Hundreds of millions of people across the globe tuned in to watch the recently concluded 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many of the sporting events were likely familiar to the worldwide viewers. Other events were probably new and might have even seemed unusual.
But it really didn’t matter if folks tuning in understood the scoring rules of, say, team handball, or the judging criteria for synchronized swimming. Wonder and joy were had witnessing women and men from around the world compete. Each athlete had surely spent most of his or her life practicing, preparing and then practicing some more for that moment when they would don their country’s colors with the world watching.
Many won medals. Most did not. But the competitors took their own shot at excellence. Their Olympian efforts uplifted and inspired.
Excellence is an attribute of the divine. When we seek excellence in our own lives, we become more like Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Both the Father and the Son are perfect — and we are commanded to be like them. As the Savior taught: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).
Even premier Olympic athletes never fully realize perfection. There’s always some skill or action, however small, that could be improved and polished. And so it is in our own lives. We all make mistakes and fall short of God’s perfection. We all have need of the Atoner to overcome our weaknesses and sin.
Still, as children of the Divine, we have the capacity to know excellence in mortality. The words of football coach Vince Lombardi stretch beyond the gridiron: “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” The late General Authority William H. Bennett understood the Olympian’s quest for athletic excellence. As a young man he competed for a spot on the Canadian national team in the shot put and discus throw. But Elder Bennett also knew excellence is not the sole claim of the athlete.
“The pursuit of excellence should be major work of our lives,” he declared in his October 1976, general conference address. “Many people, however, give little attention to it. Perhaps they feel that it is not possible for anyone to reach perfection in this life, and so they let the immediate pressures dominate their actions. While it is true that we cannot attain perfection in a total sense in this life, it is also true that we can attain perfection in many specific areas of activity. Furthermore, if we fail to do what we can and should do in this life, we may deprive ourselves forever of the opportunity to do those things later on and thus lose great eternal blessings.”
Excellent athletes, poets, writers, musicians, craftsmen and technicians in many fields think positively, added Elder Bennett. They strive diligently to do their best — and then they try to make their best a little better.
“With respect to spiritual matters, we can be perfect in this life in paying tithing; being honest in our dealings with others; having personal and family prayers; abstaining from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; holding family home evenings; and in reading the scriptures daily. We can if we really want to.” In September of 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley examined the quest for excellence in an article for the Ensign. He reminded his readers of the sacred capacity within each of them.
“We are all children of God, and there is something of His divinity within each of us. We are more than a son or daughter of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So who reside in such-and-such a place. We are of the family of God, with such a tremendous potential for excellence.”
Then with loving directness, the Church’s 15th president pointed out the need for more effort, more self-discipline and a more concentrated effort in “the direction of excellence in our lives.”
“This is the great day of decision for each of us. For many it is the time of beginning something that will go on for as long as you live. I plead with you: don’t be a scrub! Rise to the high ground of spiritual, mental, and physical excellence. You can do it. You may not be a genius. You may be lacking in some skills. But so many of us can do better than we are now doing.
“We are members of this great Church whose influence is now felt over the world. We are people with a present and with a future. Don’t muff your opportunities. Be excellent.” Like athletes preparing for the Olympics, all of God’s children must discover and then walk their own paths to excellence. But all can follow the same perfect Example.
“[Jesus Christ] is the greatest example of excellence in all the world,” testified President Hinckley. “He condescended to come to earth under the most humble of circumstances. He grew up as the son of Joseph the carpenter. He struggled with the adversary on the Mount of Temptation. He came forth resplendent and beautiful and magnificent to teach the world. During His brief ministry, He brought more of truth, more of hope, more of mercy, more of love than anyone else who has walked the earth. He died on Calvary’s cross for each of us. He arose the third day, ‘the firstfruits of them that slept’ (1 Corinthians 15:20), bringing the promise of resurrection to all mankind and the hope of exaltation to all who would walk in obedience to His teachings.
“He was the great paragon of righteousness, the only perfect man ever to walk the earth. His was the wondrous example toward whom each of us might point our lives in our eternal quest for excellence.”