Have you ever asked yourself, "What should we do with the singles?"
One way to "help" the LDS singles is to ask whether or not the Single Adult program in your area is helping single church members "choose the good part." Not too many years ago, Elder Marvin J. Ashton encouraged everyone, particularly the women, to "choose the good part."
Many single adult programs are set up to serve as a "meet market." This thwarts the purpose of helping the participants choose the better part. Just like all other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, singles are faced with the challenge of living life fully, richly, and joyfully. The only difference between singles and the rest of the Church is that singles must learn to do it alone.
In a family centered church, where it is expected that happiness depends upon a family and spouse, singles frequently feel as if they are not supposed to feel happiness or joy in their situation. Or somehow it is impossible to feel joy in their situation. In spite of their many accomplishments outside of the home, some singles feel they have somehow failed at life because they are not yet married. It is imperative to provide a program that allows singles to choose the better part.
The best council we can all seek is that of President Hinckley. He said to the singles who wish to be married, "Do not give up hope. And do not give up trying. But do give up being obsessed with it. The chances are that if you forget about it and become anxiously engaged in other activities, the prospects will brighten immeasurably.
"I believe that for most of us the best medicine for loneliness is work, service in behalf of others. I do not minimize your problems, but I do not hesitate to say that there are many others whose problems are more serious than are yours. Reach out to serve them, to help them, to encourage them. There are so many boys and girls who fail in school for want of a little personal attention and encouragement. There are so many elderly people who live in misery and loneliness and fear for whom a simple conversation would bring a measure of hope and happiness."
Singles programs need to reach out to include every single from every walk of life. Many singles feel that their lives revolve around nothing but themselves. Everywhere they go and everything they do they are reminded that they are single. Allow church to be the one place where their marital status is not their defining characteristic.
Tips for a Successful Singles Activity
If you are asking yourself why you have 500 singles in your area, and yet only 20 show up for your bi-monthly potluck and fireside and dance combo night, instead of adding another exciting element to the night, ask yourself first if your singles program is set up to fulfill the guidelines President Hinckley outlined above, and then ask the singles what they would like to do for activities. Give the singles the opportunity to meet in each other's homes. Give them the chance to serve each other. If the thought, "What do singles like to do?" crosses your mind, ask yourself how you would like to spend an evening making new friends. Singles are people too.
Elder John K. Carmack Of the First Quorum of the Seventy offered a few observations for singles ("To My Single Friends," Ensign, Mar. 1989, 27):
1. Marriage is more likely to come as a result of being involved in other useful activities and goals.
2. Keep a long-range, spiritual perspective.
3. Maintain a loving, tolerant mortal perspective, too.
4. Look outward and away from yourself.
Guidelines for activities might include the following (and these are applicable to more than just a singles activity!):
Create opportunities for new interaction.
Create activities that allow people to relax out of their comfort zone. When planning the activity, ask yourself how comfortable you would be in a room surrounded by new people attempting the feat at hand.
Be innovative; go beyond the ward barbecue.
Make sure the purpose of the activity is more entertaining than the best that TV has to offer that night. If you didn't have to be there, would you want to be?
Don't waste your budget on the decorations or food. Delegating these opportunities to the attendees to be involved in the success of the activity will up your attendance numbers and encourage participation.
What Not to Say to a Single
Singles frequently hear criticism that they are too picky and that is why it has taken them so long to get married. Relationships are not as easy today as they once were. This generation has seen divorce rates climb, as our parents', friends', and siblings' marriages have failed. Telling someone to lose their "high" standards is the equivalent of telling them to ignore divorce rates and the factors that lead to it. As a single I have frequently heard variations on the misquote "any two righteous persons can get married and make a marriage work." And then someone tells me not to be picky - that I should be able to marry anyone and be happy. A more appropriate quote was given by Elder Marion Hanks in 1984:
"I [wish] to testify that the principles and covenants of the gospel, particularly those of the temple, are the best possible basis on which to build a strong union; and that such a marriage never just happens. It is brought about not simply by ceremony or circumstance or chance, but by two mature, loving adults who are able and willing to learn the principles upon which a vital and durable marriage may be fashioned and who, day by day, year by year, work on that process."
How You Can Help the Singles Feel Comfortable in a Family Ward
Treat them like normal people. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Singles Are People Too
In summary, what can you do with the Singles? Allow them to serve you and serve them. Integrate them fully into all ward and stake activities. Treat them like any other adult in your stake. Provide them with a service and gospel-oriented program.