How do we measure our efforts when it comes to pleasing our Father in Heaven? We just celebrated Easter a couple of weeks ago, the glorious, superlative atonement and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. It is unquestionably the greatest event in the history of the world. And what did Christ say as his moments in mortality came to a close? His final comment was, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) He knew he had offered himself as a sacrifice for every single one of us, a miraculous moment of love unlike anything before or since. He fulfilled his mission in every regard, nothing left behind. Our Father in Heaven gave His Only Begotten, saw the anguish, yet allowed love to triumph as each of us was redeemed.
And what of us? We’ve been given commandments, even specific direction at times. Do you sometimes see a checklist in the air, item after item that you’ve missed? Some feel they’ve missed opportunities to marry, have children, or hold certain callings, as if we’re putting together a resume. We are not to beat ourselves up like this. Let’s look at why some people feel anxious about their mortal “performance.”
First, not everyone understands what’s required. This leads to anxiety, shame, and despair. We fear we are never going to “make it,” keenly aware of our flaws and sins. Those who tend towards perfectionism view their lives as lacking. Even people who have devoted their mortal life to serving others can get caught in this snare and begin to doubt their worthiness.
Second, some get confused about earning our way into heaven through endless works, a concept leaders have told us is wrong. Yes, we are here to improve, grow in faith and obedience, love our Lord, and love others. But we are not criminals assembling a pile of evidence that will get us out of trouble. We are children God adores, striving to conquer the natural man within us. We’re trying to experience the change of heart that King Benjamin taught, and have charitable souls. Consider this: If you have to earn your way in and save your own self, doesn’t that deny the role of Christ to save and redeem us?
Third, we sometimes forget that sincere repentance really does wipe the slate clean. When repentance transforms us into new creatures who no longer desire to commit those sins, when we give God our hearts and draw close to him, we will feel comfortable in His presence again. We can gratefully accept Christ’s promise that our sins will be “remembered no more.”
Fourth, for some reason we humans like to measure things that are out of our control. Parenting is a huge example. Too many parents blame themselves when their children exercise agency and stray. Even the best parents can look back and find things to regret, but we mustn’t feel guilt and shame for the choices of another. And try this: Notice how you feel when you speak with a friend whose children have departed from the faith of their upbringing. It’s sad, yes, but you don’t fault your friend. You don’t conclude that they did something wrong. You know how it works, that even the noblest prophets throughout history have had children who chose another path. God only wants us to try our best.
Fifth, we tend to feel we aren’t finished when we compare ourselves to others who seem to have checked off more boxes than we have. Every one of us has challenges and blessings tailored to our own specific needs. Someone else may be “finishing” something you haven’t even started. But maybe that’s what they’re supposed to do while you have an entirely different path to follow for the growth you need.
Some things will never be finished, and it’s okay to leave life without building that add-on to your house, or getting the ultimate promotion at work, or seeing each of your grandchildren sealed in the temple. Sometimes we set goals that have nothing to do with the outpouring of love and acceptance we’ll feel when we pass through to the other side. Are you really striving to love God and your fellowman? That’s enough.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t ‘earn’ it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”
In the beautiful LDS hymn, Behold the Great Redeemer Die, we read what are to be the words of Christ: “I’ve done the work thou gavest me.” And perhaps you are closer than you think, to being able to answer the same to your Maker. You have a different assignment, and it is not to do Christ’s work, but your own.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.