. Growing up, I had periods of total belief and devotion to the Church. I got sexually assaulted anyway, despite my prayers, despite the fact that Jesus in his fair-skinned, red-haired glory stared down at me while I was attacked.

My parents attended church every Sunday, had callings; my dad sang in the Tabernacle Choir…and they fought like dogs–Sundays were the worst. And I would hide and wish that my dad would just die.

I married in the temple after marrying civilly–for this life and this life only–and it didn’t change the fact that my first husband was emotionally, mentally and finally, physically abusive. I was Mormon and still had depression so badly that I wanted to end my life. And I was a good Mormon. I tried so very hard to fit in that mold, that way of life. I wanted to believe it was that simple.

And then…I didn’t. I left. I left because the stuff I believed and the stuff I didn’t believe had a huge chasm between them. But one thing was true: I was never a perfect Mormon. Had I been perfect, maybe I would have not been attacked? Perhaps mom and dad would have gotten along? My intellect is yelling at the top of its lungs right now–one moment,, please, dear reader: “Relax, I am being rhetorical here. I KNOW you KNOW that my lack of perfection was not the cause of any of this”. Okay, sorry.

See, there’s an old joke I like to tell. What’s the difference between LSD and LDS? Well, with LSD you eventually stop hallucinating. But how accurate is that?

Have I literally created my life’s circumstances because deep down in the part of my unconscious brain, I feel I deserve misery because I left the Church? Somewhere, deep down, do I wonder if I deserve nothing because I “fell”?

I can’t see…the myriad of influences crowd me. I feel a sense of confusion–the devil? clouding my senses. So many people leave Mormonism because of the history, the inconsistencies…but I left because of the mind job I knew–I KNEW–I was getting. Things like the delusion that my perfection or imperfection would make or break my happiness–and everyone around me. Delusions that if I were just better, more faithful, I would be happy. Faithful members of the Church didn’t have lustful feelings for the same sex. Faithful, good members didn’t have mental illnesses and learning disabilities like I did. Good Mormons didn’t get divorced, didn’t make mistakes, because God’s spirit was with them every second and guided them to the “right” choice. And the “right” choice led to the easy life, happiness, no more struggle–unless you were given….A Trial.

I expect, to this day, perfection from myself. My criteria may have changed, but the expectations are still the same. And the ultimate outcome for being perfect is to have whatever one feels they lack–in my case, happiness, peace, joy. Now, I don’t kick myself for not reading my scriptures; I kick myself for not going to the gym for a whole week. I don’t reprimand myself for not attending church, but I really feel awful if I don’t do something productive to earn money, further my career somehow. I don’t feel badly that I don’t visit-teach, but if I don’t come when my friends call, I feel like a failure.

So which came first? My need for perfection or the Church’s need for me to be perfect? They don’t even teach any of this in Sunday School, you know. So where did I get it? Where did my friend get it?

I suspect we get it from those austere, above-reproach distinguished men at the pulpit who talk about faith, love, peace, hope, eternity…and I felt so warm and fuzzy after those talks and conferences. They spoke of how The Gospel brings all of it into your life, and they give you the road map on how to get there, don’t they? Do this, this, this, ad infinitum, and it will all be yours. I did this, this, this, and it wasn’t mine. My natural assumption was that I didn’t do the ‘thises’ well enough, right enough…enough. Therefore, NO blessings, peace, joy for me. And I resented God. I resented that He didn’t know how hard I was trying. But more than that, a deep-seated self-loathing hovered under the surface, telling me “You know you aren’t doing everything, everything you’re supposed to do…you know…” and I did know. I had judged Sister Smith for her snide remark; I had used profanity while driving; I was too damn tired to read my scriptures at night, I declined to do a calling. So I strove for perfection on the outside. I went to craft night and made bean bag dolls because THAT was doable. I prayed and asked for help in being all I could be. I read just a few versus before I collapsed into bed. I sang hymns, I attended church. I watched General Conference. I bought a god damned glue gun. I made cookies. I tried, I tried, I tried…and I did not find joy. No peace.

Maybe, as one family member said to me, maybe I never really had a testimony; because if I had, I would have never been able to leave. I would have found the joy.

Maybe, just maybe, he was right.

Or maybe it was the devil.

Peace

Repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman blog

12 thoughts on “Perfection

  1. Your post reminds me of my mother, Julie Ann. She left after she realized that no matter how much one did, they would always ask for more. Of course, many local leaders act with the best intentions and sincere belief.

    In one way that makes it worse. How can you tell someone who asserts that God has spoken to him that you are supposed to do something that is beyond your capacity?

    We cannot develop a healthy culture unless members and leaders meet as equals. That means that the leaders have to justify personal impositions in terms of rational rather than spiritual knowledge claims.

    Another way to establish parity would be for members to deny the leader’s inspiration, which would be insulting. Lets stick to reason then.

  2. I know what you mean. I really wanted it to work. I tried very hard in the hope that someday I would figure out how to make the Mormon thing work. Everything would fall into place. Instead I perpetually felt like an outsider. If only I could part that final veil and see what I was missing. I must be missing something because it’s not working. Instead, doing things right, the things that were asked of me, never seemed to get me anywhere. I was perpetually cycling up and down around the same level of understanding and happiness. My hopes were never realized.

    Eventually, I realized in my mind and in my heart that things weren’t working for me not because I wasn’t doing it right or because I was missing something, but because the Mormon system was broken. If I’m always looking for happiness in the future, when I do my home teaching faithfully, when I read my scriptures every day, when I write in my journal, when I reach the Celestial Kingdom, then I will never be happy. Overcoming this mindset is hard, but trying to find happiness now whatever I’m doing no matter how imperfect I am is the only way I’m ever going to be happy.

    There are people in the LDS church who realize this. They use the atonement to excuse their current imperfections and find happiness now. Regrettably, that is not the general thrust of the culture, and a lot of people end up unhappy.

  3. CWC~ What a mind job, huh? I think a lot of people can relate to it.

    Hellmut~ If you want to stick to reason, this isn’t the church for you. It’s the ultimate social pressure. If you refuse, you are questioning their authority, but if you say yes and you can’t do it, you end up resenting the calling. I agree that most people in the Church do their best; that’s the problem. Best isn’t good enough by the very doctrine. “Be ye therefore perfect…”

    Jonathan~
    “They use the atonement to excuse their current imperfections…” isn’t that completely tragic?? If they believe that God created us, then wouldn’t that make us all, by default, perfect? Don’t even get me STARTED on ‘the atonement’; as if God needs the barbaric shedding of blood to wipe away sin. As if God needed help in doing anything. Hrumph! I think I’ll go lie down…

    :0)

  4. That perfect business is actually a Mormon misreading of the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:48 indeed says:

    Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    But the preceding two verses provide essential context:

    46 For if ye alove them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
    47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
    48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    The expectation of perfection is about loving people that are not like ourselves. That is a limited charge.

    It is probably fair to say that Mormon society is not good at including outsiders and none-believers. We prefer to stick to ourselves. Unless we look at gentiles as potential converts, we tend to fear and exclude them.

  5. Hellmut~ Yes, I know that is is a misunderstanding of the contextual scripture. Unfortunately, that general interpretation, or misinterpretation (as is the case) is what’s relevant, not the actual context in this case. I remember many a lesson on striving for perfection in this life, but being told in the same breath that it wasn’t possible without intercession by the Lord.

    And I think it would be fair to say that any close-knit group of people tend to be dubious of outsiders. In the Mormon paradigm, they are bringing joy to people with The Truth; so it’s easy to understand why they see everyone who is not of the faith as a potential. The problem it, it seems, that joy, when interwoven within a paradigm of perfection can be awfully elusive.

  6. Unfortunately, 3 Nephi 12:48 removes the passage out of that context and adds to the burden of perfectionism.

    This is just a tangential bit of trivia, but the word perfect comes from Latin perfectus, past participle of perficere, (per, through—facere, to do) which suggests to my mind thoroughly made, or complete. The Greek word teleios translated as “perfect” in the Beatitudes carries the same connotation of completion, integrity, and maturity. It’s interesting how the word’s original meaning has mutated from “complete, mature, and whole” into something like “without flaw”, a subtle but important difference in emphasis.

  7. That’s a fascinating observation, Jonathan. In all my years, I had not even noticed that those two verses are missing from 3. Nephi 12. Now I understand why Mormons have such trouble understanding forgiveness.

  8. JulieAnn, that’s a brilliant and touching post. I felt so many of the same emotions as a believer. I was a perfectionist before I got involved with the church; I’m still a perfectionist now! But the church amplified and added a new strain to my perfectionism.

    As a Mormon, it wasn’t just the struggle to be “perfect” (whatever the hell that means) to find self-fulfillment anymore. No, as a Mormon, I had to be perfect or God would reject me.

    I always tried to find comfort in the idea that God would not burden us with more trials than we could bear. (How often we hear that in the church!) But when the trials, the struggles, the depression — all of it brought on because of your involvement in the church — take you to your breaking point all the time, it’s not very comforting.

  9. MagicC~ Isn’t that a load of horse shit? “God will never burden you with more than you can handle…” Oh please. Thanks for selling my potential for strength short. It’s God who keeps tabs on what’s too much, as if God is even giving us the ‘trial’ in the first place! I am so sick of people giving God all of the responsibilities in the wrong places, and none of the credit in the right places. And I so agree with you–the very mind-job I got as a Mormon was a huge part in my feelings of ‘never being good enough’. That, and my mother…I’ll blame her, too. LOL

    SML! I know, I know. I’ll say it again…as if God isn’t powerful enough to save us no matter what? What kind of God have these idiots created? Oh, yeah, in the image of man…well in MY world, God can do anything. So they can keep their puny God and his inability to save without shedding blood and without petty rules to control and inspire fear. My God is much cooler.

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