Chasing Perfection

I have not been firing on all cylinders these days.  Starting in January I was hit with severe morning sickness that left me almost permanently attached to the living room couch.  Shortly before the morning sickness “ended”, the 3rd trimester aches, pains, and fatigue began… only I wasn’t in my third trimester yet.  And for the last seven weeks I have been desperately trying to convince a very cranky little girl, that this earth life isn’t so bad and that if she could stop crying for just a moment, she might be able to experience some pretty awesome things.

Needless to say, it hasn’t been a productive year so far.  I used to think I had it all together.  I thought, “I homeschool five kids!  I’ve totally GOT this.”  But as the age old saying goes: Pride cometh before the fall.  Baby number six has been a humbling experience for me in more ways than one.  Over the last year I have watched the life I helped build for my family slowly spiral out of control.

Yes, I’m being dramatic.  I’m hormonal and sleep deprived so dramatic is what I do.  But my obvious hyperbole doesn’t change the fact that my life today looks very different from the way it looked at this time last year, and it’s disheartening to say the least.  Instead of waking up before the children to start breakfast, I am usually dragged groggily out of bed by one or more of my boys’ shrieks (either because they are sad or because they are happy).  Instead of calmly starting our school day after chores and breakfast I usually end up throwing various books at my older girls and ordering them to read in between jiggling and nursing a screaming newborn and trying to stop a very busy toddler from any number of dangerous and painful activities that most toddlers are generally drawn to.

I keep thinking things like; if only I could get a full night sleep, if I could just get the house clean, if the baby would only let me put her down I could make decent meal for my family, if only…  I have the perfect picture in my mind about what my life *should* look like–and it doesn’t include dried cereal caked onto the floor, holes in my couch patched with duct tape, and a large pile of books that hasn’t been touched in ages.  Life is just plain HARD these days and it’s not at all what I envisioned.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  Women have been comparing themselves to their friends since the dawn of time, and in doing so put an ever increasing burden on their shoulders.  The wide use of the internet has broadened our scope for idealism and now it’s not good enough that we feed and nurture our children within the walls of a comfortable home, but we have to do so with organic, non-GMO food that we grew in our own backyard; only “open ended” toys and never electronic ones; and our homes must be filled with shabby-chic furniture we built or refinished ourselves.  Oh, and we need to do it in size 2 jeans.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed, we long for simpler times but the reality is women have been chasing perfection for hundreds of years.  If you don’t believe me, read this scene from Pride and Prejudice

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.

“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”

“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”

“I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”

This is the feminine burden.  Not childbirth, but the pervasive feeling that we aren’t measuring up.  But as Elizabeth so aptly put it, “I never saw such a woman.”

We know that perfection can’t be had.  Yet the scriptures tell us to “be ye therefore perfect follow“.  How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the commandment to be perfect and the unmistakable impossibility of that?

The greater Christian community talks about the Proverbs 31 woman as the standard to which we should look for perfection.  But if the sheer number of “how to” Proverbs 31 articles on Pinterest are any indicator, Proverbs 31 isn’t the way to go.  If you can’t look to the scriptures for perfection where can you look??

Satan has done a wonderful job on us, hasn’t he?  We take one scripture, “be ye therefore perfect” and completely forget the “even as my Father in Heaven is perfect and rest of the divine text.  This last General Conference has been a wonderful reminder of whom we should look to for our example of perfection.  Not our neighbor, not our mom, not even Mrs. Proverbs 31 (don’t forget she had servants).

Perfection may not be possible in this life, but it helps to have an idea of what perfection looks like.  But the answer is very simple and right in front of us.  Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part.  Perfection doesn’t lie in a spotless house, but in your child’s smile: Not in your four course organic meal at dinner time, but the corn flakes casserole you take to a sick friend: Not your size 2 jeans, but the dirty shirt you use to wipe away tears.  We are closer to perfection every time we choose to be more like Him.  Every time we serve another, every time we kneel down to pray, and every time we follow His example.

In Conference Elder Cook said:

Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in frivolous foolishness, nonsensical noise, and continuous contention. When we turn down the volume and examine the substance, there is very little that will assist us in our eternal quest toward righteous goals. One father wisely responds to his children with their numerous requests to participate in these distractions. He simply asks them, “Will this make you a better person?”

Are you drowning?  Are you in so deep that you can’t enjoy your life anymore?  Has beautifying your home become a burden?  Has your wardrobe and waistline overwhelmed you?  Is following the latest nutritional trends keeping you from enjoying your family dinner?

Elder Scott, speaking of Family Home Evening said:

Do not let employment demands, sports, extracurricular activities, homework, or anything else become more important than that time you spend together at home with your family.

This last quote hit me hard during Conference and I think we could very easily apply that sentiment to the Gospel.  Never let employment demands, sports, extracurricular activities, homework, or anything else become more important than our love for the Savior and striving to be more like Him.  So I am making a promise to myself.  I am not going to let the worldly view of perfection distract me from my Divine mission as a wife, mother, and daughter of God.  I’m not going to feel bad that I am not a morning person.  I am not going to stress too much about my weight.  I’m not going to worry about buying organic, locally grown food.

I am going to use Doctrine and Covenants 109:8 as my guide:

Organize yourselves; preparefollow every needful thing, and establish a house, even a housefollow of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of orderfollow, a housefollow of God

If it doesn’t help me organize my home the way the Lord has commanded, then it is a distraction.

When all is said and done, our Father in Heaven doesn’t care what our home looked like, He cares about what it felt like.  He doesn’t care about what WE looked like, He cares about how we treated His children.  We spend so much of our time trying to change ourselves so we can be the perfect woman, but at the end of the day most of the things we think we needed to “fix” about ourselves are just distractions.