Today I took a long walk in the woods with my dog. It was a beautiful and perfect afternoon. I brought my camera and a book and made myself comfortable on a bench for a few hours. It really was lovely. But I can't say "it was all I could have wanted,” because as I sat there on the bench, overlooking a beautiful valley, basking in my personal perfect day, all I could think about was how much I wanted there to be a special someone sitting beside me. How I longed for a meaningful conversation with a special someone. How if the right person were beside me I could put my head on his shoulder, and hold his hand, and just gaze on that view forever. But the bench was empty beside me.
I'm single. Very single. And there are many days when I wonder if there will ever be a special someone to sit beside me again. There are days when I question what I did to deserve to be single. Is this punishment for some sin I have committed? How much longer until I have repented? Is this the life my Heavenly Father wants for me? Will I ever have children? Will that bench forever be empty because of some choice I don't remember making? And I am not alone in my fears and concerns.
Questions of “Why am I still single?” “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” “Why does he get to be married and not me?” “How can she be married twice and I still haven’t found one husband?” “I’ve prayed for it and I’m a good person, so why hasn’t the Lord sent me an eternal companion?” “How am I ever supposed to fit in at church when it is all about families, and I don’t have one?” “Why should I have to sit through another lesson about parenting when I’ll probably never be a parent myself?” “Why should I go to another ward activity geared toward children and families? I won't fit in,” and so many other questions of doubt are common and not unusual in the minds of an unmarried member of the Church.
The Truth Hurts
Singles often feel alienated or left out of the general membership of the Church. Without children, or without spouses, what place is there for them at ward activities that are so often family oriented? When lessons and advice are given regarding strengthening family relationships, what do they have to offer to the lesson or to take away from it?
But maybe the most difficult part of being single, particularly for those individuals who have passed the more culturally traditional younger years of courtship and have entered into their thirties, forties, and older, is wondering why I have not found a spouse? Why have I not been so blessed? “Am I so hard to love? What’s wrong with me? Am I not faithful enough? Why doesn’t anyone want me?” All of these questions can be painful and difficult to ask, and at times can lead to an individual’s slow departure from activity within the Church, where so many discussions revolve around eternal marriage, faithfulness, and endurance.
Elder Neal Maxwell in his book “And These Things Shall Give Thee Experience,” counseled that we are not being punished when we do not receive that which we desire. Sometimes the Lord has other plans for us. It is our job to do our best, and be happy, no matter what the situation. I would like to think that the alternative to not getting married and being a mother should be a high-paying job with lots of adventure and excitement. Sadly, this does not seem to be the plan for me either.
The Secret to Happiness
To find happiness and contentment in our lives, no matter our situation, is often the ultimate challenge. Whether it be the family dealing with financial downturn, or an infertile couple longing for a child, or the desperate desire to find love and a mate, the challenge is to find “joy in the journey,” even when the journey is not the one we expected or wanted to take.
President Thomas S. Monson said it this way, “This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief.
Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not.
I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.”
So singles, I ask you this- are you finding joy in the journey? Are you happy? Are you living your life to the fullest, in spite of the fact that maybe you are not living the life you want to have? It can be hard. It can be really hard. It hurts going to church on Sunday and sitting alone. It hurts sitting in Relief Society listening to a lesson on parenting or love at home or when someone talks about the joys of marriage. And nothing is more irritating when a young bride half your age tearfully says,”I prayed so long and hard and waited for so long to find the right man.” All you can think is, “Honey, I'll show you what waiting forever feels like!” How is it possible to be happy and find joy in the journey when cards seem to be stacked against you?
Elder Maxwell described these challenges as one of the “hard doctrines” of the Gospel. He quoted author C.S. Lewis in this regard, "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace."
Being Single is NOT a Curse!!
Being single is not a curse, or an affliction. It is not a trial that you must “overcome.” Your life, your mission, your Plan, is not a trial! It is simply that the Lord has other desires for you. What role has He carved out for you? What do you have to offer? The Lord knows you, your talents, and has provided you with the circumstances so that you may do your best. It is not an accident that you were born at this time and place. You must find your self-worth and be an instrument in the Lord’s hands. “The worth of souls is great in the eyes of God.” There was no postscript that said “Except some will be worth more than others because they got married and raised a family. Through no fault of your own you will not be worth as much.” The Lord values you, and has put you in the situation where he needs you. Give yourself to the Lord so that you may be the person He needs you to be.
You must find your calling in life and magnify it. Some will be called to be mothers and fathers. Others will not be held back by the constraints of a family so that they may serve in other ways to the wards, communities, and even the world around them. Being single is not a limitation or condemnation. It is the opportunity to expand and do more, while living a Gospel-centered life. Marriage does not solve any one’s problems. Marriage alone will not make you happy. You must be happy with who you are above all else. Find joy in your journey!