In a recent youth conference testimony meeting a Laurel bearing her testimony said, “I wish everybody did not expect me to be perfect!” A few moments later another fine young woman said in her testimony, “I want to be like Jesus.” These two contrasting feelings made me think about how some people I have known are able to work toward perfection without getting overwhelmed with discouragement.
As Latter-day Saints we have been taught to strive for perfection. I think my parents must have been aware of the potential for discouragement that a quest for perfection can bring. They told me on many occasions, “This doesn’t have to be perfect, only sufficient.” That gave me comfort and caused me to be more determined.
When I was 20 and in the military, I had a friend named Brent. He was four-years-old. His father, Bob, was an Air Force fighter pilot with 120 missions in Vietnam to his credit. Whenever Brent would not behave as his father wished, his dad would say teasingly, “If you keep doing that you will grow up to be a bomber pilot”—the worst possible curse for a fighter pilot’s son!
That encouraged Brent until he was 15. One day his father tried the old line again and Brent responded, “I don’t care! I’ve never wanted to be a pilot of any kind.”
With wisdom, his father added, “Then be who you will be, but be Christlike as you do it.” The fighter pilot father knew something about the process of working toward perfection, of becoming more like Christ. He was a returned missionary. He had married a worthy young woman in the temple. He had served where called in the Church. He was striving to keep the commandments.
Bob’s closest brush with death was while making a bombing run into North Vietnam in 1966. His F-4 Phantom jet, fully loaded to knock out an important enemy bridge, was shot out of the sky by a ground-based cannon. He got the aircraft turned around and did not eject from the cockpit until the last possible moment. That strategy got him ever closer to the friendly borders of Thailand.
On the ground he ran from the enemy soldiers and their dogs for 36 hours until he was rescued by a helicopter gunship. While running back toward Thailand, he prayed that he would see his young bride and baby again. But, if captured, he would try to be like the Savior. His faith would allow him to exercise courage.
My mind raced again that day in youth conference to a high school friend, Paul. All he ever wanted to be was a missionary. When he got his call to the Nevada Las Vegas Mission, he was as happy as anyone I had ever known. A few months into that mission, he and his companion were chased on their bikes by a vicious German shepherd dog. In an effort to confuse the dog they split up, and while looking back at the animal, Paul rode his ten-speed into a huge hole in the street. The city had dug it in an effort to repair a leaking water pipe. Paul was badly injured and spent many months recovering in the hospital.
All he could think of during his recuperation was the missed opportunity to be a missionary. It depressed and upset him. His grandfather stopped by one night to visit and they talked. Grandpa listened to Paul’s concerns and desires.
“Paul,” his grandfather counseled, “you can be a missionary every minute of every day of the rest of your life. You can be whatever you want, but as you choose, decide to be like the Savior.” That night Paul made peace with himself.
My friend is happily married these days and raising a nice family. He is striving to become like Christ.
I also thought in youth conference those weeks ago about my mother-in-law. She was born with an enormous amount of musical talent. That led to a strong childhood desire to be a dancer on Broadway or in the movies. Being from a small farm town and born into a family with an average income, she was never able to find a way to make that dream reality.
Following high school in the early 1940s, Mom went to San Francisco to work, always harboring a secret desire to find the opportunity of her heart.
During a particular time of homesickness, she prayed. The Holy Ghost taught her that she could be what she wanted to be, but that she should always try to be like the Savior. It was then that she decided to pursue special traits like thoughtfulness, kindness, affection, and compassion. Those traits had always been there and they had been used periodically in adolescence. Now they would become a way of life for her.
It was never easy for any of them. Bob has worked hard in his service as a stake president. Paul has worked diligently to be a good young father. Mom has dealt with many crises in her life. They all have tried to face their obstacles in a Christlike way. Pain, hurt, and dread have been a part of their lives. It was part of Christ’s life, too!
Bob doesn’t fly jets anymore. He is now serving as a mission president. Paul is now a stake missionary. Mom has never danced professionally, though she has used her musical talents on numerous occasions. She is now serving a full-time mission with her husband. Each has lived a good and faithful life.
My friend, the former four-year-old, is a returned missionary, recently married, and now continuing his education. He did not grow up to that “awful curse” of becoming a bomber pilot. He is growing up wanting to become like the Master.
I held a secret desire through my growing-up years of being a professional baseball player. I practiced thousands of hours and paid the price to become good enough to earn a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds in Pocatello, Idaho. However, it was not until I tried out for the BYU baseball team following four years of military service during the Vietnam War that I was taught baseball in a truly Christlike manner.
One day in pitcher’s fielding practice I scooped up one of the grounders that coaches Glen Tuckett and Vernon Law were rolling out in front of home plate. The drill was one where they would call out, about the time that I fielded the ball, where they wanted the throw made. On this particular occasion, Coach Tuckett hollered, “Third!” I whirled quickly and threw the ball about ten feet over the head of the man covering third base.
Instead of screaming at me or reacting angrily like other coaches had done, Coach Tuckett walked out to me and quietly said, “Throw it to third the same way that you would want him to throw it to you.” I could not believe my ears! Here was a kindly baseball coach teaching me the Golden Rule. I soon discovered that I did not need to be a professional baseball player. My long childhood, adolescent, and young adult ball-playing career came to an abrupt end. But I am still learning to become more like the Savior.
Whether we choose a blue collar profession, settle into being mothers and teachers, or enter a professional or technical field, what really matters is that we work hard and strive to live like the Savior would have us live, showing gentleness, understanding, and helpfulness toward those we associate with.
To my young women friends in that youth conference, and to young people throughout the Church, I would say that it does not matter what other people expect of you. What does matter is that you decide what you will become, but be Christlike as you do it.