Are we ready for it?

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the April 1977 Conference.
My interest was caught as I read President Spencer W. Kimball's talk "Our Great Potential," when he started talking about Priesthood Keys we don't yet have on the earth. He brought up resurrection, which is one of the only ones I could think of offhand, but he also mentioned the power to create spirits, the power to control the elements, and the power to manipulate and organize matter. He quoted a lot from Brigham Young and other early church leaders.

It was interesting because this is the sort of thing we don't talk a lot about in church…it seems more esoteric, I guess, or less relevant to our progression now. But President Kimball wasn't just speculating or wondering—he was coming to a specific point:
Can you realize even slightly how relatively little we know? As Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9.) 
We talk about the gospel in its fulness; yet we realize that a large part is still available to us as we prepare, as we perfect our lives, and as we become more like our God. Are we ready for it? In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of Abraham, who has already attained godhood. He has received many powers, undoubtedly, that we would like to have and will eventually get if we continue faithful and perfect our lives.
I was thinking about how it's sometimes hard to want to do much thinking about "perfection." For me, at least, it seems so far away that incremental thinking is easier: in other words, "well, ____ is too hard right now, but at least I can do ______." I guess this is probably okay (and I've read other talks that give great ideas about willingness to fail, and about changing bit by bit, line upon line). However, President Kimball's words combined with a story in another talk I read this week made me reconsider my reluctance to dwell on the "perfect" solution:
A few years ago a large American computer company decided to have some parts manufactured by a Japanese supplier as a trial project. The American company told the Japanese firm it would accept up to 2 percent defective products in the 10,000-piece order. Later, the shipment arrived with 100 percent of the order without defects. In a separate box was a note: “Sorry, we do not understand American company production practices. However, this box contains the 2 percent defective product you wanted. Sorry for the delay in producing, but these parts had to be made separately, which required changing our process in order to make the bad product. Hope this pleases you.” 
This was from a BYU Devotional talk I read by a professor in the Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Technology Department. He explained:
When we design a part we always determine a target dimension that is the desired value at which the part should be produced. Making the part to that value results in the “perfect” product. Because every process has variation and it is difficult to produce exactly to the target value each time, every part also comes with tolerance limits. These limits are the amount of deviation from the target we can tolerate and still expect the part to function at least reasonably well. If there is more deviation from target than the tolerance limit allows, the part will be rejected. However—and this point is critical—as soon as the part deviates from target, it is in error, and the farther a part deviates from the target, even if it is within the tolerance limit, the worse it performs. 
Some companies are concerned only with producing products within the tolerance limits, but wise companies constantly seek to produce on target. The differences between these companies in focus and attitude are quite significant, as are the results. The difference comes not because of the distance, which is often only a couple thousandths of an inch. It is the difference between an average company and an excellent company. For a company to move from the tolerance mind-set to the target mind-set requires an entirely different way of looking at targets, processes, tolerance limits, and improvement. It is a new way of thinking. 
Companies that desire to produce excellent products are not satisfied at producing just within tolerance. They strive, constantly and forever, to produce at target. And they believe it is possible. Average companies, or those that are known for average or poor quality, tend to focus on the tolerance limits because they believe being just within the limits is good enough.
He goes on to discuss the application:
Think of it this way. Imagine yourself on a line between the target value, or the mark of perfection, on one side and the tolerance limit on the other. We can ask ourselves, “Which way am I facing?” and “What do I take as my guide?” If the tolerance limit is my guide, then my tendency is to move as close to the limit as I can and, if at all possible, try to relax those limits to make more of my behaviors allowable. However, there is an even bigger problem with facing the tolerance limit. It is that my back is to the target. I am not looking toward the mark of perfection. Also, since I am facing the limit, if the limit moves, then I move with it and, therefore, accept more defective behavior. 
On the other hand, if I am facing the target, the mark of perfection, and constantly striving to reach that mark, then my back will be to the tolerance limits. If the limits move, they have no effect on me because my focus is not on the relaxing tolerance but on approaching the mark of perfection.
I know there is a place for incremental learning and approximation. It's what we all HAVE to do, because we're imperfect mortals! But from these talks, I'm thinking about how a focus on perfection—a willingness to look for it, and try for it—is not incompatible with incremental learning! As this professor said, the difference is not so much in the actual products (or in a person's case, the actual behaviors) but in the focus and mindset of looking toward the target! We somehow need to be willing to make Christlike perfection our goal and focus—and also ready to accept whatever discomfort that awareness may cause us!

I am sometimes afraid to think ahead to the eventual goals of godhood and perfection. I'm afraid of getting too discouraged or overwhelmed. I'm afraid of losing sight of the simpler things [Similarly, President Romney's talk in this session encouraged seeking the ultimate promise of the Holy Ghost and having your calling and election made sure, which is another thing I've heard can cause people to stumble if they get too focused on it. But perhaps I have gone too far in deciding not to think about it at all?] But as described in the BYU talk I quoted, focusing on "the target" is essential if I really want to improve. And "the target," is, of course, Jesus Christ. Studying His perfect life and seeking to be like Him may indeed be overwhelming, but it is the only way to become like Him!

So, I appreciated President Kimball's reminder that there are many, many great gifts and powers still to come in our progression, and that we should be pondering them and even actively seeking after them. And I appreciated President Romney's reminder that we can always be more urgently striving toward not just glimpses, but "the full light of Christ." I'm hoping to figure out a way to balance a reasonable awareness of my limitations, with a stronger focus on Christ and His perfection—and on the amazing things He can make possible for me!

Other posts in this series:

1 comment

  1. Such great thoughts. That whole idea of facing the target as opposed to tolerance line is so important! It seems to me like we can be aware that we will be weak and fail, but a nonchalant acceptance certainly drags us the wrong way while getting up and pushing towards Christ is the opposite. I don't think it has to be discouraging. But I've often so easily just felt like I'm fine getting a bit snippy with all my kids, etc because that's as close to good as one can expect under so much strain. But how can I ever improve that way!


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