"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
September 25, 2013
Perfect Reading for Perfectionists
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Latter-day Saints can be pretty hard on themselves, given what we know of eternal goals from doctrine, scriptures, and Church leaders. Yet, the high expectations we have of ourselves, especially when measured against the idealistic perfection we perceive in others, can cause all sorts of grief. New books by LDS women address these issues and offer ways in which readers, particularly Mormon readers, can deal with the mismatch.

Sue Bergin, a self-described recovering perfectionist, has assembled a lot of useful ideas in Am I a Saint Yet? (Cedar Fort Press 2012, 164 pages in soft cover, $12.99). Now a hospice chaplain, she uses her own experience as well as knowledge gleaned from her background as the daughter of a psychologist and a clinical social worker as she helps readers reconcile the injunction to “be ye therefore perfect” with the fact that we are, after all, imperfect humans in an imperfect world.

The subtitle, Healing the Pain of Perfectionism, hints at the suffering of many who they feel they aren’t living up to the ideal. (A book on the topic by Ph.D. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, has a similar theme but is not aimed particularly nor so astutely at an LDS audience.)

Offering examples of those who feel they constantly have to look, speak, teach, and perform to the peak of perfection or else suffer guilt, self-recrimination, and even eternal negative consequences, Bergin suggests, “Consider taking perfection off the table.” Learning to value progress over perfection can ease the pain.

Three main sections offer strategies to help perfectionists “Mine the Power of Your Thoughts,” “Just Say No to the Comparison Trap,” and “Nurture Your Spirituality” in a readable, conversational tone that belies the research and thought behind the book. Distilling scriptures, real-life-illustrations, and quotes from Church leaders, Bergin offers a practical approach to changing our perspective and finding more joy in life.

Elona K. Shelley elaborates on perfectionist pitfalls in her open and honest Confessions of a Molly Mormon, subtitled Trading Perfectionism for Peace, Fear for Faith, and Judging for Joy. It’s 178 pages of personal experience that will ring true for many LDS women (and men) who’ve felt the pressure to excel and appear perfect — and then been brought into the depths of depression by circumstances far beyond their control.

In Shelley’s case, it was her 16-year-old’s announcement that he was gay that sent her reeling more than 20 years ago and made her question God’s love for her as well as her own worthiness as a mother. She outlines how she’d been raised as a letter-of-the-law Mormon and was certain that she must rigidly follow the “proper” steps of prayer or forfeit an answer.

Yet this struggle demanded prayer beyond words or form. God heard her. “Through my sweet encounter with God, I ... learned that prayer isn’t a shortcut for changing the circumstances of my life, but rather a way to change the condition of my heart so I can live in hope and rejoicing, regardless of my circumstances,” she writes. “His solution to my problem was a mighty change of heart.”

Shelley, a grandmother, recounts other life lessons, comparing how she used to view things with her more spiritually mature outlook. In the process, she convinces the reader that surrendering perfectionism makes for a more peaceful, happier mortal journey. (Summit View Publishing, $12.95; see ElonaShelley.com.)


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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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