Perfectionism and Judgement

November 1-7

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Though it is the shortest section in this week’s Come Follow Me material, I could not help myself from focusing on Section 126. This section focuses completely on Brigham Young, and as I read about the circumstances surrounding this section, I was floored. 

Essentially, Brigham Young was extremely zealous. He couldn’t help himself from sharing the gospel; he was so grateful for it. He went on many missions abroad and left behind wife and family to do so. While still shaking and feverish from malaria, he set out for England to preach the gospel. He left behind his wife, Mary Ann, and seven children (one of which was 10 days old). His family was likewise suffering from malaria. 

The trials didn’t miraculously disappear when Brigham left to serve the Lord. The family ran out of food two months after he left, leaving Mary Ann to travel out and get some in dangerous circumstances while still suffering from malaria. She was kicked out of some old military barracks and found herself living in a horse stable with seven children. Please try to imagine yourself sleeping with seven children on your own in a horse stable. She worked hard to procure food and build a log home. Her attempts to build a log home were unsurprisingly pathetic and the family simply hung up blankets to keep out the cold “more.” 

And she never told a single thing to her husband. 

I think this story is making me especially emotional this week because I was upset last night when I thought I was going to have to take my kids to the pumpkin patch by myself.

There are so many lessons to learn here; let’s talk about a couple.

“Right” choices and our hearts

My first thought when reading about Brigham Young leaving his huge, malaria-stricken family to go preach the gospel was: “He did WHAT?!” How on earth can that be a righteous choice? How can it be righteous (or in the very least wise) to leave his family right after they had been expelled from Missouri? Our families are our first priority. How could it be considered “righteous” to leave them in those kinds of circumstances?

I could be totally wrong. Perhaps that’s exactly what the Lord wanted Brigham to do; in fact, judging by some of the other things the Lord was asking, I imagine that it could be very likely that Brigham was being asked to go and serve those missions. I can’t say for sure either way, but regardless of whether it was a “good” choice or a “wise” choice, the Lord still loved Brigham. The Lord still viewed Brigham as the righteous man he was.

I feel like I talk a lot about this idea that doing the right thing can look different for different people. It may be right to force your child to go to church; it may be right to allow your child to choose. It’s circumstantial. I’m not saying that “right” and “wrong” are relative; they are not. In both of those circumstances the righteous guiding principle is that you want your kids to draw closer to God. What I am saying is that the principle can manifest itself in a million different ways depending on the circumstances. 

Anyway, I talk about that a lot. 

Today I want to talk about an extension of that.

It is the idea of right or wrong choices versus what is found within our hearts, and Brigham’s example of leaving his family to do missionary work teaches it perfectly.

In the case of Brigham…

Doctrine and Covenants 126:1 Dear and well-beloved brother, Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you: My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.

There are two parts to this verse. First, the Lord acknowledges His love for Brigham. Second, He gives Brigham some advice to stay home with his family.

The second part, to me, implies that Brigham would have kept leaving. The Lord doesn’t waste words, and so I doubt He would have told Brigham to stay if Brigham was already planning on staying. So we know that the Lord, to an extent, also agreed that Brigham needed to stay home now.

But regardless of whether Brigham’s choice to leave a malaria-stricken family was “right,” the Lord sent a revelation that was full of love for His servant. I read so much tenderness in that verse. The Lord loved Brigham because Brigham loved the Lord. That is so essential when looking at how the Lord judges us. Rather than looking at individual choices, He looks at whether we are the kind of people who can live within Zion without changing the atmosphere. In my mind, the Lord’s judgement is so much more holistic than we tend to think of.

Does that mean our choices are off the hook completely? No. If Brigham decided he knew better than the Lord and continued to leave his family after receiving this revelation, he probably would have found himself on a path that didn’t lead to happiness. No matter how much Brigham loved missionary work, it wouldn’t have saved him if he chose to ignore the Lord. Why? Because the Lord knows everything, and the Lord knows what would actually bring Brigham happiness. 

Choices can be manifestations of how we feel – for example, Brigham couldn’t help himself from going out and preaching the gospel. But choices can also help determine who we ultimately become.

If I had been alive back then and chosen to leave my house in Missouri and remain true to the gospel, I would have had my eyes opened to just how worthless houses are in the eternities. If I had stayed in my house, I probably would have scoffed at the Saints who were foolish enough to leave and would have ultimately lost out on the entire purpose of coming to this world. 

So choices can help determine what we become, but it is ultimately the character of Brigham that the Lord looks at. It is ultimately who we are and whether we fit into a Zion-like society that really defines the Lord’s judgement.

Why is this important to understand?

So why am I emphasizing this? Why is it important? I can think of a million reasons, but let’s talk about a couple.

The first one that comes to mind is perfectionism. I feel like perfectionism has the ability to become extremely damaging emotionally and spiritually regardless of whether we stay in the church. Perfectionism comes down to attempting to be perfect in each individual choice rather than taking the holistic view of the Lord. Individual choices don’t have to haunt us indefinitely if we are on a good trajectory; in fact, they shouldn’t haunt us. We should make the conscious choice to not let those individual mistakes haunt us. 

I remember being on my mission and getting home late with a companion. It wasn’t crazy late, and we hadn’t been out partying, but we definitely could have made it home on time had we tried just a little harder. I remember kneeling and trying to repent, but I just wasn’t feeling guilty about it. I brought up my lack of guilt to my companion, and she shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Maybe you don’t need to feel guilty to know we could have done better.”

Despite the mistake, I was still a good missionary. I still wanted to be good. I still wanted to please my Heavenly Father, and that’s what counts the most. 

Repeated offenses can be problematic to an extent. For example, they can cause you to believe that it’s no big deal or they can eventually cause so much discouragement that you throw up your hands and give up. However, not even repeated offenses need to keep us from living with our Heavenly Father if we keep our character good. If we keep that desire to repent and become clean, that will count for far more than you realize. 

A second reason it’s important to take this holistic view is because it helps you move forward faster. No longer will you be afraid of taking a wrong step or trying something new and failing because our eventual judgement isn’t about individual choices. Even when we make mistakes, it is more important that we love the Lord because that will be what eventually helps us stop making mistakes.

I was terrified of getting married. Dating Conner had been rocky to say the least. In fact, it was one of the hardest times of our lives (for both of us!). However, I never felt quite right when I broke up with him (which was every other day, poor guy). I finally got to the point where I threw up my hands and said, “Well, if I’m wrong and this whole thing blows, God is my witness that I was trying to do what’s right, and He can’t ask more than that.” I don’t recommend that course of action when determining whether you should get married, but that was truly freeing to me. It was freeing to make my own choice and know that the Lord knew how I was trying.

Conclusion

I lose my temper. I can be kinda judgy sometimes. I complain…a lot. I place far too much emphasis on worldly things. But. I do love the Lord. I do want to be better. I want to be the kind of person that Mary Ann is, to shoulder whatever the Lord asks, to be meek and allow my husband to serve unhindered. I want to be the patient mother that never raised her voice at her kids. I want to be innately compassionate, and there are a lot of pieces within me that reflect those values. I am a good person despite my less than perfect track record. Being able to recognize and mimic the Lord’s holistic judgements has helped me to become better. 

So Brigham Young left his young family and dear, dear wife to go and serve the Lord. Was it a wise choice? It doesn’t even really matter. What truly, deeply matters is that Brigham loved the Lord, and the Lord guided him along the way and sent him home. 

We will make right choices, bad choices, unwise choices, better or best choices, and these choices matter. However, these choices should always be measured against who we really are and what our character truly is. Keep it in context because measuring yourself holistically is so important. We do less damage to ourselves (and to others!) when we measure ourselves holistically as the Lord does.

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