Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paradox on Perfectionism

Spending time in the temple has become some of the most meaningful expression of my faith. I have come to rely so much upon worshiping in the temple to help me see clearly, I don't know how I would continue to function without it. Being able to return there on Friday provided much relief, and I am still internalizing much of what I received there.

What I love most about my time in the temple is that everything becomes so much more clear to me. I see the improvements which I've made, and I can see the exact improvements the Lord wishes me to make. Nothing about that vantage point is exaggerated or overwhelming. I am really coming to grips with my nature of perfectionism, and the temple allows me to silence that desire within me to be more than I am. Heavenly Father knows better than anyone else how to help me find the rest I crave from feeling like my present efforts are insufficient to truly serve God to the degree which I expect from myself.

This was a real issue of mine on the mission, a weakness which troubled me deeply until I took my problem to the Lord at the temple in São Paulo. My perfectionism was beginning to get out of control, and it was affecting my ability to be satisfied not only with my efforts, but the efforts of those around me in our respective walks along the path of discipleship. I knew I needed a reality check, but I was afraid to ask for that correction because I imagined it was going to hurt and taste too much like punishment.

However, the temple is not a house of pain and punishment. It is a house of learning. In the clarity of God's unhindered spirit within those hallowed walls, I read Alma 37 as if I had never truly seen it before in my life. Verses leaped off the pages and struck me deeply as I was reminded of one of the most fundamental lessons of the gospel.

6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
In my efforts to serve faithfully, I had lost sight of the Lord's true method for working with His children. His expectations of us are truly small and simple. His standard is not for us to do all things on our own, or to grow to such a state that we do not need Him anymore. Rather, we simply live up to the simple commitments and commandments He left for us, and anything else we may try to do is looking beyond the mark.

I have been corrected about this enough that I recognize this weakness in myself. But I didn't reach true understanding in regards to how to live more serenely until I was in the temple on Friday. When I was able to simply sit and listen without some sort of agenda, I was able to hear what God wanted me to learn.

 I opened to 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. I didn't immediately recognize it because I had never actually read it before, but it instantly became one of my favorites among the stories of the Old Testament. I was vaguely familiar with the overall idea that David slew a giant named Goliath, which I was sure related to faith on some level. But as always, the miracles of God aren't in "the gist," but in the details of the scriptures. And that's what I discovered as I read.

39 And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.
40 And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
...
49 And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

That David doesn't take a sword (with which he has no skill) becomes significant because he refuses to expect the Lord to bless him with an irrational miracle. It reminds me of how Nephi, when building the ship, asked for ore to make tools instead of expecting the Lord to simply give him tools. To David, it made more sense to ask the Lord to magnify the skills he already possessed with his staff and sling, than to expect the Lord to make a swordsman of someone who had never before lifted a sword.

David instead offers his best skills to the Lord, and of that the Lord is able to work a miracle.

It's in that exchange that I gained my greatest insight for my situation. David offered his expertise with a sling and his greatest accuracy--his best shot. The Lord took that offering and magnified it enough that it could slay a giant. That offering is the same thing the Lord expects from all of us. He doesn't want us to expect Him to fix our problems by magically making something of us we didn't work to become. So instead, he asks us to do whatever it is we CAN do, even if it's simply using a stone and a slingshot.

The stone is a type of one of the most paradoxical teachings in all scripture: by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. Small things, lived and applied in our lives with exactness allow us to overcome great problems. But the most important aspect of that equation is exactness. If David's stone hadn't been exact, it wouldn't have had the impact on the giant to take him down. It's the same thing with the Lord. If we will be exact in our part, aiming for our greatest accuracy, the Lord will magnify our power to obtain a miraculous result.

I like the idea of working together with the Lord more than trying to do things on my own. I see more and more all the time that it's a better way to live. And even if it doesn't come out that way in practice, I'm grateful that I have the temple in my life where God can at least reinforce the lesson until I learn it. In a choice between learning by hard knocks and the Lord's hands, I'll take the Lord any day, because I'm finally starting to trust Him enough to see that they aren't the same thing.

I know that God lives and He cares for each one of His children. I know He is actively involved in our lives because I see Him doing such meaningful things in mine. I know that as we seek for His help we will always find it. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I know that it's because of His Sacrifice that I can be saved from my sins and imperfections. I leave that testimony with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.