Not long ago I’d had a couple of really busy days, and I was tired. Not just tired tired, but the kind of tired where all you want to do is sit down and cry. It wasn’t a matter of being sad or upset; I was just plain pooped out.
Unfortunately, when I get that tired I become my own worst enemy. As I sat mindlessly vegetating in front of the TV, all I could think about were the ways I could have done better or been better, about how everyone else would have been able to handle the same things and still have had enough energy to go dancing, about how my best effort just didn’t seem to stack up when measured against my perception of others’ capabilities.
When bedtime rolled around and I knelt to pray, my mind was blank. Oh, I could have rattled off a rote list of things to be grateful for and blessings to seek, but I knew they would be just words, not a prayer—and, either in spite of or because of how tired I was, I wanted to pray, to commune with God.
So as I knelt there, eyes closed with tears trickling through my eyelashes, I said the only thing that came to mind. “Heavenly Father,” I asked, “please accept my imperfect best.” End of story.
I’ve thought a lot about that plea. In a strange way, those words given to me were a tender mercy from the Lord. They reminded me that God doesn’t care that I am imperfect. In fact, in the eternal scheme of things, I’m supposed to be imperfect at this point in my progression. I’m supposed to be making mistakes so I can learn from them; it’s the way I grow. I’m supposed to need God’s help to get through this earthly existence; it’s the best and easiest way he can teach me to be like him. My best is supposed to be imperfect; it’s a reason to keep striving for improvement.
I think, especially as we get older, we tend to presume that our mortal stage of life somehow equates with where we should be, or at least where we think we should be, in the eternal scheme of things. After all, I’ve been around long enough that surely I have gained some wisdom and perspective. In my mind, I assume I should have life somewhat figured out by now, but I don’t and that makes me feel like a very insufficient human being. But there is a reason God calls us his children. From his vantage point, that’s what we are no matter how long we have been on the earth—children.
I’ve often wondered if our mortal existence is kind of the teen age / young adult phase of our eternal progression. Think about it. We’ve apparently learned enough to leave our heavenly home and take on the responsibility of choosing for ourselves how we want to be and what we want to become. However, like many a teenager, we don’t know as much as we think we do. Consequently, in our immature—at least from an eternal perspective— thought processes we often make impulsive decisions and do dumb things—sometimes really dumb things. We are easily swayed by the opinions of others and value their approval over God’s. Even though God’s offer to help is always extended, we think we can do just fine all by ourselves—and promptly proceed to blindly stumble into ill-advised, sometimes even dangerous situations. In other words, we are imperfect—big time.
Fortunately, God is infinitely long-suffering. He continues to call to us and patiently awaits our response. He eagerly watches for the moment when we figure out that we know next to nothing about life, and he continually pleads with us to come to him to learn the glorious mysteries of eternal being. And through it all he expects and even embraces our imperfection.
We do this as mortals as well. There is something very gratifying to watch our children progress from grace to grace. For example, one of my grandchildren was simply born with a fairly negative outlook on life. It reached a point to where Mom and Dad decided counseling was in order. Over the last year or so we have quietly cheered from the sidelines as we watched this child become happier and more contented with both self and life. I think this is the way God views our imperfections—as beginnings of better things to come.
The wallpaper on my computer desktop is the following quote from Lorenzo Snow: “Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do so, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you were today.” To be honest, I can’t say I am a better person today than I was yesterday. Any growth from one day to the next is almost imperceptible, except perhaps to one with divine vision. Instead, I have to reflect on whether or not I am a better person than I was a week ago or a month ago. Sometimes even that lengthened time frame is too short, and I have to compare who I was a year ago with who I am today in order to identify how or whether I am a better person.
God is neither surprised nor disappointed with our imperfections. However, although he is patient with our weaknesses, he expects us to continuously strive to improve and progress beyond our shortcomings. But he doesn’t require us to make these changes independently, for he knows that we cannot fully overcome our imperfection through self-discipline and will power alone. I have a quote from the Talmud stuck to my filing cabinet that I feel illustrates God’s great desire for our growth: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’” If he sends angels to encourage a blade of grass to grow and fulfill the measure of its creation, how much more must he yearn for his children to do so. Accordingly, he has provided the Atonement which “endows us with those powers necessary to save us from every weakness, every ignorance, and every obstacle that might otherwise hinder or prevent our progress in some way.” (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, loc. 787)
A friend once told me she hadn’t given her best because her effort wasn’t perfect. Her way of thinking assumes that perfection is a possible option. It’s not—at least not in this life nor through our own labors. I am confident that God accepts our imperfect best because, even with all its limitedness, it demonstrates our desire to become like him and share in his joyful existence. What loving parent would ask for anything more?
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