I attended Brigham Young University in Provo from 2010 to 2014. I, like many of my peers, started off college single, care free, and ready to embrace all that college had to offer. Fast forward to my graduation in April 2014, a great deal of my friends were no longer single. Fast forward to present day, the vast majority of my friends are no longer single. In fact, out of some of my closer friends, including me, I think only three or four of us are flying solo.
“We must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us. Each soul is precious to Him.” from the Life of Ezra Taft Benson
Thoughts on Less-Active Saints
This lesson is very firm on our “duty” to bring less-active members back into full activity in the church. To this point, we read quotes such as these:
“As followers of the Lord, part of our mission is to reach out to our brothers and sisters who have separated themselves from the Church.”
“The challenge before us is great. … We must exercise great faith, energy, and commitment if we are to reach these brothers and sisters. But we must do it. The Lord expects us to do it.”
“This challenge will never be met until stake, ward, quorum, and auxiliary leaders and faithful members everywhere exercise their will and faith to bring the less active back into full activity in the Church.”
I was taught a similar duty when I was a young girl in the church. I remember, particularly, as a newly called Mia Maid president, being taught that my stewardship included the less-active girls in my class. I understood that I would be held accountable for their choice to come to church – or not. This is a tall order for a 15 year-old girl with limited resources.
Since that time, I have left behind the idea of “accountability for others” – and hold more to the idea of simply loving others and accepting them where they are.
The early quotes listed feel harsh to me and I prefer to think of work with all church members (active or otherwise) – feeding the sheep – as an exercise in love, compassion, and following the Savior.
How do we best love God’s flock? How do we best feed His sheep?
Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.
Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.
Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?
“And by the vision splendid is on [her] way attended; at length the [wo]man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.” William Wordsworth 1770-1850
Five years after the birth of my second child, I was at home preparing for an ultrasound appointment. The local hospital was only a few miles away, so I was in no rush. My children were at school and the day was quite ordinary. Except I remember feeling a kind of sacredness in the simple tasks of showering, doing my hair, applying make up and putting on comfortable clothing – almost like I was getting ready to attend the temple. Perhaps I was in a meditative state of mind. After all, I was nine months pregnant and on this day I would see images of my unborn child for the first time.
While I raised my children I remember watching myself over-expend energy. I was aware of what I was doing: helping and working, sharing and caring for everyone who needed me. However, it seemed there was never enough time in the day to slow down and provide for myself what I routinely (and for the most part happily) provided for others.
Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all here.
At work I was a skilled and compassionate nurse. At church I invested heart and soul as a primary teacher, den mother, young women’s leader, choir member, whatever I was called to do. At home I was a deeply devoted and exhausted mom to three kids. Honestly, most days I was overwhelmed by all the responsibilities. But I did the best I could. We ate cereal for dinner on really hard days. Other days it was a rotating menu of tuna casserole, spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburger patties with Rice-A-Roni. Taco Time, Arby’s and Stan’s Drive-In fed us more times than I can count. This was a time of endless giving and comparatively little receiving on my part.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain anything from serving and loving all those people at work, church and home. I gained a great deal of understanding about the human condition via those relationships. My capacity for love was enlarged because I believe God gave me strength beyond my own when I chose to serve people in need, especially my own children, and that was a good thing. But I learned lessons along the way about how to give and receive in more enriching, nourishing ways, rather than just “on the run.”
This January marks the two year anniversary of the formation of the Potomac Ward, a mid-singles ward in my stake (Mount Vernon Stake in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC). There are hundreds of mid-singles (ages 31-50) in my stake and I am one of them. I have a love/hate relationship with my own status as a mid-single – just as I have a love/hate relationship with the Potomac Ward.
The ward has seen much success; many of my single friends attend the congregation, enjoying the spiritual comradery of other singles, the quiet sacrament meetings, and the wide range of activities. The ward impacts my single too – though I prefer to attend my family ward in Alexandria – because its critical mass dictates the lion’s share of single’s “goings on” in the stake.
The Potomac Ward has acquired its own church building, which it shares with the two YSA wards in the stake – and this, in my opinion, is unfortunate. I can appreciate that congregations of singles have different logistical needs, but I feel the negative side affects of a separate place of worship outweigh the positives of large classrooms and activity spaces. In this set up, the singles congregations are separated from the main body of the church on the sole basis of their marital status. This is a strong message to the single individual that they are different and “removed from”. Some individuals worship away from the main body of the church for up to 20 years and their unique experience in singles congregations deny them of continued experiences with children, couples, and elderly members.
I think the annexing of singles also has a negative side affect on the family wards, who do not enjoy the dynamic personalities of single individuals. Because singles are removed from them, stereotypes grow and integration dwindles. (And, in the case, of my family ward, which is small, we feel the lack of talented singles who could help fill much needed callings.)
So, to family wards everywhere who feel the lack of single association, I dedicate these comments (and suggestions) about singles. I hope that you will find them useful in integrating singles into your wards and lives, that we may be one in Zion.
Singles are Happy
*Gasp* It’s true, though some stereotypes indicate that we are continual sad as we await our marriage. The singles I know live full, happy lives with fulfilling careers, involved extended families, meaningful service, and interesting hobbies.
Singles are Different from Each Other
I know this should seem obvious, but stereotypes are strong, lumping singles together in large categories. Primary is a good example. A married friend once told me that her ward puts all its single members in as Primary teachers “because they are the only ones not exhausted with children during the week.” While many singles are not involved with children during the week, that doesn’t necessary mean they enjoy children on Sundays. And some do. Conversely, many married individuals I know enjoy involvement with children during the week AND on Sunday. And some don’t. These differences extend to career choices, friendship connections, desired interaction from Bishops, etc.
Singles are first, Individuals.
Singles have Life Experiences beyond “Being Single”
In his 2011 talk, Forget Me Not, Elder Uchtdorf told the story of a single woman who became sad and bitter when her lifelong dream of being married was not realized. This story was later turned in to a dramatized video which horrified many singles because of its dark images of single loneliness and one sided representation of a single life: the fixation on getting married. While some singles would like to be married, this does not consume our entire lives. We are involved in many other things, as I have indicated above, and many other relationships – platonic heterosexual relationships included. Discussions with singles can including dating AND a wide range of other topics like church, politics, hobbies, travels, books, sports, family, education, career, etc.
Singles Look for Connections Beyond their Single Friends
I loved being invited by members of my family ward for dinner, movies, game nights, and children’s recitals and Birthday parties. Many of my friends do too. I like being including in mixed groups of different types of people. I try to extend invitations as well.
Singles Look for Meaningful Church Service
One of my single friends recently to her bishop, “Give me something meaningful to do!” And he did. Enough said.
Back to the video dramatization of Elder Uchtdorf’s story. It seems to indicate the being sad and grieving for life’s unmet expectations is a bad thing and individuals who grieve demonstrates a lack of gratitude for the gifts God has given. I think this is unfortunate. All people grieve over life’s unmet expectations. Grief is messy and hard, but necessary. The loss of a spouse and/or family is huge and can be recognized and supported. Supporting each other in grief rather than offering a “consolation prize” is a good way to go. I believe we can be happy, have gratitude, AND feel loss and anger. I see many people hold these varied emotions at the same time – single people included.