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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

About Standards

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

“ expert in the law, tested [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

“Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matt. 22:35-40)

Have you ever wondered why anyone would want to be able to measure intervals of time in increments even smaller than a nano-second? Probably not, but I did. This was because my dad worked at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in the Time and Frequency Division. I knew from our trip to Italy, and other indicators, that he was a respected physicist in his field. I wanted to know more about what he did.

He would describe aspects of his work to me, and I would try, mostly unsuccessfully, to understand. He talked of quartz crystals, oscillation, millisecond pulsars, nano- (and smaller-) seconds, the atomic clock, etc., and how they were used to keep precision time.

He tried to relay to me how precision timekeeping is essential for accurate reckoning of intervals that translate to years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds, and so on; so people can cooperate and be in communication with each other; and for accurate navigation, especially. Apparently, keeping exact, coordinated time is necessary for everything from keeping appointments and punching the time clock at work to positioning satellites and using them (think GPS). All kinds of technology and communications systems rely on it, for example, engineering, science experiments, radio, television, (computers, which were just starting to be a thing), rockets and space travel (the first moon landing in ‘69 happened while we were in Italy), navigation (jets, airplanes, boats, and ships), movie making, cooking, baking, sports, even games we play. We take it for granted, but there is no limit to the modern applications dependent on it.

My dad was one of the scientists who worked together with others to develop the GPS navigational system, which is used so predominately today. (At the time they were developing it for military and government use only.) I didn’t wonder then, but I’ve since wondered, what would happen if we didn’t have a reliable, accurate, coordinated standard for keeping precise time. Most modern inventions rely on it. What if the time standard were to somehow deviate for even a short time and we somehow “lost” a minute or two? (Yes, Dad, hard to imagine with all the back-ups in place.) Eventually, on a very large and small scale, it would mess with everything—even things I’m sure most of us would never have considered.

Growing up in an L.D.S. home, especially with a father who was always filling some leadership role in the church, from a Bishop’s counselor to Bishop, and from a Stake High (Priest) Council member to Stake President, I was very aware of a different kind of standard as well: L.D.S. church “standards” (which is what they were called).

These standards included skirt length—never to be a certain number of inches above our knees—while mini-skirts were all the rage. This was also at a time when skirts were part of the required dress code for girls at the public elementary schools I attended. Another church standard was one-piece swimsuits—especially when bikinis were coming into style. We were not to wear halter tops or hot pants (super short, skin-tight shorts) or low-cut or skin-hugging shirts or T-shirts. Wearing “immodest” clothing of any kind was looked down on and not allowed at church activities or functions.

I also understood L.D.S. church standards to include: no tobacco or smoking of cigarettes, cigars, or marijuana (or anything else); no drinking of beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks; no taking of non-prescription drugs such as “psychedelics,” “uppers,” or “downers” as they were called by their effects rather than their names by people where I was growing up; also no drinking of coffee, tea, Coca-Cola, or other caffeinated beverages. All these prohibitions had to do with a “revelation” received by Joseph Smith, which church members had adopted back in the 1800s, in the early days of the Mormon church as a “commandment,” and that the church had adapted to cover modern trends.

My own sense of these standards, beginning in childhood, was intense because of my personality and circumstances. As a child, I loved and totally revered my church-leader father. Along with him, I knew that God had restored His one true church to the earth through Joseph Smith and that God’s words or commandments had been given to him in “fullness” (the word we used). In our eyes, our church encompassed the only true teachings, practices, and authority of God on earth. I looked at the church standards as God’s commandments.

As I’ve shared before, when I was growing up, the main emphasis of the L.D.S. “prophet” and “apostles” was on family. Our dearly beloved President and Prophet David O. McKay taught and was repeatedly quoted saying, “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”[1] I believed with all my heart that what our church leaders were teaching was from God. To my understanding, God was all about making us “forever families.”

Being “good” people (according to L.D.S. standards) and “good” family members (also according to L.D.S. standards) was the focus of the L.D.S. church. And being a very sensitive child, this all had a profound impact on me.

I understood the standards were there to help me return to God so I could live with Him and my earthly family forever. One L.D.S. children’s song distilled this belief system of my childhood. It was (and still is) a song especially favored in the family-centered Mormon culture. I loved this song. It stirred my heart and touched me deeply whenever we sang it, or I heard it sung. I was also proud of it—proud that this song belonged to my church. We sang it often at home and in Primary. These are the words of the song [italics are mine]:

1. I am a child of God,

And he has sent me here,

Has given me an earthly home

With parents kind and dear.

[Chorus – sung after each verse]

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,

Help me find the way.

Teach me all that I must do

To live with him someday.

2. I am a child of God,

And so my needs are great;

Help me to understand his words

Before it grows too late.

3. I am a child of God.

Rich blessings are in store;

If I but learn to do his will

I’ll live with him once more.

This heart-felt desire for eternal family was a strong driving force, but even more I saw the potential for it in my own dad. My father was, what I still call, an extra miler. He would go beyond what was required to help someone. For example, if someone was stranded on the side of the highway with their car broken down, my dad would stop and find a way to get them back on the road. Many family times and vacation moments with my dad were “ruined” in this way when his attention was given to someone else, yet again. But as I got older, I respected and appreciated this more—until I was really proud of who my dad was.

My mom and dad on several occasions invited relatives or friends, who needed a place or had nowhere else to go, to come and stay with us. This ended up being both a wonderful, but also, a terrible thing in my life, depending on the character of the person(s) and the length of their stay. Either way, my parents’ generosity to others, in these and other ways, was a “standard” that stood out above the rest in my young mind.

As a child, not only did I repeatedly fail to meet the standard, but I was also ungenerous and greedy, and I knew it. When I did do something wrong against what I perceived was God’s standard, my heart was sorely convicted, not only by my wrongdoing but also because of my being so far away from loving people like my dad (and mom) did. I wanted to always do what was right. I wanted to be with my earthly family forever. And I wanted to be loving like my parents. I couldn’t stand it when I failed or was a failure.

Because I did fall short (sin), repeatedly, and my understanding of repentance didn’t seem to work all that well for me, I unconsciously began to develop some negative ways of dealing with my wrongdoing. I would blame someone else for my failure, make excuses, hide, or deny what I had done. After all, it really wasn’t “me”—or how I pictured myself—or my intentions. However, somewhere in me, I knew these approaches weren’t right either, and doing these things also ate at my subconscious sense of right and wrong, working to make me feel even worse about myself on a deep level.

As I was approaching and entering my teen years, when hormones started affecting my thinking and emotions, I became even more duplicitous. While trying to maintain an appearance of outward obedience, I followed my own desires and will as much as I felt I “safely” could. I didn’t want to be seen by my dad or other adults in my church as disobedient. But, thankfully (I’m still grateful to this day), because of my church’s standards, I never went beyond certain bounds fixed in my mind and heart, despite what anyone else ever saw or heard of me.

From the beginning of my teen years, I desired to be “in” or belong within my peer group at school. This desire was often much stronger than my desire to abide by L.D.S. standards. In middle school, I secretly sewed (without a pattern) my own terribly crafted miniskirt. I snuck it to school, changed in the bathroom, and wore it to my classes. I did this a few times, but between my conscience and others’ actions, I couldn’t sustain this behavior on an ongoing basis.

It was too much when, sitting at my desk in the back of the room before class one day, the boy at the desk in front of me turned around to tease and goad me. Suddenly he reached his hand under our desks and under my skirt to try to grab my private parts. I stopped his hand, just barely. I never wore a mini skirt during school again.

During the summer some non-L.D.S. girl friends in our neighborhood invited me to go water skiing at Boulder Reservoir with them. The dad of one of the girls would be driving the motorboat, so it would be safe. In advance, again secretly, I made a bikini out of some periwinkle stretchy material I had. I wore it under my clothes, which conveniently was how we wore our swimsuits until we got to the swimming site. I felt bashful about taking off my clothes, but I did it. I felt almost naked (and I was) in that bikini. The other girls, knowing I was Mormon, seemed a little surprised, but they didn’t say much. I was additionally embarrassed because I had no tan on my midsection. But, with the rest of the girls, I slathered up with baby oil (who thought about skin cancer then?) and lay down on my towel on the beach. There I baked, along with my friends, in the sun, waiting my turn to water ski.

This would be my first time water skiing. When it was my turn, they gave me excellent instructions, and shakily but steadily I was able to stand up straight and ski on my very first try! Once I was up and skiing, they kept motioning something to me that I didn’t understand. I thought I was supposed to stop, so I let go of the bar attached to the pull rope and went down. When they motored back around to me in the water, my friend called down to me, “Your swim-suit top came off!”

To my total and utter embarrassment, I learned my bikini top had shifted up. Big-time wardrobe malfunction. Once I’d readjusted my top, I climbed up the ladder into the boat. I didn’t want to resume with my turn at that point. When it was my turn the next time, I skied with a T-shirt over my swimsuit. Even the shirt was hard to keep down! This made me appreciate my one-piece suit like nothing else ever would have. I never wore a bikini again, except for sunbathing in my backyard when I thought no one was home or outside (which also inevitably “failed”—and my dad found out).

On another occasion, the same friend who’d invited me to go water skiing also invited me to her sister’s wedding. It was fun dressing up pretty. All of us girls were hanging out together. Because it was a special occasion, my friend’s parents didn’t stop anyone from taking a little of the champagne being served. My friend offered me some when I didn’t immediately take any. I told her we (L.D.S. folks) didn’t drink alcohol. Another girl said, “It’s only a little bit. A sip won’t kill you. It’s a wedding celebration! Can you really not have any?” So, I did take a very small glass. I thought it tasted absolutely awful, but I couldn’t dump it or spit it out in front of people. I also couldn’t see why people liked it so much. After that, I had no desire to try alcohol again (and I was so proud of myself for this). Just the smell turned me off.

I was pushing boundaries, but each time it didn’t turn out all that well. This was a mercy. In a sense, the L.D.S. church standards of the time and my esteem for my dad, and the idea of eternal family saved me from myself to a large degree. They kept me from even greater foolishness, indulgence, and habits than those I was already prone to and engaged in. They didn’t keep me from everything, but they kept me from a lot I believe I would have regretted later, especially regarding boys and dating (more on that later).

Even though the L.D.S. church’s standards were only focused on outward behavior and not on what was going on in a person’s mind or heart, they ended up having some positive value in my life. However, I should say that if I hadn’t had such high regard for my dad (and mom) and the idea of eternal family, I don’t think L.D.S. church standards would have had much of a hold on me. They probably would not have guided my behavior at all.

I didn’t know, I wasn’t taught the truth about Jesus that can free a person for true obedience to God and from repeatedly trying (without success!) to comply with outward “standards” alone. Also, the inner aspect of keeping God’s standards wasn’t generally taught in the L.D.S. church and never even occurred to me.

I believed I needed to earn my way to the “Celestial Kingdom,” and that I could. I thought that through my own efforts, by keeping the (L.D.S.) commandments—which I saw then as God’s standards—I could become perfect, “worthy” of God’s Spirit and Kingdom.

Of course, I needed Jesus, so I could “repent” when I failed. I was taught that only Jesus was perfect and never sinned; and that everyone sins and needs repentance at one time or another. I understood that Jesus made repentance possible through His atoning sacrifice, and I was taught the proper “steps” (now called “principles) of repentance I could take to effectually erase any sins I might commit and be forgiven by God.

The steps were: (1) Recognize one’s sin, (2) Feel sorrow for one’s sin, (3) Forsake one’s sin, (4) Confess one’s sin, (5) Make restitution for one’s sin, and (7) “to make [one’s] repentance complete [one] must keep the commandments of the Lord.”[2] Later, (6) Forgive others, was added to the list. The teaching that one should feel sorrow for one’s sin was one of the few inward-focused teachings we heard on a fairly regular basis.

Occasionally, I also heard the teaching that we should “love one another” as Jesus loved us (humanity) while He was on earth. What did this mean? Well, of course, it meant keeping all the (L.D.S.) commandments. Everyone knows the first four of the Ten Commandments God gave through Moses have to do with loving God and the rest (the other six) have to do with loving one’s neighbor or other human beings. I thought of the L.D.S. church’s standards and the Ten Commandments as being together the Lord’s commandments to us.

As I got older, I became aware of other (L.D.S. church) “commandments” I needed to keep, such as paying a tithe or 10 percent of my income to the church; fasting twenty-four hours, which church members did once a month and gave the money usually spent on our food to the church welfare system; attending all my church meetings and being fully “active in the church” (including accepting and fulfilling church “callings”); affirming that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and affirming and supporting the current leaders—especially the “prophet” and twelve “apostles”—of the L.D.S. church; and so on.

With all my heart I wanted to be part of an eternal family and to “make it” to the Celestial Kingdom, the equivalent of heaven to Mormons. I loved this teaching and equated it with the “restored gospel of Jesus Christ.” For this reason, I tried—when, at any given moment, it didn’t get in the way of what I wanted more—to comply with L.D.S. church standards.

Because of the mix of Christian or Biblical teachings sprinkled in with “the restored gospel,” I did also grow up with a strong taste of God’s real standard. Also, because God’s standard is universal, written on the human conscience (only humans have this moral knowing or sense of right and wrong) from birth. It is reaffirmed and taught in more detail in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit of God. In some ways, it is an even higher, more difficult-to-attain standard than that of the L.D.S. church.

And Jesus amplified it by teaching not only, “thou shalt not commit adultery,” but also, one shouldn’t even look with lust on another person; not only “thou shalt not kill,” but also, one shouldn’t even continue to be angry with or hold feelings of contempt towards another. Not only should we love those who love us, but we must also forgive and pray for our enemies, or those who speak and act against us and mistreat us. Jesus’s focus was not on outward behavior, but on what’s in the mind and heart of an individual.

How in the world does one keep such moral standards? How does a person “get” the motivation? Add to this the problem that every time a person does sin or miss the mark (of perfect love or justice) it warps their sense of right and wrong (or good and evil) a little more. The truth is, it’s impossible to keep God’s standard. There is no way it can humanly be done—except by the one, Jesus Christ. Are mortals doomed to living a double standard or to keeping none?

And. Like it is for precision timekeeping, what happens when humans deviate from God’s perfect moral standard even a little and are unloving and unjust, even little? The answer? Even more than for time standards, or L.D.S. standards, many things we wouldn’t have even considered go wrong. What in the world—or outside of this material world—or both in and outside of this material world—can fix this dilemma? Is there anything or anyone who is able or willing to fix it? I didn’t think much about all this when I was in my early teens. However, I did think about it a great deal, later on.

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith

—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).


[1] [2] From chapter nineteen of the authoritative L.D.S. guidelines (teachings and standards) book: Gospel Principles (


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