Editor’s note: Jill Strasburg is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a wife and a writer who muses on life, love and faith in her blog The Strasburg Family.
Opinion By Jill Strasburg
I became deathly ill two months into my marriage and during my long recovery, I could barely eat or drink. I certainly couldn’t do daily chores around the house, and I would stay in my pajamas throughout most days.
During this time, something remarkable happened: Women from my congregation whom I had never met began showing up at my house.
I was new to the area, had just joined the local Mormon church, and here were these women at my house with a gift, a meal for my husband, a smile, a hug and a sympathetic ear. They expected nothing in return. I could feel the love they had for me as it radiated from them.
That wasn’t the only thing I felt though.
I started to become insecure with my appearance and the state of my home. This wasn’t because of anything those amazing women said or did. When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.
So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.
I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?
While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in the 1830s, and its rejection by the broader Christian American community led members of the church to rely heavily on each other. This created strong bonds and unity within the community.
Women frequently met together in a group known as the General Relief Society. They met as friends, shared in their sisterhood and provided charitable acts of service to those in need.
Additionally, the women followed traditional roles of womanhood. They definitely had their hands full. They were mothers and wives, homemakers, neighbors and friends. They worked hard for their families while doing the required chores of a pioneer woman in the 1800s.
Often, their husbands would go on proselytizing missions for the church, which left them to do everything for their families. Modern LDS hymns still tell stories of the hardships the women faced, and their ability to truly smile and be happy throughout.
The LDS church still promotes the traditional values of these strong, remarkable women. And I believe that, as modern LDS women, we are trying to continue forward in the same spirit as our predecessors.
However, traditional roles are ever changing in our modern society.
So, as LDS women, we accept our new roles while trying our hardest to maintain the traditions that helped form who we are. This can often look like perfection.
I’ve learned that the façade of perfection is just that. LDS woman presented it as they walked across the plains. Their quiet dignity helped strengthen those around them. But, as I’ve witnessed, this façade of perfection can also be incredibly damaging.
As I recovered from my illness, my friendships continued to blossom, and I was able to go to my new friends’ homes and visit. I know that some people can’t stand the “pop in,” but I liked stopping in unannounced so that I could share my love with the women who loved me.
However, this tended to be a risk that could devolve into chaos.
Instead of sitting down and visiting, my friends would immediately apologize for how messy their house was, or how bad their appearance was that day. Then, the inevitable excuses would begin to be made. I always tried to reinforce that I didn’t care, or that it wasn’t nearly as bad as they were making it out to be, but, truthfully, I understood exactly how they were feeling.
So I promised myself that I was going to focus on my visitors instead of the things that I had been worried about. Dirty dishes be damned!
As a result, my relationships became stronger, more honest and loving, and they felt real. Particularly, my friends were opening up about their trials, fears, desires and heartaches. In my home, they were safe and free to be honest in all ways. They allowed themselves to be the imperfect people that made them beautiful.
The illusion of perfection was gone.
We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live. We would miss out on the beautiful things around us.
I know that some days my best was just opening my eyes and thanking God for another day.
Instead of trying to prove to the world that we’re perfect, we as women — especially LDS women — should let go of that need and embrace the imperfections that make us the amazing women that we are.