A father devoted a family home evening to a lesson on the Plan of Salvation, emphasizing the need for each family member to obey God's commandments and remain true to the covenants they make so that they can be together as a family for eternity.
That night, his young son went to bed in tears. With some probing questions, his parents learned that he had been deeply upset by the lesson that evening. He had understood from it that he would need to be perfect to attain eternal life. Well aware that he was not perfect and believing he never would be, he was in despair, thinking it would be his fault that the family would not be together forever.
Others, including some not so young as the boy in this incident, have been saddened by the mistaken belief that eternal life and exaltation would be forever denied them due to their own human faults and failings.
A Church-published study aid, "Guide to the Scriptures," provides two senses of meaning for the term perfect: "Complete, whole, and fully developed; totally righteous. Perfect can also mean without sin or evil. Only Christ was totally perfect."
Perhaps some focus on what is expressed in the latter portion of this definition, that perfection means being totally without sin in the way that Christ was perfect. It could be that they forget what is expressed in the first few words of the definition: "complete, whole and fully developed." That phrase implies that for each one of us, perfection is a process, a journey, a work in progress.
It is safe to say that none of us will have come fully along the pathway to perfection in mortality, and, even thereafter, what we have attained will not have been on our own. For, as the "Guide to the Scriptures" entry makes clear, "True followers of Christ may become perfect through His grace and atonement."
Meanwhile, it is important to realize that when Christ commands, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), He means for us to accomplish that goal. Not in a single day, but through steady sustained effort over a lifetime and beyond, relying ultimately on the grace and "the merits of him who is mighty to save" (2 Nephi 31:19). We, like Nephi, can be assured that "the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3:7).
Patience is an attribute of our Heavenly Father, so it would follow that one of the divine attributes we are to develop as part of being perfect is patience. Yet sometimes we are the most impatient with ourselves.
Often, we seem to find our efforts to develop the divine nature being sabotaged by the day-to-day frustrations, vexations and annoyances of life, be they major or trivial. What we might not realize in the moment is that these very ups and downs of life might be the instrument by which we develop perfection. As James put it, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions;
"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
"But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (Joseph Smith Translation, James 1:2-4).
In a sense, we might be comparable to a beginning violin student who observes an accomplished, concert performer and becomes downcast at the contrast between where she is and where she wishes she were in her level of proficiency. She must come to realize that with persistent practice under the guidance of a patient and skilled teacher, she will attain her goal.
So it is with us in our effort to be as our Father in Heaven. If we follow His guidance and tender tutelage along the road to eternal life, with a heart that is pure and faithful, we will eventually attain the goal.
From time to time, we might pose the question asked of Jesus by the rich young ruler wanting to know what he must do to attain eternal life, "What lack I yet?" (Matthew 19:20). Unlike the young man in this incident, we must be open to doing what the Lord requires of us in any given instance, however difficult or inconvenient it might seem at the time.
Of course, no analogy is perfect, and the one involving the beginner violin student breaks down in the sense that our best efforts, whatever they might be, will never be enough. Ultimately, after all we can do, we rely on the mercy and grace of our Lord and Savior. That is why the scripture invites all to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him" (Moroni 10:32).
That is what the father sought to help his tearful son understand in the above incident. If he and the other members of his family try their best each day to keep all the commandments of God and to remain pure and faithful, ultimately the Savior will make up for their deficiencies and imperfections, and they will have the joy of eternal life together.
May we all recognize that.