Of course, this responsibility to teach our children to joyfully live the gospel is more easily said than done. Each one of our children is different than any other child who has ever lived. The circumstances of every person's life is different than every other person's life. The variety of situations we can come across in raising a single child is staggering. There is no parenting manual that can cover every contingency, so how do we get it right? There is only one way: We must be in constant touch with the Spirit of the Lord. The Lord knows our children, and can tell us exactly how to deal with every situation.
"And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive" (D&C 11:12-13).
To be able to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, we must have faith (1 Nephi 10:17), and hope (Romans 15:13), and charity (Mosiah 3:19). In turn, as we heed the Holy Ghost, he will give us more of these three qualities (Mosiah 3:19). Faith, hope, and charity and the guidance of the Holy Ghost will lead us and our families to Eternal Life (Ether 12:28; Moroni 10:21-21).
THE PROBLEM WITH PERFECTIONISM
During his mortal ministry, Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). After his resurrection, he said, "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48). Of course, the implication here is huge. Even Jesus, who committed no sin, was not perfected in this earthly life.
Why is it important to know this? Because giving up the illusion that perfection is possible in earthly life allows us to be patient, and that attribute is absolutely necessary for the exercise of faith, hope, and charity, and for our eventual perfection. "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:4).
GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM BUILDS OUR FAITH
If everything in life went as we expected, as we thought was fair, we would never have need to exercise faith. Conversely, understanding the truth that this life is not going to be perfect, fair, or logical (to our minds), means we won't react with shock and disappointment when something unpleasant happens. Instead we can remember that this unwanted circumstance is an opportunity to trust in the Lord. "We can grow in faith only if we are willing to wait patiently for God's purposes and patterns to unfold in our lives, on His timetable" (Elder Robert C. Oaks, "The Power of Patience," October 2006 General Conference).
In our family, this principle was most powerfully taught to us as we tried to adopt a child from Russia. The short version is that after my husband had spent several years working on a joint U.S./Russian project, we felt powerfully guided by the Lord to go to Russia and look for a four-year-old girl to join our family. The first adoption we attempted became "stuck" as, before the paperwork went through, the child's birthmother decided to try to come back to her daughter after she was released from prison. We were bewildered as we felt the Lord had guided our steps, and now we were at a stalemate. As we continued to ask the Lord what to do, and as the opportunity to adopt other children became available, the answer to our prayers for a year and a half was always the same: "Just continue in the same direction." Then our facilitator emigrated to America, leaving us high and dry without any connection in Krasnodar. This was a great trial to our faith.
But suddenly, a different path opened up: Through an on-line adoption support group, I found a new facilitator in Krasnodar, who immediately took up our case, looked into the situation, and then sadly told us it was hopeless. "But," he wrote in an e-mail, "it is my experience that when this happens, it means God has another child for you." These words went straight to our hearts as truth, and we knew it was finally time to let the first child go. A few days later, we received an e-mail with five photographs of a beautiful little four-year-old girl, with a melancholy expression, who was available for immediate adoption. The first photograph made my heart skip a beat. I felt it was the Spirit telling me, "This is your child." Our facilitator had chosen this child because she looked like the first one. The Department of Education let us easily adopt her despite their opposition to our large family, because the previous administration had already approved us. They believed we were sincere, because we had waited two years without giving up. They were impressed that we were able to speak some Russian, which the two-year wait had allowed us to learn. In addition, the long delay allowed me to study and learn a great deal about foreign and older child adoption and attachment, which was immensely helpful in our daughter's successful integration into American family life. She even fit every article of clothing I had purchased or made for the first child two years before. And there is also the possibility, although we will probably never know, that our persistence in trying to adopt the first child may have actually cleaned up her birthmother's life and reunited the two of them.
GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM INCREASES OUR HOPE
"...Neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moroni 10:21-22). Hope is so important a principle that failing to exercise it is "iniquity!" When we expect perfection, it is easy to give in to despair, because somewhere along the way things will go wrong, at least according to our plan. Then we find ourselves breaking the Savior's commandment to "be of good cheer" and that iniquity brings us to despair (D&C 78:18). But we can "inherit the promises" when we exercise the "full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11-12).
"Hope we have as an achor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 6:20). Inasmuch as Jesus was made perfect beyond the veil in the next life, his Atonement makes it possible to hope that our families may also be perfected there.
GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM ALLOWS US TO FREELY LOVE
"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering [elements of patience], by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness [elements of charity], and pure knowledge [the guidance of the Holy Spirit], which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile...Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God..." (D&C 121:41, 45, italics added).
In order to lead others, it is necessary for us to be patient with others, to love them deeply, and to be guided by the Spirit. We are commanded to exercise this kind of patience and love towards all of our family members, not just to those who are presently following the gospel plan (the household of faith). Love is not just the method that ought to be employed in order to influence others; it is the only way we can influence others.
As we look around us, we can see evidence that God loves each person, regardless of where they stand in life and in gospel understanding, and He extends His tender mercies to them. Despite being perfect Himself, He is infinitely patient with His imperfect children, and will keep the way open for them to come closer to Him. Every step, however small, that a person makes toward God will be rewarded by Him, and another step will be encouraged. Though our progress may be slow, He continues His offer to lead us along, to the last day of our lives on this earth. "The scriptures warn us, 'Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.' But, in this life, it is never too late to repent" (Elder Neil L. Anderson, "Repent...That I May Heal You," October 2009 General Conference).
IMPERFECTION BLESSES US
It is an ironic gospel truth that the perfect condition for this mortal existence is imperfection.
The fallen state of this earth and its inhabitants allows us the perfect opportunity to grow in faith, hope and charity, and to rely upon the influence of the Holy Ghost. As we do so, we will be lead with our families safely to exaltation if we "continue in patience until [we] are perfected" (D&C 67:13). For "God...will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" (Romans 2:5-7).