The Prophet Project: Careful versus Casual by Sister Becky Craven

Near the end of her talk, Careful versus Casual, Sister Becky Craven says something fairly radical, so radical that it runs against the apparent grain of the rest of her talk. She posits a distinction between being perfect and being worthy. She doesn’t explain the distinction, leaving it up to the listener or reader to decide what that distinction is. And so, I step in.

For most of the talk, Sister Craven’s distinction between the careful and the casual is the focus. And she uses this distinction to delineate the actions of the careful vs. the casual, the former striving to keep the commandments and the latter less engaged. In my first reading, this came off as self-justification. The careful keeps the commandments that are important to me (and easily visible), the casual doesn’t fulfill them in a manner I agree with. But, upon further reflection, and noting the distinction she later makes between perfect and worthy, I believe that my initial reading was wrong.

Perfection, as described by Sister Craven, comes from perfectly emulating the example of Jesus Christ. Though it is commanded, it is impossible for two reasons: 1. We are frail and weak in a manner that, according to scripture, Jesus overcame so quickly as to never sin; and, 2. We simply don’t have enough of information about what Christ actually did and said to know how he would react to the situations we face. What we do know has been through dozens, if not hundreds, of interlocutors; modern prophets can help with interpretation, but they too are caught in the web of the culture of their times. In the face of this ambiguity, Sister Craven suggests that we strive for worthiness, rather than for unachievable perfection.

But worthiness for what? Sister Craven states, “Although we may not be perfect, brothers and sisters, we can be worthy: worthy to partake of the sacrament, worthy of temple blessings, and worthy to receive personal revelation.” Participating in the ordinances of the church appears to be a way maintain worthiness. But, further, she suggests that we must strive to be worthy to receive blessings and revelation. But you don’t control revelation or blessings, that’s God’s territory. You can only control your willingness to accept and honor them when they arrive. Rather than a stale external perfection that is impossible to achieve, Sister Craven is encouraging us to embrace an internal worthiness, based on repentance and faith, that strives for a living relationship with God.

To be careful, according to Sister Craven, is not merely to keep the commandments, but to internally become someone new who loves the God and his neighbors and keeps the commandments out of that love. And Sister Craven is quick to point out, in spite of her own examples, that one’s careful journey is individual and may not look like another’s, so judging another on the external of their behavior is faulty. It is, in fact, the casual who make assumptions based solely on the surface, whether it is the worldly or the pious who are doing the judging. To be careful is to move beyond the surface of statistics and percentages in commandment-keeping and to instead simply love God and his children. To be full of care.

We all live in the gray, all the time, in spite of our best efforts for moral clarity and divine guidance. But our best efforts are sufficient to accept God’s grace. Perfection is a casual goal, easy to understand but ultimately outside our capacity; Worthiness is the careful openness to the Lord’s intervention, proving his goodness. And all are invited to partake.

Comments

  1. Rockwell says:

    I like this analysis of the talk, especially that “perfection is the casual goal.”

    On the other hand, this exhortation to be careful rather than casual reminds me of a “Deep Thought” by Jack Handy, who said, “I’d rather be rich than stupid.”

  2. Jack of Hearts says:

    Thank you so much for this. You’ve beautifully expressed what I think Sister Craven was trying to communicate. And though I never doubted that the sisters’ sermons would be included, it’s still so meaningful to me to see them as part of something called the Prophet Project. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. I appreciate this way of understanding the talk. And I agree with Rockwell – “perfection is the casual goal” is a great summary.

  4. blondeandfullofgrit says:

    I thought Sis.Craven was the most formidable female speaker I have ever seen in conference, especially for her petite frame. Everything she said resonated with me, and she instantly earned my respect.

  5. pdmallamoyahoocom says:

    How many more times do we need to be told that perfection is unattainable? By my count this is about a thousand. Is there a problem w/ Mormons trying to be too good? I hadn’t noticed.

  6. I have often felt that if I am worthy to enter the temple, then I am “good enough” for my Heavenly Father’s home, whatever my house looks like, choices my children make, and whether I heard that great BYU devotional. That’s my careful versus casual.

  7. @pdmallamoyahoocom: I believe the trouble is not Mormons trying to be too good but rather how many of us fall into the trap of perfectionism, ie “if I can’t be perfect then why even try,” and therefore despair. In that sense, believing we must strive for perfection is worse than useless. I see the reminders that perfection is unattainable (by us, in our mortal lives, by ourselves) as a way to refocus on the importance of our actions rather than our results.

  8. pdmallamoyahoocom says:

    Noted & thx, Cameron – but obviously, and like many Conference addresses, this did not seem to be delivered w/ mature, psychologically-healthy adults in mind. Or was it? Even w/ all my imperfections I find such talking down insulting. Like the vast majority of Mormons I don’t suffer from scrupulousness, nor do I say to hell with it all b/c I’m not faultless. I do my best. That’s enough.

  9. Sidebottom says:

    This is a much more charitable reading of her message than I would have come up with.

  10. Not only more charitable but more helpful and hopeful. Thanks, John C.

  11. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Perfection is not the casual goal. It a necessary goal on the way of eternal progression. It is or will be obtained by being careful and not casual along the way.

  12. Jared Livesey says:

    Perfection is:
    1. Defined (1 Kings 8:61; Col 3:14; D&C 88:125).
    2. Commanded (Deut 18:13; Matt 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48; JST Matt 5:50).
    3. Possible (Gen 6:9; 2 Chronicles 15:17; Job 1:1, 2:3; Luke 1:5-6; 1 Nephi 3:7; Nephi 28:10; D&C 29:12-13; D&C 35:20-21; D&C 107:43).
    4. Actionably specific (Moroni 7:48, 10:32-33; John 14:15 [21-23]; JST Matt 5:21).

    The perfect person can assist in the Lord’s work (D&C 4:5) while the imperfect person cannot (D&C 18:19).

    The perfect person is: “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

    The perfect person: “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

    The perfect person does and teaches what Jesus by his own mouth commanded us to do and teach – the Sermon on the Mount.

  13. Jared Livesey says:

    “Nephi 28:10” is supposed to be “3 Nephi 28:10”.

  14. Jared,
    The Lord only has imperfect people to assist him in his work. There is none without sin, no not one. None of us perfectly keep all the commandments, nor will we in our mortal lifetimes. It may be technically possible (as demonstrated by Christ), but perfection in all things is not going to happen. That said, through repentance we are declared clean through God’s grace, but that is a different thing and a different process. I don’t deny that God commands perfection, but the only way whereby we might fulfill that commandment is through Christ’s atoning power. Our own efforts are and will be insufficient.

  15. Jared Livesey says:

    All things are possible to him that believeth.

  16. Bob Powelson says:

    You can be perfect some things. Next step, add to the list of things you are perfect in. When you die you may even have as many a 10. A look at I Cor. 13 may help.

    It says basically that if you have the gift of Charity things will “be well with you at the last days.

    Charity, the pure love of Christ.

  17. Jared,
    Are you saying that we can be made perfect and not sinful in this life? I’m not talking perfect in Christ, where we are forgiven through faith. I’m talking permanently having no inclination to do anything sinful. Because that doesn’t seem possible, based on what I know of man and God. It sounds downright Snuffer-esque, to be frank.

  18. Jared Livesey says:

    Samuel said: “If ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.”

    We learn from this that we do not obtain a remission of our sins until we have repented of all of them. And that if we believe on his name we will – that is, of our own desires – repent of all our sins. Sins are those actions we undertake which are contrary to the commandments of Jesus Christ.

    Without a remission of our sins, we remain unholy, and that means we do not have the Holy Ghost (Alma 34:36), neither can we enter into heaven (Moses 6:57), and we shall shrink from the presence of the Lord in misery and endless torment from which we cannot return anymore (Mosiah 3:25).

    The fruit of repentance from all sin is charity (Moroni 8:25-26), wherewith we are perfect and have peace. If we have charity, then we will do and teach what Jesus commanded by his own mouth for all mankind to do and teach.

    We will eschew lust.
    We will eschew reviling.
    We will not resist evil.
    We will give to every man that asks.
    We will lend to all comers.
    We will yield without a fight in lawsuits brought against us.
    We will not demand our stuff back from anyone who takes it.
    We will not forbid those who take our stuff from taking more.
    We will present our other cheek when we are struck to be struck again.
    We will return good for evil.
    We will do good things to those who hate us.
    We will invoke blessings upon those who execrate us.
    We will pray for those who personally, maliciously, and spitefully abuse us.
    We will not build up stores of stuff that can be corrupted or stolen for ourselves in this world, but instead we will give that which we possess more than our actual immediate needs to the poor, whereby we store up for ourselves treasure in heaven.
    We will not take thought for the morrow.
    We will not take thought for our food and our clothing.
    We will be perfect in all these things the Lord has commanded of all mankind.

    And so on. The Sermon defines the behavior of those who have charity, the pure love of Christ – that is, the Sermon is the behavior of those that are perfect.

    The Lord has asked us to do these things if we love him. He has said that if we do these things, he will come to us, and we will thereby know him, and obtain eternal life.

    This is the grand adventure of the gospel of Jesus – the strait gate and narrow path which leads to life, and few there be that find it.

  19. Jared Livesey says:

    @John C.:

    As Amulek taught, we cannot repent in the eternal world (Alma 34:34). The same spirit – whether the spirit of the devil, or else the spirit of God – which possesses us in this world will possess us in the eternal world after death.

    Also Alma taught that to be rewarded good at the judgement, then our desires must be good – we must desire no evil – or else we shall be rewarded evil at the judgement according to our evil desires (Alma 41:3-8 [particularly v. 6]).

    Hence the instruction from Mormon that we pray with all the energy of heart that we may be filled with charity, which God bestows upon all who truly are followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may be pure as Jesus is pure, so that when he comes to us we will be like him.

  20. Jared,
    I don’t think your reading is a necessary reading in any of this and it is definitely idiosyncratic. If nothing else, we are told that it is not requisite that a man run faster than he has strength. Our best effort is sufficient to invite Christ’s atonement into our lives, even if we aren’t capable of living after the manner described in the Sermon on the Mount. There is no need to add to the commandments in the manner that you are doing. You’re worrying me.

  21. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    The Greek word that has been translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “perfect” does NOT mean technical perfection or not making any mistakes. It means to fufill the measure of one’s creation. In other words we are commanded to become and do all that we were sent to Earth to become and do. We have done Church members a huge disservice by incorrectly insisting that the scriptural definition of perfection means something that it clearly does not. This probably comes from discouraging members (at least in the past) to read and study “unapproved” (anything not printed by the Church, Deseret Book or other LDS printing houses) sources. When I first read about the true meaning of New Testament perfection it was like an enormous weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I grew up in a home where perfectionism was a way of life both in living the gospel and in every other aspect. Frankly, it was a miserable existence because nothing I did was ever good enough. This kind of thinking flies in the face the scrpture that states men and women exist to have joy.

  22. GEOFF -AUS says:

    Because we have a culture of obedience, we want a list of rules to live perfectly. Alternatively We believe that as we progress and with the grace of God we should aspire to having no disposition to do evil. So no evil plus positively, We might also question what we should be “perfect” at, or as wayfarer says do what we are here to become, which to means becoming a person who loves as God does.
    Many people in the scriptures are referred to as perfect, so why are we so afraid of the concept? We can redefine what it means to be perfect.

  23. Bob Powelson says:

    Praying for guidance and help is good. Instead of blathering on; stop, be silent and listen for the answer. Then go out and do all you can to approach perfection. You will make progress and mistakes. As you progress take what you learned and build on it. When you make mistakes, learn from them.

    It isn’t going to be easy reaching perfection in anything. “For it is by Grace Ye are saved, After all you can do.

  24. Billy Possum says:

    Thank you, John C. When I re-read the talk and the OP, I started to hear the use of “casual” in the pejorative sense (i.e., sloppy, careless). That meaning fits with the origin of the word (it’s from latin “casus”, a “fall”). So while I (and many) initially heard Sister Craven’s talk as a condemnation of non-standard-fundamentalists, I now hear it as a condemnation of fallen humanity generally. That’s a much more meaningful – but also much less radical – message.