We live in a world where married couples far outnumber singles, or at least it feels like they do. And then at Church they really do outnumber and overshadow the singles. This is a wonderful thing! Thank goodness there are so many marriages and families. However, walking into church week after week not sure who you’re going to sit with while observing a sea of heads resting on shoulders and hands being held can immediately make a single feel like the odd man out. The singleton who wants to marry and loves the Gospel experiences a wide range of emotions in regards to this particular season of life. At one’s deepest core, one desires to be loved (as we all do). No one wants to feel excluded, singled out, or left out.
And yet, even at church, the one place we truly seek (and expect) to be loved and included, it is very easy to be left out, excluded, and misunderstood. The language used at church often excludes the singles inadvertently. Conversations leave out singles because married people apparently forget how to talk to a person who doesn’t have a spouse, as if they weren’t once single themselves. Singles leave the Church every day because people ignore them, instead of just saying hello.
Here are four ways you can better embrace, love, include, and fellowship, and speak to the singles in your ward.
Affirm, Validate, and Encourage. Don’t Assume or Attempt to Fix.
Everyone likes to be encouraged. Everyone should be encouraged! Affirming and building one another up is something we are called to do for each other. This is a call that applies to every person you are in relationship with, not just singles. Affirm and validate their choices to be at church. Affirm and validate their hard work. Affirm and validate their service to the community, church, and their family. Affirm all good decisions. And if you don’t know what good decisions they may be making, get to know them well enough so that you can. Singles often struggle with their choices and decisions because their life lacks validation. (I want to stop myself here and point out that validation is a terrible word to describe this. I don’t mean they want someone to pat them on the back and tell them they do everything right. But married couples, and those who live with their families, have other people in their lives who help with decision-making, and other people who have a vested interest in the job, decisions, and choices of another person. Singles are very much alone in this respect. There is often no one with a vested interest in their lives. No one who cares about a good or bad day. And no one to give heartfelt advice on tough decisions.) There isn’t another person with a vested interest in what he or she does, which makes some decisions a lot easier to make and others really difficult. Be there for your single friends and family, offer advice, and affirm and validate their choices.
Assumptions about why a person is still single can be very hurtful. Marriage is not a goal, it is a gift. It is a calling and/or gift that is not extended to all. There are many singles who remain single for no specific or obvious reason. When someone wonders why they are not yet married (especially women) the last thing s/he wants is for someone to take a magnifying glass to her heart to diagnose its condition. What the person really wants is compassion, comfort, and love.
Unless you have been specifically asked by the person to help fix them, it isn’t your job to do so. We are all called to serve and sharpen one another and [as the Lord leads] encourage one another toward a Gospel-centered life. But we all have the right to choose to be who we are and be held accountable for our own choices, not the choices of others forced upon us. Under no circumstance should we try to “fix” each other as it takes away accountability. Love, affirm, validate, and encourage instead of criticize and fix.
There are all kinds of people who are married. Ugly people, smart people, stupid people, people with really bad teeth and hair, people with good jobs, people without jobs, people with bad credit, people with big bank accounts, people with divorces, people who have never been kissed. Sometimes it feels like people will marry just about anyone these days- except for “me.” Which tells me that there is no such thing as “marriage material.” Resist the urge to “fix” your single friends. (Unless it is to give a few helpful hints regarding fashion, halitosis, and/or body odors.)
Singles spend far too much time comparing themselves to married people and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” “How did he convince a woman to go out with him, let alone marry him, and I can’t?” So why would you want to add to their burdens with your criticisms and critiques.
What a loving Father in Heaven wants His children to know is that they are loved and are of great worth. “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” There is no clarifier on that that says, “The worth of married people is greater than single people, especially the singles over 30.” When others (in an effort to help) fill a single’s head with a lot of “maybe this is why you are single,” it only makes the person feel of less worth.
And while I am at it, please stop calling single men a ‘menace to society.’ Chances are you are taking the quote completely out of context and using it wrong, degrading and insulting the thousands of very good single men in the Church.
Ask and Be Willing to Receive
Some of this will depend on the personality of the single person in your life, so proceed with caution. But there are few things I can share with you that come from such a raw and humble place in my heart.
Singles, by their very status in life, are alone. There are few people in their lives that they can share things with. They often live far from their families. Roommates aren’t always close friends or confidantes. Their other single friends are often similarly burdened. Singles are, whether they want to be or not, a very isolated island.
To be remembered and acknowledged in even just the simplest of ways can make a world of difference. A simple “how was work” text, or comment on a Sunday, can mean everything to a person who never gets asked how their day was, and doesn’t have another person to share their life with. Sometimes it is the littlest things that can make the biggest difference.
I’m not afraid to admit that my favorite reason for working with the youth and primary is all of the hugs. I live alone. I can go for weeks without any physical touch from another person. The unsolicited, uninhibited hugs from my “little friends” in the primary and youth program, are often the only touches I will get for months. When a “little friend” draws me a picture it can make my whole month just to think that someone thought of me for a brief moment. Remember how lonely and isolated a single person can be next time you have the chance to sit with one. Reach out and include them. You may never know how much they needed to be noticed that day.
Include and Embrace
Every time a Relief Society teacher says, “What can we do as mothers…” a childless woman gets knocked down again. This includes the single women. Re-evaluate your words and the real intent of the lesson, and include every member of your ward. Each member is of great worth. Not just the parents, and not just the married ones. Couldn’t the question as easily have been, “What can we do as women?”
When you plan ward activities, are you remembering to include ALL of the members of your ward, including the singles? Or are the activities so family-centered that the singles are excluded? There are lots of ways to plan activities that are fun for small children that don’t unintentionally exclude the adults without children.
When speaking to the youth about the different phases of their adult lives, don’t leave out the single phase. When asking special guests to come speak to the youth, ask for the input of a single adult as well. Chances are good that fifty percent of the youth will go inactive in the Church if they are not married by age twenty-five. If they were to see how the Church still applies to them by seeing and hearing more from single adults, would they stay active? And will that single adult feel more included and appreciated?
Do Not Use If/Then Statements
There may be nothing that irks me more than when I am told, “It’s when you let go and are ok with being single that you’ll meet someone.” Or “Relationships happen when you least expect them.” If either one of these platitudes were true, I’d have met a dozen men a dozen times over by now. Where it may have happened to you or your child or sister or brother this way, it’s just not a concrete fact. A loving, merciful Heavenly Father doesn’t use reverse psychology on His children and He certainly doesn’t employ complicated dating formulas for us to figure out and follow.
Contentment doesn’t bring about blessings, willingness to submit to the Father’s will does. By telling a single person that they need to be cool with being single before they can be married, you have (most likely unintentionally) encouraged them to live according to a “works-based” mentality. Ideas and beliefs like this create a manipulative relationship with God. (If I pay my tithing today, I’ll get a raise tomorrow. I better read extra scriptures tonight so that I get an A on my exam. I got a flat tire because I missed church yesterday.) What is helpful, is to lovingly encourage a single in his/her relationship with the Gospel. Share with her how He has proven himself enough for personally in difficult seasons of life. (You would be surprised just how well single women relate to the emotions of infertility.)
Fellowship the Singles
Include, love, embrace, and speak to the singles. Your simple actions of just saying hello and asking someone how they are doing can help not just make someone’s day brighter, but also help keep that person in the Church.
Do not forget your singles. Fellowship them. Don’t let them disappear because you didn’t speak up.