Bill Pringle - [email protected]

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Perfection & Guilt

Background

I gave this Sacrament Meeting talk on April 27, 2003. Mormons believe that we are commanded to be perfect, but they also believe that we can't get there in this life. This often leads to people feeling guilty because they aren't able to do as well as they would like. This talk attempts to address this issue.

Introduction

My talk today is on perfection.

Now, if you are like me, you just felt a tightening in your gut, and a thought flashed through your mind something like: "Oh, great, another talk to make me feel guilty."

  My hope is that this will not be the case.

First Joining the Church

For about the first year after I joined this Church, I was afraid that somebody would discover that they had made a mistake, and kick me out.

Everybody else seemed to be living the gospel effortlessly, while I was struggling every day. 

People would get up to bear their testimony and talk about struggling to live the Gospel, but I would think to myself, “Yeah, right.  You don't know what it is like to really struggle to live the Gospel.”  I thought I was having more problems than any of the other members.  Two things happened that help me get over this mistaken impression.

The first thing was a talk given by a woman who said that the commandments are stars to steer by, not sticks to beat yourself up with.

While we must always try to live the commandments, when we fall short (which we all do), we should not be too hard on ourselves.  That helped me a little, but I was still thinking that everybody else was doing so much better than me in living the Gospel.

The second thing that happened, however, was much more dramatic. One of the brothers who I especially admired got up to bear his testimony one Sunday. He started out by saying how much he admired the good example set by Bill Pringle, and how easily he had accepted the Gospel.  He went on to say that I set such a good example, that it helped him live the Gospel better. 

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  He actually thought I had my act together!  How could he possibly think that it was easy for me to live the Gospel? And then it dawned on me ... maybe I wasn't the only person struggling to live the Gospel.

We all behave better on Sundays or when we are around other Church members.  We tend to smile more, we don't yell at our kids as fast, we don't complain about our spouses or kids as much, etc. 

Partly this is because we don't want others to know how bad we are, but I think mostly it is because being around other members helps to inspire us to live the Gospel better. 

Weeks when we don't go to church for one reason or another become harder because we didn't get our batteries recharged by being around other members. 

What most of us don't realize, I suspect, is that everybody else is doing the same thing.  We inspire others in much the same way as they inspire us.

It is easy to think that our problems are unique.  Many of us, like I did at first, seem to think that we are having problems that the other members couldn't possibly understand, since they seem to be living the Gospel so much easier than we are. 

As Bishop Roland Brown once said, there is a difference between confessing and bragging, but I would be very surprised if there is anyone in this congregation who is struggling with a problem that there isn't at least one other member who either has struggled with, or is even now struggling with the same kind of problem.

Forgiveness of Sins

Speaking of confessions, I had it really easy back when I was a Catholic.

Once or twice a month (or once a week when I got to be a teenager), I would go to confession. 

You go to church, find the smallest line, and wait for your turn to talk to the priest.  You go in, list the things you have done wrong since the last time, and he gives you penance to do, usually a few "Hail Marys" and some other prayers. 

After leaving the confessional, you would go up to the communion rail and say your penance.  Since you don't want to be seen spending a lot of time up there, you would be surprised at how fast Catholics can rattle off their prayers. 

But the nice thing about all this is that when you walked out of church that day, you felt great.  You believed that you have just been forgiven of all your sins, and were starting over.

When I was baptized into the Mormon Church, I felt much the same thing.  I knew that I had been forgiven of all my sins when I came up out of the water.  What took me a while to realize, however, is that I could feel that same thing every week. 

Each Sunday, when we take the Sacrament, we are renewing our baptismal covenants.  What I didn't realize at first, was that as we think of the things we have done wrong and repent of them, we receive the same absolution that I thought I was getting back when I was a Catholic.  Each week, we can be forgiven of all our sins, and start over.

In Luke 11, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he responded with what is known as the Lord's Prayer, which starts: “Our Father, who art in Heaven.”  I think it is quite significant that the way God wants to be addressed is “Our Father”.  There are so many other titles He could have used, but the one that He chose was “Our Father”. 

It is important that we always remember that He is our Heavenly Father.  I also believe that this title helps us to better understand the relationship between us and Him: that of parent and child.

Grandkid Stories

Now you can't expect somebody my age to talk about parent and child without including a few grandchildren stories.  I would like to talk a little about Josh and Em.

Josh was a very quiet baby.  What many refer to as a low maintenance child.  He was always happy, and seldom made too much of a fuss.  My favorite story about him as a baby happened when he learned to walk. 

Now, watching a kid learn to walk is lots of fun.  They are so cute when they wobble around.  They are especially cute when they get this look on their faces that they realize they just lost their balance.  They seem to hover in mid-air for a few seconds, and then, plop!  Down they go.  Everybody laughs at this spectacle.  Now the kid doesn't see anything funny about all this, but the grownups love it.

Josh was very close to walking when Emily was born.  We took him to the hospital to see Mommy and the new baby.  He was smiling and having a good time leaning against the bed, until suddenly Emily let out a loud cry that startled him.  Josh took his first steps and literally ran out of the hospital room. 

Their relationship has been much the same ever since.

Emily, on the other hand, is quite different.  To illustrate, one time we rented a car while mine was in the shop.  It turned out to be a station wagon that had an extra seat in the back area, and the grandkids wanted to ride there.  There was only one seatbelt, so they would have to take turns. 

We decided we would go out to eat, and (knowing Emily) she would get to ride to the restaurant, and Josh could ride home.  After dinner, Josh started to get into the back seat. 

Now, remember, this was the first time they had seen this car, and Emily had gotten to ride in it first.  As Josh started to get into the back seat, Emily began to pout: “It's not fair!  Josh always gets to ride in the back!”  Emily only wants her fair share, its just that her version of “fair share” is different than others. :^)

A Parent's Love

Let there be no mistake. We love our grandchildren.  It is easy to understand how people can love kids when they are being good, but what most parents also understand is that we can love them whey they aren't being good. 

In fact, when Emily is in her foulest moods, that is probably when I most want to hold her in my arms, rock her gently, and tell her how much I love her.  She may not want to believe that at first, but eventually she will calm down and become the sweet person I know she really is.

One of the most frustrating things about working with kids is when they have trouble believing that we love them.  They do something wrong, and they are sure that their parents will be mad, and maybe that they will hate them now. 

And no matter how many times you tell them, they seem to have that same fear that eventually they will do something and you won't love them any more. 

Its usually not until they become parents themselves that they begin to understand how deep a parent's love can be.

Because of Their Faults

Not only do we love kids in spite of their faults, we sometimes love them because of their faults.  Most teachers can tell you stories about how they came to love the troublemaker in class. 

  When we first moved here, Linda was teaching one of the Star classes.  One of the kids in her class was always getting into trouble.  Every time she looked the other way, he was out the door and down the hall.  He acted up so much, he was cute! 

  Eventually what Linda did was put him in charge of the door.  When somebody knocked on the door of the classroom, he was to open the door for them.  When the class left the room, he held the door open for them.  When they came back into the classroom, he was to hold the door and let them in.  He never ran out of the classroom after that.

My favorite "trouble maker" story involves when I taught in Primary.  There was this kid in one of the younger classes who was a holy terror.  None of his teachers knew what to do with him.  At the time, I was teaching the Valiant B class, which were the 9-year olds turning 10. 

  I would always talk up the class, and say that the Valiant B was the best class in Primary (I hope every teacher thinks theirs is the best class).

Part of the reason I said this was the encourage my class to behave, but I found out that it also helped the younger kids.  What would happen is each year, the new Valiant Bs would try to live up to the class reputation, and they always brought their scriptures, were reverent during class, etc.

Well, the time came, and this kid was a Valiant B, and I must admit that he was a challenge.  But, we had some breakthroughs and he was definitely getting better. 

  I was released part way through that year, but several years later, I was called to teach Sunday School, and guess what class?  Yep, my old Valiant B class, and that kid was the best kid in the class.  He set a great example for the other students. He went on to serve an honorable mission, and is a fine young man today.

One of the great things about kids is that you never know how they will turn out.  The way they are when they are young isn't always the way they will turn out when they are grown up. 

Today or Eventually

And maybe that is why grandparents don't get as upset as parents over what the kids do.  We have seen the changes in our own children, and realize the same thing may very well happen with our grandchildren. 

Parents want their children to behave today; grandparents want them to behave eventually, and we realize that sometimes they have to be bad a little bit so that they can understand what it means to be good.

The thing is, sometimes kids are their cutest when they are doing something wrong.  There isn't a parent here today that can't tell of a time when one of their kids did something wrong, and they knew they should be scolding them, but it was so hard to keep from laughing, they had to wait a few minutes to compose themselves.

Our Heavenly Father

Now why is it, that we can understand these things when it pertains to our children and grandchildren, but we have so much trouble believing that it also applies to us and our Heavenly Father? 

  Why do we think that when we do something bad, He is mad at us?  Or He doesn't love us?  Or He wants to punish us?  Why can't we believe that He loves us in the same way that we love our children? 

  Can you picture Heavenly Father up there saying: “Look, everyone, Johnny is trying to give up smoking again.  That's it, that's it, aw, that's okay, you'll get the hang of it shortly.  Isn't he cute?” 

We can imagine ourselves doing that with our kids, why not Heavenly Father doing that with us?

And the times that we feel the least lovable, when we think we are being our worst, why can't we accept the fact that our Heavenly Father wants to take us in His arms, rock us gently, and tell us how much He loves us?

  Even though that is the way we feel with our own kids, why are we so sure that it doesn't apply to Heavenly Father?

After all, Jesus repeatedly referred to God as our Father in Heaven.  We are told to pray to “Our Father, who art in heaven”.  When He appeared to Mary at the tomb, he mentioned His God and our God, His Father and our Father.  It seems clear that God wants us to refer to Him as Heavenly Father.  There must be a reason for that. 

  Personally, I believe it is so that we can better understand how much He loves us, even when we are doing the wrong things. 

  In the same way that we love our kids when they are good, bad, or indifferent, Heavenly Father loves us regardless of what we are (or are not) doing.

While it is important that we strive for perfection, we mustn't be too hard on ourselves if we don't get there by this afternoon. :^)

Heavenly Father has an eternal perspective, and He doesn't expect us to become perfect overnight.  Neither should we.  After all, the commandments are stars to steer by, not sticks to beat ourselves over the head with.

Perfection, but not Guilt

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying it doesn't matter what we do.  I've always hated the bumper sticker: “Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.” 

There are people who think that once they accept Jesus, it doesn't matter what they do. I think they are wrong.  In John 14:15, Jesus clearly said: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” 

So we are always supposed to try to do the right thing, its just that we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves when we fall short of that.

And each Sunday, when we take the Sacrament, we should repent of our sins, and start over. We should try not to frustrate our Heavenly Father, and to accept the fact that he really does love us, warts and all.

I encourage each of us think carefully about our relationship with our Father in Heaven. 

  Can we feel His love?  Can we accept His love?  After all, Jesus was willing to suffer and die so that we might return to our Father in Heaven. 

  And it was Heavenly Father who originally laid out the Plan of Salvation, and Jesus wilingly accepted his role, knowing how hard it would be. 

And, they both knew what kinds of things we were going to do during this life, and they still loved us enough to go through with the Plan of Salvation. 

I have trouble believing that They would do all that, and then be mad at us when we do what they knew we were going to do anyway. (It is not a surprise to Them that we turned out like we did.)

It is my hope and prayer that each of us realizes that our problems are not unique.  We should strive to help others, and do all those things that we know we should be doing.  But, when we fall short, we should pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try it again.

  And as we do all this, we should remember that we have a loving Heavenly Father who is on our side, who wants us to return to His presence, and will do all in His power to help us get there.

And this is my prayer, in the name of Jesus, the Christ.  Amen.

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