Dear Single Members (from the series: Single and Married in the LDS Church)
Dear Single Members
As I have put together this series on singles, a theme has emerged. This theme has run through all articles and all experiences; it is the same theme I hear in conversation with single friends: condescension. Single members feel a sense of pity, shunning, and lower status in the church. Leaders and married members may or may not feel disregard for or disappointment in their single brothers and sisters, but they do communicate the message.
The feeling of being weak, bad, or less-than is not new for any of us. From the very beginning – when Satan told Adam and Eve “they were naked” – the great deceiver whispers that we are naked, wrong, un-lovable. Single members receive this message in double portion from a church that values family and sealed couples above all else.
A single friend of my often tells an entertaining story of how the single members of her family “ruled the day” one year at Thanksgiving. My friend is the middle child of a large LDS family; one year in her young adulthood, the siblings were fairly evenly split – married and single. The single siblings were unceremoniously sent to eat dinner in an adjoining room at the “kids table”. Embracing their lot, they began to tell stories and laugh and sing and enjoy themselves over dinner. Because of their merriment, two married siblings came into the room in hopes of joining in the fun. At this intrusion from the married siblings (who had annexed them in the first place), my friend and her single siblings yelled, “Married people, get out; this is the single room.” Then, began to chant “Singles Rule Singles Rule”.
This story always amuses me. While I certainly would not want to throw all the married members out of the church, I do appreciate the way this group of single members claimed their space – and validated themselves.
Educating the majority population (the married members) about single members will do great good in opening spaces to integrate us, but I also believe that much of the integration work needs to come from the single side.
Tell a New Story
One way we can change the attitudes about single members is to change attitudes we hold about ourselves. As a never-married-always-active LDS member, I am no stranger to inward attitudes about my singleness (reinforced by the condescending remarks and attitudes of others). When I heard Kristine Haglund speak about singles over a year ago, I began to work on changing that story for myself.
Kristine says: “We, as singles, can stop being limited by [false] theories [about] ourselves. Clean from every corner of your psyche the cobwebs of “not enough,” “broken,” “unworthy,” “defective,” and “incomplete.” Do the work it takes to tell yourself a different story. And then really believe it.”
How am I doing the work to believe a new story? In a variety of ways, as I best think suits my situation and resources: deeper discussions with family and friends, self-reflection, therapy, more meaningful prayer and worship, meditation, exercise, – and continually practicing the rejection of false or harmful messages.
Once we have a new story, we can tell the story to our church leaders and friends – through our service, our callings, our comments and our conversations. We can reach out in mature, age-appropriate service projects. We can show up to ward family activities and act like we belong. We can receive invitations with grace and extend invite to our married friends, as we would our single friends. We can push back (thoughtfully) in conversations when single members are spoken of in critical or judgmental ways. And we can model the ways we would like to be treated.
Of course, some of the problems in telling a new story come directly from curriculum, where it is suggested that single members will not receive a fullness of glory or are doomed to eternal servitude as “administering angels”. When we comment in class or speak from the pulpit, we can use inclusive language and expanded views. We can speak with confidence that we, too, share in God’s grace – and we, too, will inherit as God’s children.
Expand the Image of Family
Another way to incorporate the single and married separation is to expand the image of family. It is natural (even, engrained) for Mormons to speak of family in terms of small sealed units: parents and children. Singles can raise the consciousness of this habitual behavior. We can speak up – and talk openly of our inclusion in all kinds of families: our biological family, our ward family, our chosen clan as family, our human family, and, most of all, God’s Family!
Be the Adult You Are
Single members are sometimes accused of living forever in Neverland, entertaining an endless string of games, parties, and trips. While I think this accusation is harsher than deserved, I do think there are ways in which we, as single members, can keep ourselves in a state of arrested development. If we can resolve some immature behaviors, I believe it will alleviate the constant infantilizing we receive from others. Things we can consider as we examine ourselves: unneeded drama in relationships, stunted familial bonds, youthful living arrangements, inappropriate help sought from Bishops (when a therapist, an attorney, or a mentors would be better suited to the situation), under-employment, whining, exaggerated reactions to life’s usual circumstances, the resisting service opportunities.
Teach Gospel Principles through your own Experience
Reaching again into the Kristine playbook, I quote: “Simply by existing within the body of Christ, unmarried Saints open space for a richer and deeper understanding of God and the nature of God’s gifts to their children.”
We know from the scriptures that the gifts of God are many. As church members we often rely on easy role definitions to guide our gifts and our service: mother, father, spouse, leader. Single members have fewer roles to guide us, so we learn from inward searching about our gifts. We are forced (being barred from a multitude of callings) to find original ways to use these gifts in service. As quoted above, simply by existing in our unique way, can be an example to others of finding individuality, embracing divine gifts, and reaching beyond comfort zones.
“[Singles] are also in a unique position to both practice and teach patience and endurance [to all members of the church]. Our experience, both comfortable and not, has tutored us in these virtues. We can, in turn, be effective teachers. When we bring our experience to the Body of Christ, we teach others in distinctive ways and this binds us to the Body and makes us an essential piece.
“[Singles often live in the borderlands] – the places where we can feel loneliest. And these places are exactly the places where we learn to be whole. I believe that single people know a lot about loneliness. And I think that’s a good thing— [as] there is wisdom [to be found there]. If you have put in some time being lonely, you know that the opposite of loneliness is wholeness, and that you have to be whole before you can belong.”
Singleness can be both lonely and holy. While anyone can be lonely, the single member cannot hide loneliness in the crowd or in the children. In lonely places, we reach out to God and come to know more intimately the love and peace and virtues of our Heavenly Parents. We are made whole by this close connection. And when we are connected to God, we model peaceful holiness – a stabilizing gift to our wards and our friendships.
In Isaiah and in the Doctrine and Covenants, there are injunctions that “Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged”.
My single friends, I dislike the sense of condescension that many of us feel crushed beneath. I hope that leaders and married members will grow in their empathy and understanding of our situation – but it may be slow and painful. I know we can aid the process of healthy integration by stepping outside this condescension and carving out our own place in a church where WE DO BELONG. I want to claim this place – and I hope you will join me.