Julie Shiffler grew up in a small farming community in Linrose, Idaho, as the oldest of seven children. She attended Ricks College and then later returned to school at the age of 37 to receive her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in psychology from Utah State University. She has been employed as a counselor at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center for 23 years.
Julie met her husband, Al, while she was attending Utah State University. They have been married for 27 years and have a blended family of eight children, 31 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Julie and Al love traveling together. They have visited all 50 states and five foreign countries. They especially enjoy road trips, national parks, and historic sites.
Please respond to the question below on the devotional discussion board:
We are told in the scriptures to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” President Russell M. Nelson has also said that “perfection is pending.” Knowing this, how do you view and deal with the commandment to be perfect?
Have you ever had an experience where you wanted to hide your face in shame?
I was six years old. My first day of school had finally arrived. I wore one of the cute school dresses that Mom had made for me, the ones with the plaid skirts. I was excitedly waiting for the school bus to arrive. Being the oldest child in my family, I didn’t have older siblings to tell me how it worked. Dad, Mom, and my younger siblings waited with me as the school bus pulled into our gravel drive. Dad began to film with the big movie camera, the kind that held a spool of film that wound its way onto a second spool. The door to the bus opened. I smiled at the camera and then took that big, first step onto the bus. Just then, I thought I heard one of my parents tell me to turn around again. That made sense to me. I thought, “This is an important day for me. They want another smile from me.” I turned to face my family one more time; but as I did, the bus driver impatiently said, “Come on. Get on the bus.” Immediately my heart dropped. My face burned, and I lowered my head with shame. I was supposed to have done this right, but I had gotten it wrong in front of my family, the bus driver, and all of the students who were already on the bus. That feeling of shame was agonizing. Perhaps it was then that I made up my mind to do whatever it took to avoid ever feeling that way again. Perhaps it was then that I made up my mind to do things perfectly from then on. After all, aren’t we commanded to be perfect?
For many of us, the commandment to be perfect triggers feelings of anxiety. We are painfully aware of our weaknesses and inadequacies, yet we continue to drive ourselves to reach impossible goals. Then, when we fall short, we label ourselves as failures and often feel hopelessness and shame. How can we ever achieve perfection?
Now, perhaps some of you can realistically say that you could be doing better, and I hope that you will strive to do so. My message today is addressed to those of you who are demanding more of yourselves than you can realistically do. In my work in the Counseling Center, I encounter many students who struggle with perfectionism. Perhaps there are parts of your life where you are critical of yourself because you are failing to measure up to some predetermined standard. You may not see it as perfectionism because you reason that many areas of your life fall short of perfection. But any time we criticize ourselves even though we are actually doing all that we can do, we are engaging in perfectionism. This is an unhealthy practice that can lead to depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
Now please don’t write to President Nelson to tell him that I am advising you to ignore the commandment to be perfect. Not so. Instead, I am inviting you to consider a different way of thinking about it.
I have found it helpful to look at the scripture verses that contain the command to be perfect. In the Bible, we read where Jesus, during His mortal ministry, gave this commandment:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. 
In this verse, there is a footnote to the word “perfect” that tells us that the meaning of the word in this context is “complete, finished, fully developed.”  Notice that it does not mean “flawless!” In this verse, we are commanded to be perfect like our Father in Heaven.
Now, let’s contrast that verse with the occasion where Jesus, in His resurrected state, gave the commandment to the people of the Book of Mormon:
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. 
Notice that it was only after Jesus had completed His mortal life, had performed His atoning sacrifice, and had been resurrected, that He described himself as being perfect—complete, finished, fully developed, as we read in the footnote. Is it possible that the commandment to be perfect refers to the process of “becoming” rather than “being”? As then Elder Russell M. Nelson told us, “Perfection is pending.” 
When the Lord placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He gave them commandments. One commandment was to multiply and replenish the earth, or to have children.  They were also commanded to not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. 
Now, how would it be possible for Adam and Eve to keep both of these commandments? The only way for them to have children was if they were mortal; and they were not mortal in the Garden of Eden. The only way for them to become mortal was by partaking of the fruit.  In order for them to use agency, it was necessary for them to choose for themselves. 
We don’t know how well Adam and Eve understood that concept, but we do believe that Eve exercised courage and wisdom as she chose to partake of the fruit and that Adam wisely chose to follow her.  Because of their transgression, and because the Lord has said that no unclean thing can dwell with God,  Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, where at times they had been in the presence of the Lord.
Out in the world, there was nothing that Adam and Eve could do to fix this. They could not take back the fact that they had partaken of the fruit. There was no way that they could put themselves back into a condition where they could again be in the presence of the Lord. They had transgressed, and they could not make themselves clean again. 
Adam and Eve desperately needed the Savior. I imagine that His message to them was, essentially, “You go forward from here and do the best that you can, and I will take care of this transgression. Then, as you exercise your best effort, my Atonement will make you perfect.” 
Now let’s compare our situation to the experience of Adam and Eve.  We are put on the earth with commandments, only we have more than two. Then those of us who are hard on ourselves—and I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I get this—tend to add in other things to which we sometimes give commandment status and then beat up on ourselves when we fall short. Consider, for example, “Thou shalt get A’s in all thy classes,” or “Thou shalt always make others happy,” or “Thou shalt have the perfect body, as defined by the media.” I’d imagine that many of you could add other extra commandments that are unrealistic for you.
The point is that even when we clear away all the extras and just look at the basic commandments, it’s still impossible for us to do it all. We may achieve perfection in some areas; but because of the demands and challenges of our mortal existence, we are not going to keep all of the commandments perfectly. It’s easy to become discouraged.
Elder Dale G. Renlund taught:
Left to our own devices, the prospect of returning to live in God’s presence is hopeless. Without the blessings that come from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, we can never do enough or be enough by ourselves. The good news, though, is that because of and through Jesus Christ we can become enough. 
So, like Adam and Eve, we desperately need the Savior, who I imagine would say to us, “You do the best that you can, given your circumstances. Then, as you exert your best effort, my Atonement will make you perfect.”
This is the message of the Savior’s Atonement. As Nephi tell us,
It is by grace [or the Savior’s Atonement] that we are saved, after all we can do. 
That’s a comforting message. Yet how often do we ignore the “grace” part of the equation and obsess over the “all we can do” part?
The Prophet Brigham Young said:
Those who do right, and seek the glory of [their] Father in Heaven, whether their knowledge be little or much, or whether they can do little or much, if they do the very best they know how, they are perfect. 
On the discussion board, Briana Coppieters wrote: “We know that we will not be perfect in this life; we also know that Christ will meet us where we are at in life. I take this day by day. I try to do better than what I did the day before. He doesn't expect us to become perfect overnight. He wants us to rely on Him, since He is the only one who can help us become perfect.”
Perhaps we question whether we are doing our best. People who struggle with perfectionism often believe that they could be doing better. Perhaps as we have focused on one experience or one area of our lives, we have been convinced that we could have done better. We need to ask ourselves, “What would I have to change in order to do better?” It’s easy to take an experience out of context and believe that we could have done better. But that’s not the way real life works.
Think, for example, of a past assignment or test where you believe you could have done better. What would you have had to change in order to do better? Perhaps spending less time on other studying or assignments? Or not going to work at your job? Or not fulfilling your calling in the Church? Or not getting enough sleep? Or not paying attention to important relationships? If you put your test or assignment back into its real-life context, could you really have done better? If so, then keep working to improve. But I suspect that many of you could not.
When we feel inclined to “beat up” on ourselves for not doing something perfectly, we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment in time, with all of the demands and requirements on my time and energy, could I really be doing better at this?” For many of us, the answer will be no.
Elder Scott D. Whiting stated:
The commandment to be like [the Savior] is not intended to make you feel guilty, unworthy, or unloved. Our entire mortal experience is about progression, trying, failing, and succeeding. . . .
. . . You are good enough, you are loved, but that does not mean that you are yet complete. There is work to be done in this life and the next. Only with His divine help can we all progress toward becoming like Him. 
With so many demands on our time, we don’t have to be alone in deciding among the many good things that are possible for us to do. The Lord can help us to prioritize what is most important. If we are not able to complete everything but are accomplishing the things that the Lord is guiding us to do, we don’t need to feel guilty, and we can have peace.
Relying on the Savior's Atonement and accepting that our best effort is good enough doesn’t mean that we “settle.” Rather, we continue to strive to improve, while accepting along the way that what we can do at this moment in time is enough. This striving for growth is a joyful process because we can feel satisfaction with small increments of progress. Contrast that with the misery that comes from driving ourselves crazy, with constant self-criticism for not yet having achieved perfection. Sheri Dew has said, “Sometimes I wonder if the Final Judgment will be a breeze compared with what we’ve put each other through here on earth.”  But when I consider those of us who are stuck in the painful pattern of perfectionism, sometimes I wonder if the Final Judgment will be a breeze compared with what we do to ourselves here on earth.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
I feel to invite [you] to rise to the great potential within you. I do not ask that you reach beyond your capacity. I hope you will not nag yourselves with thoughts of failure. I hope you will not try to set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. I hope that you will simply do what you can do in the best way you know how. If you do so, you will witness miracles come to pass. 
But what about sin? Am I suggesting that we excuse ourselves for sinning? Not at all. We all have sinned; and because of our mortal state, we will sin in the future. Elder Lynn G. Robbins taught:
Repentance isn’t [God’s] backup plan in the event that we might fail. Repentance is His Plan, knowing that we will. 
As Brother Paul Roberts stated in the last devotional, “When we fail, which we all do, and we come to Christ in sincerity, He says I’ve taken care of that. Try again without the burden of guilt and sin.”
The Savior’s Atonement makes it possible for us to be forgiven. We might think that what we have done is too terrible to be forgiven, but that is a tactic that Satan uses to discourage us. President Boyd K. Packer said:
Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ. 
President James E. Faust taught:
All of us have made wrong turns along the way. I believe the kind and merciful God, whose children we are, will judge us as lightly as He can for the wrongs that we have done and give us the maximum blessing for the good that we do. 
For those of us who struggle with perfectionism, our tendency is to hide our weakness out of shame. It can be difficult—and even painful—for us to accept correction, and we may sometimes find ourselves responding with defensiveness. When we look to the scriptures, however, we find a different pattern. In Proverbs we are instructed,
Despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth. 
In our efforts to improve, we might look to the example of Joseph Smith. In regard to the loss of the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lord chastised Joseph, saying,
And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. 
Joseph not only humbly accepted correction from the Lord, but he also published it in the Doctrine and Covenants, for the benefit of all of us. How different that is from our usual response to correction!
In working toward perfection, Joseph Smith learned and grew “line upon line.”  Now, if you’re like I used to be, perhaps you’ve made a long list of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps by now you’ve given up on them. I used to do that; but because it became so discouraging, I eventually stopped making resolutions at all. That didn’t feel very good, though, because I recognized areas of my life where I wanted to improve. Then I remembered having read many years ago about Benjamin Franklin, who created a list of thirteen virtues that he wanted to develop. Instead of becoming discouraged by his list, he worked on them one by one, until all thirteen virtues were a part of his character.  So at the beginning of a year, I chose one habit that I wanted to incorporate and worked on it all year long. At the beginning of the next year, I chose a new goal. This system has helped me to work toward developing qualities and habits without becoming discouraged. I’m a long way from perfection, but at least I’m progressing. As Bridget Mattson stated on the Discussion Board, “I view perfect as an aspiration of completeness. Our goal in life is to become like Heavenly Father. Every progress that is made helps me develop toward that goal.”
I’m also relying on the Lord’s promise,
For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts. 
What heavier burden is there than the fear that we can never be good enough? Listen to the Savior’s invitation to those who are burdened with the fear of never being good enough:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 
By coming unto Christ, we find relief from our burden because we allow the Savior to carry it for us. We do our best, and then Jesus willingly makes up the difference.
The Savior knows and understands us. He experienced the pain of all of our life’s challenges and weaknesses when he suffered in Gethsemane. He understands the stress and pain associated with perfectionism. How can that be? Consider what Alma tells us about the Savior.
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind. . . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. 
Elder Merrill J. Bateman has taught:
For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt “our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), “[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:4–5). 
Recognizing that Jesus knows what it feels like to be me brings great comfort and solace to my soul. He understands the suffering that can come as a result of perfectionism and self-criticism. In the words of Michael McLean:
One thing that I know for certain,
He will bear my every burden,
So I can be gentle with myself. 
Moroni gave us the solution to the pain of perfectionism when he exhorted us,
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. 
This is the enabling power of the Atonement —the power to make us perfect as we do our best to “deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness.” As we accept the invitation to be perfected in Christ, we find peace and happiness in doing our best, even when our best falls short of perfection. We recognize that our best effort is good enough for the Savior because His Atonement makes us perfect. We are relieved of the burden of self-criticism and the fear that we can never do enough. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we find peace for our troubled souls. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Matthew 5:48.
 Matthew 5:48, footnote b.
 3 Nephi 12:48.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995.
 See Genesis 1:28.
 See Abraham 5:13.
 See Moses 5:11.
 See 2 Nephi 2:16.
 See Russell M. Nelson, “Constancy Amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 34.
 See 1 Nephi 10:21.
 See Alma 22:14.
 See Stephen E. Robinson, “Believing Christ,” Ensign, April 1992.
 Robert Gleave, personal communication, 1997.
 Dale G. Renlund, “Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God,” Ensign, November 2020, 109–111.
 2 Nephi 25:23.
 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol II, 129.
 Scott D. Whiting, “Becoming Like Him,” Ensign, November 2020, 12–15.
 Sheri Dew, No Doubt About It, 225.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 1997, 696.
 Lynn G. Robbins, “Until Seventy Times Seven,” Ensign, May 2018, 22.
 Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995.
 James E. Faust, “Woman, Why Weepest Thou?,” Ensign, Nov. 1996.
 Proverbs 3:11–12.
 Doctrine and Covenants 3:6–7.
 Doctrine and Covenants 98:12.
 See thirteenvirtues.com.
 Doctrine and Covenants 137:9.
 Matthew 11:28.
 Alma 7:11–12.
 Merrill J. Bateman, “A Pattern for All,” Ensign, Nov. 2005. Cites Hebrews 4:15 and Isaiah 53:4–5.
 Michael McLean, “Gentle.”
 Moroni 10:32–33.
 “Grace,” Bible Dictionary.