Expectations for the Celestial Kingdom

“I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind”

Alanis Morissette — Unsexy

While in graduate school, I fell into a dark place. I was doing everything badly. In every aspect of my life I was failing. I was a lousy father, a bad student, and a terrible Teacher’s Quorum Advisor, and a miserable employee. Our fourth son had just been born and we had taken out student loans to pay for the tyke, so I was overwhelmed by my sense that somehow God was frowning at me for going into debt although he was the one demanding not to put off having children for my education—the classic don’t eat of the fruit/multiply and replenish the earth contradiction. So there I was working full time (yes full time) for the EPA, going to school full time (yes full time), serving in a demanding church calling, and trying to be a good father to my four boys. And I was failing miserably at all of them. Still I struggled on. Until one day.

The Ensign came one afternoon with the story of one of the general authorities. The spotlighted person had been in medical school, serving as a bishop or stake president or some high-level, demanding calling, every night he came home and played with his kids for several hours while helping his wife, he was never angry, or discouraged (stated explicitly), and neither was his wife. He was a model student, father, president and in every way (I believe now that this says more about The Ensign than the person).

I was devastated. I could not measure up. I was doing far lesser things and being crushed by them. Literally, I started to cry and couldn’t stop for a long time. Then darkness settled in—I was fundamentally flawed in irredeemable ways. I was weighed in the balance and found wanting—in every aspect of my life.

Something had to give. So I asked to be released from Scouting. The Bishop was understanding, but with a furrowed brow kind of understanding hinting at a certain lack of faith on my part. He put me in nursery (ironically where I now serve). But since God had called me to scouting, it was clear I had let him down and the heavens were disappointed. I dropped a math class in which I was falling so far behind that I could not catch up—it felt like academic loserhood. Still, I plugged on despite my unfitness for the Kingdom. A strong feeling that the Lord was unhappy with me persisted and seemed to hang like an ever-present miasma thick in the air around me. Oh, I knew intellectually that he loved me, everyone said so, but my heart felt more of His disappointment—You’re no Elder So-and-So, I seemed to hear Him say frowning and shaking his head.

At some point in this darkness, someone pointed me toward Chieko Okazaki’s book, Lighten Up, a marvelous dismantling of Mormon perfectionism. It was the first thing I’d read from an LDS source that seemed to suggest that maybe my human imperfections were all right. That maybe, just maybe, God accepted me as is. Shucks, maybe He even liked me.

I look at some of the unpleasant current statistics for Utah—among the highest in antidepressant use, suicidal thoughts, internet porn use, prescription drug abuse and other things. I recognize that the reasons for this are complex, multifaceted, and do not necessarily implicate the Church. Even so, there is a sense that something is wrong here. I submit that part of the problem is Mormon perfectionism. Not a part of the gospel, but a deeply entrenched habit of mind for many members of the church. I know personally many who are, like I was above, plagued with unhealthy feelings of inadequacy and guilt. This paired with an inclination toward a kind of black and white worldview (“There’s a right and wrong for every questions” we brightly sing). Means that when we fall, we just don’t move to the gray, we enter a realm of complete darkness. If we fail a little, we fail all the way.

Enter LDS author Jana Riess‘s new book, Flunking Sainthood, in which she describes her attempt and failure at a yearlong course of spiritual practices. I quite honestly believe this is the most important devotional book published this year, well, I’ll go further, the most important devotional book since Chieko Okazaki’s book. It’s not written just for Mormons, but for the broader Christian community. Kevin Barney reviews it at BCC here and does a marvelous job. But I want to offer it as a catholicon for Mormon perfectionism, because it recognizes that we all fail, but in that failure can find spiritual graces that lift us and make us more Christlike than when we assume that our failures are mistakes, deal breakers, shortcomings rather than inevitable unmaskings of the human condition.

As she fails at her practices (which she does with delightful humor and wit) often and spectacularly, rather than ringing her hands and mourning at her inadequacy (my approach) she says things like:

“I feel immediately comforted. Somebody up there likes me. There is someone in my corner. ” p. 49

“I raise my arms in gratitude for the most perfect day, for these friends, for the simple joy of fruit and harvest. Blueberry buckle tonight, blueberry pie tomorrow. Thank you, God.” P. 112

In a failed prayer practice, she says, “My stats for fixed-hour prayer are still dismal, so by ESPN standards the month is another failure. . . But numbers don’t tell the whole story: I feel closer to God and to the communion of saints. That’s got to count for something, because it feels like it means everything.”

She does not wallow in sorrow at her failure (although of course there is some of that as the failures first show up) but finds meaning and growth in the lack of perfection.

It is a marvelous book. The perfect way to start a new year. I find myself wishing it were the course of study this year for both RS, Priesthood and YM/YW. It’s a lesson we all need. When Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt 5:48)” he was talking about one thing, as Adam Miller points out in this post, love. Be perfect in loving. Including love of self.

So set a New Year resolution to lighten up and relish flunking sainthood in all its senses.


  1. This is brilliant and important, Steve, and justifies my decision to give Jana’s book as Christmas presents this year.

  2. can’t wait to read it. gave it to my mother for christmas, selfishly, knowing i would get it when she is done reading it.

  3. I’d really like to read this book – but it will have to be after your book, Steve, which is on the top of the stack.

    I actually find the idea of perfection itself quite comforting. It helps me to know that I won’t always be such a screw-up, producing discomfort and pain everywhere I go. I think I’ve been blessed to have almost no consideration for the Mormon picture of perfection, though. It helps a lot to know that the Stake President is bumbling through, too. One problem with the picture of Mormon perfection is that it has nothing to do with the real thing, which involves, it seems to me, a lot of grace and ease both in the developing and the possession of it.

    It does comfort me to know that God loves me. Though there is kind of a default about that. I’m even more comforted by the thought that God finds me amusing. That He’d like to spend an afternoon talking to me for the sheer pleasure of it.

    As for the Celestial Kingdom, the kind of perfection I picture isn’t all of us sitting around the table keeping our napkins just so, and always using the right kind of fork. I picture something more like wild joy.

  4. Excellent post Steve. Thanks for the personal reveal. We need more of THAT in the Ensign.

  5. Thanks SteveP. I needed this.

    Fifteen minutes before I read this I was thinking about the the classic don’t eat of the fruit/multiply and replenish the earth contradiction, and how my wife I and I both feel that God wanted us to have children, and now God (and my wife) want my wife to be able to stay at home to take care of them, but at the same time I haven’t been blessed with work so my wife works to support the family.

    A year ago I felt a bit like you did in graduate school. I was a father, a full-time graduate student earning good grades, and for the last two years of graduate school I not only worked (albeit just part-time), I was also EQP. It was an incredibly stressful time, and every area suffered because of the demands of the other areas. I was sure God would bless me, but as the last few months of graduate school passed, I wasn’t able to find work. Several months later, I’m still unemployed.

    It’s hard going from an accomplished workaholic to unemployed. I moved after graduation, and my new ward doesn’t know any of my successes–they only see my failure of unemployment. I don’t come anywhere close to their expectation of a responsible provider. I’ve been struggling to stay optimistic. My feelings aren’t so much about feeling inadequate (although those feelings are there too), but that God deserted me.

    Looks like I have some reading to do.

  6. Yeah … the idea that God loves me not in spite of my idiosyncrasy but for my idiosyncrasy … that is the thought I was looking for. Not just an acceptance of what we are, but an attraction to what we are, as like to like.

  7. “I picture something more like wild joy.” I like that so much more than perfect napkins.

    Tim, so sorry. I’ve had the feeling that god deserted me, in fact am convinced he did at some points in my life. I’ve never understood it, but it seems real (as Jesus noted on the Cross). Somehow though in those times in his backing away I find an approach of a different kind. I know that makes no sense but I’ll leave it there.

    Thomas, yes! Because of our idiosyncrasies.

  8. God bless Jana and SteveP.

  9. In general conference of April 2001 Elder Gene R. Cook gave a sermon on developing charity and love. An interesting part of the talk is only visible in the written version, in the footnotes, where he lists the things which hold us back from loving completely. Here is the note:

    11. Some destroyers of men’s love and peace include but are not limited to: fear, perfectionism, envy, unsubmissiveness, doubt, anger, jealousy, unrighteous control, unbelief, impatience, judging, fostering hurt feelings, pride, contention, murmuring, seeking for honor, competition, lying. All of these are of the natural man, and not of the man of Christ.

  10. Great post. I think that we often fail to apply the concept of forgiveness and love to ourselves, and I am all for gentle reminders.

  11. Loved this Steve. I’m teaching the idea of perfectionism in my Intro to Philosophy class this semester. I’ll probably use this now as well. Thank you.

  12. The antidepressant/porn connection to Mormon perfectionism is a widespread hypothesis, but it doesn’t seem to be backed up by the data:

    “And while some cling to a stereotype of Utah County women needing the most help to battle depression, they are the least likely to have a prescription. It’s women in northern Utah — Roy, Hooper, Riverdale, Brigham City — who have some of the highest usage rates.” http://extras.sltrib.com/antidepressant_use/


    “The most porn-watching ZIP codes in Utah, ‘with unexpectedly high subscriptions relative to their population and broadband usage,’ are 84766 in Sevier County, 84112 in Salt Lake County, 84018 in Morgan County, 84006 in southwest Salt Lake County, and 84536 in San Juan County. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705288350/Utah-No-1-in-online-porn-subscriptions-report-says.html?pg=1

    Just had to get that off my chest.

    Also, just to stir the pot a little. I don’t think the emphasis on perfection itself is bad. There is no escaping the fact that we are commanded to be perfect (eventually). I think the problem is our conception of what perfection entails, which I think has little to do with the archetypes that we construct from GA profiles, homemaking abilities, etc.

  13. I often read the posts on Bycommonconsent buy I rarely reply to anything. I just wanted you to know that very often your posts have an effect on me and I’m sure on others though you may not always know it. As someone who has gone through very similar circumstances as you, and as someone who finally came to the realization of Gods love for me in spite of my failures; even that He thinks I am valuable, I am very moved by your post.

  14. The first word of the post’s title is “expectations” — sometimes, our expectations are wrong — the prerequisites for the celestial kingdom of our God are not having kids while still in school, being a good employee and student at the same time, keeping one’s wife at home, and being excellent in a church assignment — there is nothing wrong with any of these, but the prerequisites for the celestial kingdom are real and abiding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and love for one’s God and one’s fellowman. Sometimes, it seems we tend to emphasize the wrong things.

  15. Thanks Wes (and others), it is nice to hear..

  16. whizzbang says:

    This is and was me all over the place. Sadly or gladly depending on the day I got divorced. I just couldn’t do it all anymore, school, work, kid, wife, church calling etc. Once we divorced my whole life totally fell apart and I was in a severe depression for 4.5 years and it was HELL. I didn’t know as well that God loved me and that was a struggle for at least ten years. In the Feb? ’03 Ensign Elder Nelson wrote an article about God’s love. I had some questions and he wrote me back! So I was greatful for that! Ironically too it was a CES talk he gave in 2001 that further led to my idea that the only way to live in the Church and not be selfish was to have it all and now and ASAP. I don’t know what God thinks of all this and I really don’t read my Patriarchal blessing anymore and haven’t really found any comfort from it for years now, some of it is true still I guess but other parts I don’t think will happen!haha!

  17. I will have to read this book (sometime, if I get around to it). I’ve got no kids and essentially no calling but I’m still managing to fail in every aspect of my life: school, my marriage, my social life, being a good Mormon, etc, and I definitely relate to the post. I’ve often felt like God doesn’t think I deserve blessings because I can’t keep up. Then I get angry that he’s put me in situations where I don’t have much going for me.

    But on top of that, I’ve got a health problem that causes chronic debilitating pain exacerbated by stress, and the main solution is to chill out. So, now every time I start to feel like a total failure in my eyes or God’s eyes, I have to consciously choose to let that feeling go or I’ll end up miserably useless. If I can’t diffuse it immediately, I meditate, or do yoga, or read, or take a nap, or watch The Office, in spite the giant list of important things I should be doing. I’ve told myself that even if God does think I’m a failure, I can’t let that get to me. I think embracing inadequacy this way is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. I’m so much more productive and happy that I’ve stopped feeling as guilty for taking time to de-stress.

  18. Somewhere in the Universe, Paul is smiling.

    Its a tired old comment, but some early Christians grappled with this same problem – spawning some important letters with some pretty good answers. Perfection? Yes. But our own effort is ultimately futile. Doing good and being good without the checklist is certainly possible in the realm of Jesus.

    Steve – Your experience is so close to mine (and I’m sure many others). Thanks for sharing.

  19. This post isn’t perfect…it’s better than perfect! It belongs in the Ensign. Only it’s too good for the Ensign! The Ensign’s readers belong here.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Great thoughts, Steve.

  21. Thanks, SteveP.

    I have friends who have recently lost spouses at a young age (through both divorce and death) and who have lost children (stillbirths). In comparison to them, I really don’t have any reason to complain. Their struggles are much more difficult than my own, and I’m impressed at how well they carry on.

    ji is exactly right. God cares more about our faith and how we treat others than what accomplishments we’ve made. In EQ this past Sunday, the instructor talked about how a right decision at Point ‘A’ can make things easier at Points ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, and ‘E’ easier. While this may sometimes be true, it’s also quite possible that right decisions can make things harder down the road. If we have expectations of specific blessings in this life because of our good works (and even because of our faith and love of others) we may ultimately be disappointed. Many in the church (including myself at times) have forgotten the repeated stories in the scriptures of good people of faith doing the right things and suffering for it.

  22. Thanks for this post, Steve.

    Sister Okazaki is one of my favorite general authories of all time, and I absolutely love “Lighten Up!” “Flunking Sainthood” likewise is phenomenal.

    Frankly, I believe the misinterpretation of Matthew 5:48 and 2 Nephi 25:23 is the biggest doctrinal issue we face in the Church today. As usual, I’ve written about both of them in the past, so:



  23. I just saw “Mens hearts will fail them” by Elder Nelson with my seminary class. A key line in the short video is the point that perfection occurs in the next life, not this one. And yes, I have held myself up to impossible standards in the past also. It wasn’t until I saw so many others around me going to the temple, which I had withheld from myself, knowing of their imperfections, that I realized i needed to be more self-forgiving.

  24. Great stuff, Steve. I see some of this in my students once in a while. Maybe there are people who can do it all and perfectly. I’m always sympathetic to the rest of us though. This is particularly so in my ward. We have a large contingent of retirees, some with very debilitating conditions. I wonder about their feelings. Do they consider themselves useless? With skill sets that are powerful but ignored? Or have they at peace with things. It seems to vary. Anyway, loved the post and identified with much of it.

  25. observer fka eric s says:

    Mark Brown (9), thank you for sharing that Cook nugget. Mosiah 3:19 is one of the most profound, and overlooked verses of the restoration, IMHO. And to see Elder Cook’s words here ellaborating on it, and sharing his perspective, gives me cultural hope. I would venture to guess that fully 90% of humankind does not recognize fear, resistance, and attachment as pain-causing emotions unless they are assisted in identifying those emotions. These emotions happen and we are not conscious of them most of the time. And it is these emotions that are the root cause of so much personal and interpersonal pain. These are truly insightful and healing thoughts from E.Cook for those who try and internalize them. For me, it will take at least a lifetime . . .

  26. This makes me so sad to read, including our friends in the comments. It isn’t ‘Mormon perfectionism’ that is making you sick; it’s Mormonism. You never give yourself a chance to be a fulfilled, self-aware adult if you are married and have four children before you even finish school. Give yourself a chance to be happy!

    For a shorter-term fix, author, why doesn’t your wife get a job. Social interaction with “non-member” preschoolers at daycare is the best thing you can do for your children at this point. The world is a wonderful place! You don’t know how good life can get when you are in such a dark hole.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    “You never give yourself a chance to be a fulfilled, self-aware adult if you are married and have four children before you even finish school.”

    Megan, that’s just a stupid thing to say, almost as stupid as the assertion that it is Mormonism that makes one sick.

  28. “For a shorter-term fix, author, why doesn’t your wife get a job.” And you are ‘who’ to judge my wife’s choices? Since my wife does not appear in this post the assumption you bring into this thread are presumptuous at best, clearly arrogant, and the simplemindedness in the assertion that working in a day-care is cure-all for the complexities of darkness, galling.

  29. it's a series of tubes says:

    You never give yourself a chance to be a fulfilled, self-aware adult if you are married and have four children before you even finish school.

    Guess I just barely missed the cut-off by marrying and having only three children before finishing school, eh? Good thing I waited until after grad school to have a fourth!

    Thanks, Megan, for letting me know that I am in fact unfulfilled and painfully self-unaware, all evidence to the contrary.

  30. What are your thoughts on the correlating topic, “God gives us trials.”? This was the topic in our RS a couple of weeks ago. I started to negate that point and was promptly shut down by the teacher.

  31. DTayman wrote about that lesson and his wife’s cancer last week.

  32. Wonderful post–great thoughts.

  33. ErinAnn (30) – Which point were you negating? What were you saying?

  34. observer fka eric s says:

    ErinAnn (30) – Which point were you negating? What were you saying?

  35. Thanks for this, Steve.

    Coincidentally, I got an email today from the local library that their new copy of Flunking Sainthood is arrived and ready for me to pick up. (Yeah, sorry, but I’m cheap like that. If I really love the book, I’ll break down and spend the $10 for my own copy.)

  36. Eric S – I was disagreeing with her assertation that God gives us the trials in our lives.

  37. A resolution to lighten up is important.

  38. Kant66 — I have to note that in Utah people are the most likely to pay for porn rather than pirate it. I’m not sure if that is better or worse, but it is different than total porn consumption.

  39. Amen Wes Fleming…

    Thank you SteveP for sharing this!

  40. When I was growing up, perfectionism seemed like such a desirable trait. And I was able to achieve it (and least in school, in my friends, and in appearing to make the right spiritual choices). But, having succeeded so regularly as a youth, I was unprepared for the demands of adulthood. My first full-time job after college was the first time that I ever “failed” in my mind, and it ultimately led me to anxiety and throwing up in the morning. I still have a long way to go, but for me, I have tried to do the following things to fight my perfectionistic nature (with varying degrees of success):

    1. Find humor in life (especially self-depricating humor). This is crucial for me. When I am feeling anxious or worried, the first thing to go is my sense of humor. However, if I actively look for humor, I am able to avoid the anxiety in the first place.
    2. Realize that I am going to make mistakes every stinkin’ day. Each morning I have to remind myself that I am going to mess up today, and I may mess up badly. As mortal beings with imperfect knowledge and awareness, we are going to mess up. But, when I look back, my failures and mistakes are never as bad as I thought they were at the time.
    3. Be humble and keep praying for help. I love the verse Ether 12:27. In essence, it says, “Be humble and come unto Christ. If you are humble, he’ll show you your weaknesses, and then turn them into strengths.”

    Just gotta keep trying.

  41. Lamplighter says:

    Elder Gene R. Cooks talk was in April 2002, took me a while to figure that out. But thanks for your post. I needed it just now.

  42. Thanks, Steve. As always, you have lifted my spirits. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Help, support and love each other? Yes we are told to ‘be perfect’ but we cannot do it by ourselves. We need to help each other and we need the perfecting that only comes from Christ.

  43. “God was frowning at me for going into debt although he was the one demanding not to put off having children for my education.”

    I followed this same terrible advice. I no longer believe this is God’s advice, but rather misguided advice. It put us in deep debt, drove me into depression for many years as a very young mom with no money. We had to use government charity for all of our children’s births (what if everybody did that?). We survived on WIC alone for many years. Now that I am 40 (and live outside of Utah) all of my peers have young children while I have college-age kids, so I have a hard time making friends – and people think it’s weird in a bad way. It was the biggest mistake of my life. I could have waited to have my children when my husband actually had a job instead of when he was in school. My oldest was 8 years old by the time my husband got his first job after undergraduate, pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship, etc. It was a very traumatic experience and completely misguided. I could reasonably say it ruined the best years of my life.

  44. it's a series of tubes says:

    Your kids ruined the best years of your life? As a child, if I heard that from one of my parents, that would cut pretty deep.

  45. Sarah, I understand your regrets, but that same advice was priceless for me and my wife. Having said that, my own advice to our children (especially our daughters) is to finish college before they have children. The economics of our current world are very different than the economics of decades ago – and not that many decades.

    I think that our different experiences highlight the principle that we need to make prayerful, informed decisions with our religious leaders’ words as “advice and counsel”, not universal command – and I’d really like to see that happen much more in the Church than it does.

  46. Yeah, Sarah, I’m sorry to hear this. On many levels I relate. I think Ray’s advice above is good. It was hard, however, when I look around me I cannot get to know anyone at any depth without finding that they have struggled and suffered. It seems universal. We can look back and try to find things we could have done better, or find advice we wish we had ignored or taken, or that even caused extreme pain. Even so, much of what my kids and I are were framed in that furness and I like who we’ve become. I cannot immagine life without them. To live pointing our fingers at points of the past that crippled some trajectory we imagine would be better will ruin our present. We are where we are. We move from this position forward. I try to make the most of that, as flawed a place as it is.

  47. I empathize with your experience Sarah and feel some of the same heartache. I took a night job to help pay for my student loans – thus taking me away from my 3 young children. The painful irony is not lost on me. And, I also live in a community of parents who are much older. Some have had 20+ years of a career before even thinking about conceiving.

    On the other hand – many of them, admittedly, have a hard time keeping up with young children, their kid’s grandparents are often very old and the dual income they’ve been living on is often hard to shake (they often end up with a nanny). I think of my grandparents, who I’ve been able to enjoy well into my 30’s. I think of my own parents, who may be part of my kid’s lives for years to come.

  48. Meldrum the Less says:

    Excellent topic for discussion.
    Been there done that. Different details, same general picture.

    A couple or three comments:

    1. Where is Christ in this picture?

    Even in the works-heavy Mormon version, we need a major boost from Christ. In the Calvinistic view we start with faith and the good works flow naturally out of love and appreciation for salvation. It is not forced and burn out is not required. What we are and motivation for what we do is more important than what we accomplish.

    I recall a story where a guy died and meets Peter at the gates of heaven. Peter asks what the guy did in life to deserve entrance and keeps a tally of points. Good marriage- 70 points. Raised 5 kids- 50 points. Worked hard at occupation for 30 years- 30 points. etc.Then subtracted points for sins. Kicked the dog- minus 5 points. Mean to old girlfriend- minus 15 points. At the end the guy has 700 points. Was it enough he asked, hopefully? Peter replied pretty good but no, you need a billion points to enter into heaven. Then Christ pokes his head out and whispers to Peter that the guy is one of mine, give him the 999999300 extra points he needs to enter.

    2. Father of 4 boys, asked to be released from scouting? Maybe it is just me and the unfathomable blessings I have experienced from (non-LDS) scouting properly done, but I would have quit my job and dropped out of school before leaving scouting. I acknowledge it is not for everyone.

    3. The church leader you might be referring to I think I know personally. Let me tell you in general about accomplished cardiac surgeons of that era. Severe sleep deprivation (staying up all night every second or third night for 7 years of training and continue into practice) resulting in near psychotic levels of paranoia was the key ingredient mixed with high intelligence, monstrous arrogance, drivenness, inflexibility and perfectionistic expectations necessary to pull off what is done by them in the operating room.

    These people are perpetually pissed off, throw tantrums and sharp instruments, and threaten to ruin the careers of those around them on just about a daily basis. They are always totally in charge, seldom listen except to specific medical complaints given only by people who are naked, don’t give a damn about the feelings of others and work miracles with their hands and minds. What kind of person can cut the beating heart out of another and when their patient dies (which happens frequently), move immediately and heartlessly onto the next procedure?

    They run church meetings by phone from the operating room and their wives or nannies raise their children. My family was told that in the good old days at LDS hospital, the heart surgeon did not leave the building for 48 hours after each procedure. The most productive of them operated 6 or 7 times a week. You do the math and tell me they had time to home teach. One heart surgeon who will remain unnamed saved my aunt three times with open heart surgery in the late 1960’s. But she died during the fourth, leaving behind a teenage daughter. He didn’t seem to care one bit. Too bad. Next case.

    I thank him for the extra decade of life he gave my aunt and am happy to report that he seems to a have developed into a kind and generous person with his retirement and visible church work. But I know his younger adult years are an exceptionally poor role model for almost all of us normal people. His enormous strengths were also his weaknesses.

  49. Meldrum the Less says:

    One more observation from a scouter who has watched hundreds of boys grow up:

    Men, you really do not want to be ~50 to 57 years old when your oldest boys are ~10 to 17 years old. They will very often kick your @$$ (or worse ignore you) before they are mature enough to give you the respect you need to properly influence them. I don’t know as much about girls but assume some parallel process is going on.

  50. My thought…

    We too often take teachings and turn them into dogma. For example, somewhere a long time ago someone with a church title was giving a talk to students, and he advised them not to delay marriage or having kids until after college graduation. He was a good man, even a holy man, and he gave good advice which was helpful to many in that audience. But that advice or teaching was turned into dogma by those who heard it or read it. By dogma, I mean applicable to all good people everywhere in every circumstance.

    As a father, I will share some thoughts or teachings or advice with my son — it will be good advice, from a well-intentioned and loving and caring father — but I hope my son never becomes an automaton who dogmatizes everything I say. I hope he will consider my advice and appreciate its sincerity and then make his own decisions about what he does with his life.

    There are gospel truths that we all share — Jesus is the Messiah and so forth. But so much other of what we hear from our leaders is help to us, to protect us, and is based on the speaker’s experience. When we listen to talks from church leaders, we need to differentiate between the gospel truth and the good living advice.

    For example, a speaker in my ward spoke in sacrament meeting last Sunday on setting goals. There was ZERO gospel truth in his talk, but a lot of good living advice. If the same talk had been given by someone with a church title, it would have been the same thing — a talk with ZERO gospel truth and lots of good living advice.

    Advice and helps are gifts, and they should be appreciated and considered as gifts. But I must make my own decisions about marriage and kids and debt and schooling and vocation and dress and so many other matters. When someone speaks in a church setting, there needs to be a three-way engagement — the speaker, the hearer, and the Holy Ghost — if what the speaker is saying is really applicable to me, and if I’m in a frame of mind to receive it, then the Holy Ghost will tell me if I should accept what is being said as personal scripture for me in my life. Absent that third-party testimony, the talk is just another good talk that might be of more value to someone else than it was to me [for this reason, I don’t criticize talks that aren’t meaningful to me].

    We err when we automatically dogmatize every word that passes over the general conference pulpit. May God bless us and those that speak to us to discern between gospel truth and good living advice.

  51. Meldrum, I love how this was all about how trying to live up to other people’s expectations is a bad idea and then all of a sudden the OP is a bad person, er I’m sorry a bad FATHER/MEMBER OF THE CHURCH for asking to be released from his calling. That’s so great that you’re making that decision about someone else’s life, perhaps you can come over and tell me how to live my life next?

    Way to completely miss the point and be a part of the problem this post was all about.

  52. #44 Tubes:

    Your kids ruined the best years of your life? As a child, if I heard that from one of my parents, that would cut pretty deep.

    Here’s the thing: You’re told and told and told and told from the time you can walk that you are to do this thing, have children. You don’t question it. You don’t ask yourself: Am I fit to be a parent? Do I WANT to? You just know you’re supposed to. Because, you know, women are all nurturers and that motherly instinct is going to kick in because that’s what happens to women–especially Mormon women–right? Right. So the idea NOT to have children isn’t about the farthest thing from your universe.

    Then you get married and you’re exhorted at every turn to have them RIGHT AWAY, no matter how much your common sense is screaming at you, THIS IS NOT WISE!!! and you have kids. (Sometimes common sense should be allowed to rule over GA advice. Really. It’s okay. No one’s going to go to hell for it.)

    And that’s when some women find out that a) they didn’t really want children, b) their motherly instincts aren’t kicking in (so now they’re bad women on top of it) (not because they’re bad mothers, but because they don’t feel all gooey like other mothers do) (kinda like not feeling the spirit in SM when everybody else says they can), c) not really very good at this parenting thing (even though they try) (because, you know, they’re decent human beings and they have obligations and responsibilities), and d) watching the world and its possibilities and their youth slip away from them while they’re doing something they were told they wanted and should do, and that they would be given the resources to love doing it–but they feel lied to and abandoned.

    The children are there. It’s an irrevocable decision. Those women are stuck. As long as they do the job as well as they can, even sans all the “proper” feelings one knows one is supposed to have as a mother in the church, I figure it’s none of anybody’s business what they regret and why.

    I can feel Sarah’s pain from here. There are a lot of things I might have done differently had I not been instructed all these years in church that X is something I SHOULD do and when the time comes, I’ll ENJOY it, only to find out later it was a lie.

  53. *IS about the farthest thing from your universe.

  54. whizzbang says:

    @52-Even from a guy’s perspective,I totally agree. The Hartman rector Jr/Ezra Taft Benson/Spencer Kimball/Russell Nelson style of life-may have worked for them in their day but…today….not so sure. You definately need a filter in the Church to cut out the advice from the doctrine and sadly I had to learn the hard way.

  55. it's a series of tubes says:

    Those women are stuck. As long as they do the job as well as they can, even sans all the “proper” feelings one knows one is supposed to have as a mother in the church, I figure it’s none of anybody’s business what they regret and why.

    Not as stuck as the kid is. At least one had a choice.

    Moriah, I’d agree with this statement if the parent’s regrets were kept forever invisible and unknown to the child. But do you really think that is possible? In any case, as between the child and the parent, one of them had a choice as to the child’s existence, and one did not. For a parent to ever blame their child for “ruining their life” by virtue of their existence is the cruelest type of blaming the innocent for the choices of the accountable.

    Perhaps my feelings on this topic are stronger than some. When I was 13, a classmate of mine took his own life in response to years of hearing this very thing from his mother.

  56. I recommended the book to a dear friend a couple of weeks ago. But I haven’t read it yet myself. Your post makes me want to correct that instantly. Thanks! And I love the phrase “academioc loserhood”

  57. Im keeping that to me for now says:

    A little off top is here but: I was talking to my counsellor (fn1) once and he said it was his belief that the reason he saw so many young men and women with mental and sexual disorders (pornography addiction, fetishes, inability to connect, etc) was that carnal perfectionism in their belief system led them to hate themselves for having an urge for a carnal outlet that was not “conservative” or “ordinary”. (fn2)

    Let me explain a little further: by holding their developing sexuality to a high morale standard, and not allowing themselves to even think about sex lest it drive them to do the “unforgivable” their views of sexuality were warped to believing that sexual desire was unnatural and ungodly. He was not suggesting we all go out and indulge our every whim. Rather, he said, we needed to have open and genuine conversations about how sex is as much for play as for procreation but only when properly contained in a system of balanced self control and a reciprocal, committed and safe relationship. Until then, rather than aiming to constrain our sexual desires and tensions, we needed to help young people direct them into another outlet of expression.

    Similarly, by piling so much stuff they “had to get done before X” they did not give themselves time to develop an adult outlook on life, creating a nasty feedback loop of relationship failure, self doubt and “binge self harm”.

    (fn1) the brain sorting out kind, not the one who sits next to the Bishop of a Sunday. Though Im not saying they couldn’t be the same person.
    (fn2) noting that the a larger number of the current generation of young adults say they have a belief in God and a morality system that those 20 years ago.

  58. @55

    the parent’s regrets were kept forever invisible and unknown to the child. But do you really think that is possible?


    But I think you’re assuming a whole lot (too much) about that particular commenter that can’t be known. And, if we’re speaking of things that shouldn’t be said, maybe telling her in a thread about feeling imperfect (because of comparisons against other people) that she sucks for feeling this way shouldn’t be said. Would you prefer the mother go kill herself? Or abandon her children? Or try to do the job as best she can, even if she lets the feelings be known somehow?

    What are the alternatives for a mother who feels this way that are preferable to making those feelings known if she just can’t keep it in?

  59. Meldrum the Less says:

    #51 KaralynZ:

    I obviously didn’t communicate to you what I intended. I do get the point that something had to give, something had to be changed or sacrificed. I agree that the individual would be the one to make that choice. I did not mean to hijack the message. If you lose a few points for not doing a church calling then you might be at 640 points instead of 700 and Christ will have to give you 999999360 points, in my analogy. That would be a10% reduction for you and statistically about zero more of a burden for Christ. I apologize for my weakness in communication and I think I agree with you in substance if not detail.

    I just couldn’t resist pointing out that IN MY EXPERIENCE, scouting has been more meaningful and fulfilling than my job or education. It would be the last, not the first to go. But that is for me and perhaps others do not like scouting. On a typical camping trip we take about 4 adults and about 20-30 boys. All of those boys have fathers, although some are divorced or live far away or have demanding jobs or disabilities. Far less than half chose to experience the joy and misery of scouting enough to camp with their sons.

    Again I apologize.

  60. Thanks, Steve (and Jana). Thinking about this post caused me to plan carefully how to teach the “I will go and do” part of this Sunday’s Book of Mormon lesson. That statement, unqualified, I am sure has led to heartache and feelings of failure on the part of many Saints who take it at face value. I’m pairing that verse with the one in the D&C where the Lord excuses (at least for the time being) the Saints who did not build the temple in Jackson County as commanded, which acknowledges that circumstances beyond the control of the righteous can sometimes interfere with “going and doing.” We’ll spend some time discussing how to resolve those seemingly (but not really) conflicting verses.

  61. Ardis (no. 60) — Perhaps you can explain the difference between “I will go and do” regarding (a) an express and direct commandment from God to a particular individual; and (b) general good righteous living advice from a parent or church leader to a large population of persons. There certainly is a difference. We err if we unthinkingly apply the “I will go and do” standard to (b) because we equate (a) and (b). We err when we automatically dogmatize every word that passes over the general conference pulpit. May God bless us and those that speak to us to discern between gospel truth and good living advice.

  62. it's a series of tubes says:

    maybe telling her in a thread about feeling imperfect (because of comparisons against other people) that she sucks for feeling this way shouldn’t be said.

    I never said anything remotely like the statement above, nor do I think this way.

    But I think you’re assuming a whole lot (too much) about that particular commenter that can’t be known.

    I disagree. Read my comment 44 again. My statement was directed to the hypothetical feelings of a nonspecific child hearing their parent blame them for something the child had no control over. The statement assumed nothing about Sarah.

    From her post, it’s clear she is suffering. I hope she finds peace.

    Would you prefer the mother go kill herself?

    Of course not. Moriah, it’s not clear to me why you seem to want to have an unserious conversation about very serious topics. My friend’s sister, a 30something mother of three young children, took her own life recently after a long battle with depression and struggling with her feelings as a mother. I can’t even begin to explain to you how deep and how wide the emotional trauma from this event has extended and will continue to extend. I’ve seen the issues you are talking about firsthand. Graphically.

    What are the alternatives for a mother who feels this way that are preferable to making those feelings known if she just can’t keep it in?

    I don’t know. My heart breaks for anyone in this situation. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe only the Lord does. Or maybe there is no answer in this life. I’m only saying this: to me, causing a child to believe their very existence is a bad thing is a wrong answer.

  63. Meldrum (no. 59) — Thanks for a kind word about Scouting. Being a Scoutmaster is an EXCELLENT way to prepare or qualify for the celestial kingdom of our God. Service based on love, and truly helping those in need. Boys need men.

  64. Moriah, it’s not clear to me why you seem to want to have an unserious conversation about very serious topics.

    I’m not sure why you seem to think I’m being anything but entirely serious. Let’s review:

    Sarah said:

    I could reasonably say it ruined the best years of my life

    …where the “it” in question is the ADVICE to have lots of kids early regardless of circumstance.

    You said:

    Your kids ruined the best years of your life? As a child, if I heard that from one of my parents, that would cut pretty deep.

    Nowhere in here does she say the children themselves a) ruined her life or b) that she has informed them that they did.

    You made a lot of assumptions (based on what, to me, was a misreading of her comment) and I, for one, felt you used a hammer on that poor woman’s head.


    I think not.

  65. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m not sure why you seem to think I’m being anything but entirely serious.

    Hmm, because you suggested a woman kill herself? Other than that, dunno :)

    …where the “it” in question is the ADVICE to have lots of kids early regardless of circumstance.

    Clearly we read her comment differently; . Quoting her last two sentences, they were:
    “It was a very traumatic experience and completely misguided. I could reasonably say it ruined the best years of my life.”

    I was never an English major, but only a technical writer, so perhaps someone else could chime in here: it seems to me that the “it” in these sentences refer to the same thing; namely, a “very traumatic experience”.

    In her post, the only time “it” is used to refer to “advice” is near the start of the paragraph, and only as the word immediately following the word to which it refers: “…rather misguided advice. It put us in deep debt…”

    As to the “hammer” analogy, I think a “shield” on behalf of the child would be more accurate.

  66. mellifera says:

    SteveP– so here’s something funny. I finally finished grad school just now (got a postdoc at UF in plant genetics btw– we’re super excited, the lab I’m in in MAHVELOUS), we’re married with one kid, husband still has a year or two left on his PhD.

    However– here’s the twist, I’m a mom in grad school, not a dad in grad school. Your story maybe brings out something interesting on this point.

    For young LDS fathers, advanced education in a technical field is part of the “perfection” package. However, for young LDS mothers, it’s seriously the one thing that will disqualify you from “Mormon perfect” forever. (Having a job also disqualifies moms from “perfect,” but you can quit a job and reenter the “perfect” fold. But you can’t quit having a doctorate in a technical field.) Going to grad school turned out to be a lot like turning my back on an unseen opponent and leaving the ring forever.

    There are a lot of reasons I’m glad I got that education– like, it’s the reason we’re able to eat– but being utterly and irrevocably disqualified from Mormon Perfection turned out to be a huge unexpected bonus. It’s sort of like that sideblog link from a week or two ago with the gay LDS teen who saw that there was “no point in being good anymore” because she’d never, ever fit the good girl archetype that we preach like it’s gospel.

    This is not to say that I’ve quit the church or ever plan to– just that there’s a huge amount of grace to be found in doing what God gave YOU the gifts to do, and everybody else and their stereotypes can go hang. I will just never fit the Perfect Mormon stereotype no matter what else I do, ever, so there’s no pressure to even try.

    It’s been a very interesting experience because instead of getting my validation from fitting a stereotype, I’ve had to spend a lot of time working with The Big Couple Upstairs to figure out what it is that I as an individual have to bring to the table, and how to best hone that. Also how to balance that aspect of life with family responsibilities…. I went back to school with a strong witness that They were pleased with that decision. It’s been an evolving discussion since then.

    As far as sacrifices go, giving up the approval of judgmental individuals in order to have a better relationship with God and sense of one’s own personal mission is a pretty big win.

  67. mellifera says:

    For the record, I hear Sarah on this one– I get the distinct impression that my brothers and I did actually ruin our mom’s life. She had a lot of problems of her own to start out with, and the blanket advice to have babies collided brutally with reality.

    All the haters telling her “Shame on you,” I have news for y’all– if it was that bad, her kids just might know that already. They’ve suffered the consequences already in a way that spectators like you have no skin in the game for. The only thing to be done about it at this point is to keep others from making the same mistake by speaking up. Other than helping you feel validated for being righteous-er-than-thou, the “Shame on you for feeling that way” response helps precisely nobody.

    Mom did her best– but, when Mom’s overwhelmed, trust me– it’s not good for anyone.

  68. it's a series of tubes says:

    the “Shame on you for feeling that way” response helps precisely nobody

    Mellifera, I’ve already made it abundantly clear that I don’t think that way, and I certainly never said anything remotely like that. Were you referring to someone else?

  69. Love your framing here Steve, thank you.

  70. Tubes, please. Your response was distinctly “shame on you.” I don’t know how much clearer it can be stated. If I were the only one who thought that, I’d assume I just read you wrong. But I didn’t.

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    Moriah, here it is again, word for word:

    “Your kids ruined the best years of your life? As a child, if I heard that from one of my parents, that would cut pretty deep.”

    Just because you and Mellifera misread it, doesn’t make the misreading correct, nor does your collective misreading create a statement or sentiment that was simply not there.

  72. latterdaysaintwoman says:

    Steve, yesterday’s RS lesson “Living What we Believe” reminded me of your heartfelt blog post. It’s hard not to feel that everyone else is perfect, especially when we read about President Smith’s almost perfect life. Some years ago I was also overwhelmed by feelings of imperfection. I was surprised one day reading scripture to discover that the Apostle Paul felt similar:

    “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do… O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:18-25)

    It was refreshing to find out that even an Apostle struggled with imperfection. And, I love the fact that Jesus delivered him!

    I do relish flunking Sainthood, because I found out in scripture that God actually chooses the weak people over those who are strong:

    “…God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty… That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

    God loves us so much that through Christ’s Atonement, we have been “perfected for ever” (Hebrews 10:10-14).

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