The Ecstasy of the Agony: How to Be Single and Sane at the Same Time

By Anne G. Osborn

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    It seems that one of the unintentionally best-kept secrets in the Church is that a multitude of unique blessings and special opportunities are available to single members.

    As a young child, I remember the delicious agony of waiting through a seemingly interminable night for the magic dawn of Christmas morning. In my eager anticipation of the wondrous surprises awaiting us under the Yule tree, I forgot the important events that long night celebrated.

    Likewise, in our anxiety to marry, we can easily neglect the many unique opportunities to prepare ourselves, not only for marriage, but for eternal exaltation.

    As a single, thirty-three-year-old convert to the Church, I have often been impatient for fulfillment of the temple marriage promised in my patriarchal blessing. Yet, in the eight years since my baptism, I have become increasingly aware of and grateful for the special blessings that come to faithful single members.

    We have time and the privilege to spend it as we wish. But we are also accountable for the manner in which we utilize that priceless gift of time. As single Church members we can either engage in morose personal recrimination and self-flagellation, bemoaning our single status, and living on the edge of desperation, or we can use this interim period in our lives as a time of active, creative waiting. I am firmly convinced that how we spend this “in the meantime” has critical importance for both our proximate and ultimate happiness as well as our eternal progression.

    An initial consideration is the question of career or occupation. I have often been asked, “Should a single Latter-day Saint woman involve herself in the type of career that requires heavy time Commitments and costly, extensive education?” My feeling is that to generalize is to err. Some women find great satisfaction in meeting the challenge of a demanding career. As a medical school professor and diagnostic specialist, I find great personal fulfillment in the service of others. I enjoy the deep satisfaction of pinning down a particularly elusive diagnosis. It really gives me a zippy feeling! Through prayer and priesthood blessings, I have also received a comforting, personal reassurance that what I am currently doing is pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

    However, such a demanding, time-consuming career may not be the answer for many or even most women in the Church. I have to confess that the greatest, most lasting joys in my life derive not from my somewhat unusual occupation, but from quiet, anonymous acts of compassionate service. As singles we have time to learn the secrets of becoming a great blessing in the lives of others. It is all too easy to be so concerned with our own needs and problems that we become spiritually deaf to the cries and heartaches around us. With the aid of a willing bishop or Relief Society president, we can learn who in the ward needs a hot tureen of soup, a lawn mowed, or some sympathetic company. A loaf of warm bread or a freshly baked pie left on the doorstep will surprise and cheer a shut-in.

    Never will our time be so unencumbered as now. We have time to take an institute class or home-study course. We have time to begin and follow diligently a personal scripture-study program. The self-discipline thus developed will stand us in good stead for the remainder of our lives. Last year my own project was reading the New Testament, using Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary as a guide, cross-indexing references to the other standard works.

    We have time to become widely read if we will but seek out of the best books. A neighbor of mine asked the people whom he respects most to list the five books that they feel have had the greatest impact on their lives. The reading list he has compiled promises a lifetime of enriching reading ahead. The wisdom obtained from study of the scriptures and other great books has not only strengthened his testimony, but has also helped him become a source of strength and light in the lives of others.

    We have time to develop a variety of talents and interests. Who knows what hidden gifts may be lurking undiscovered in some dusty corner of our personality? During my medical training, I didn’t have a very generous income. One year I decided to make all my Christmas presents myself. Searching for ideas, I bought a paperback book on batik (the art of dying designs on fabric) for $1.25. To my delight and surprise, I discovered an undeveloped artistic bent. The art gallery owner who framed the batiks I had made for presents liked them so much he invited me to produce a one-man show! With brisk sales from the show and subsequent commissions, I not only supported myself during my residency but saved enough for a partial down payment on a house.

    We have time to begin that long-overdue genealogy. For three years, my brother—who is also a convert—and I had a standing contest to see who could convince the other to take responsibility for the family genealogy! This last fall, the Spirit of Elijah persistently nagged both of us. With sighs of reluctance, we dutifully began the data-gathering process and were delighted to discover an entire new source of joy and excitement. Now the entire family is involved in collecting old photographs, tracing records, and constructing our family tree.

    The great satisfactions of regular, diligent Church service cannot be overestimated. I am a member of the Sunday School general board, yet I also experience great joy in serving as a ward Sunday School teacher. One of the most rewarding experiences has been to induce all the class members to begin—and finish—a scripture-reading program. One class member, wavering on the verge of inactivity, gained a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon and is now an outstanding missionary.

    We have time to travel. With careful long-range planning, even the most limited budgets can provide for a much-anticipated trip. Where in the world would you like to go? The possibilities are virtually endless. Inexpensive yet highly educational group excursions can be made with other Church members. A friend of mine who is a secretary budgeted assiduously for three years; the gratifying result of her thriftiness was a BYU study tour to Israel.

    We have time to get in good physical condition. I am sort of a fitness fanatic. I ski, play tennis three days a week, and—when I can haul my protesting body out of bed in the chill predawn morning—jog with my golden retriever. (She loves it! And it makes me feel almost smugly virtuous.) The joyous exhilaration of strenuous regular exercise will uplift the spirit and emotions as well as streamline the body.

    We have time to get involved with families in our ward or branch, becoming a friend to younger children. I am invited to (and eagerly anticipate) baseball games, piano and violin recitals, Christmas plays, debates, swimming parties, junior high basketball games, pep club marches. We are all hams at heart, and children are no exception. A warm response to “Hey, watch me jump off the high dive!” will be a source of pride and delight to your young friends. By the force of our own example, we can also quietly encourage them to follow gospel principles as they reach toward adulthood.

    We have unencumbered, quiet time to spend with our Father in heaven. I cannot overestimate the impact fasting and prolonged prayer have had in my life. After reading the book of Enos, the course of my life changed abruptly when I, too, decided to approach the Lord in extended prayer. The results were startling. Not only did I receive direct personal guidance for my current and future life, but I gained an unshakable testimony of the Lord’s special love and concern for my well being.

    But what can we do when those inevitable moments of loneliness or discouragement creep in? Earlier this month I experienced one of my rare, brief periods of depression. My social life was at a low ebb, and I had had a particularly difficult day at the hospital. Somewhat disheartened, I drove home in a fog of exhaustion. My darkened, silent house seemed mockingly empty that night. Even the dog was gone. The suffocating loneliness I felt was almost unendurable. The neighbors were home and—as I had done so many times in the past—I sought the comforting warmth of their friendship. I was uplifted through the loving concern of these cherished friends and neighbors and discovered a simple truth: In our hours of need, there are loving hands around us to uplift, strengthen, and assist us. Look around. I promise you they are there.

    And when discouragement weighs heavily, look around again. Recognize discouragement for what it is: one of Satan’s subtlest yet most devastating tools. He would convince us that we are unworthy of respect or affection, enticing us to wallow in the mire of self-pity. I have found that a sure cure for depression is to realize someone out there needs me. In blessing someone else, my needs and problems are quickly consumed in the warm glow of knowing that I have brightened another’s life and that what I have done is pleasing to the Lord.

    Let us then rejoice in this precious treasure, time, and thank the Lord for a special gift. We truly have time to become interesting because we are interested.

    Anne Osborn. (Photography by Eldon Linschoten.)

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    • Anne G. Osborn serves on the Sunday School General Board and is a neuroradiologist and an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Utah College of Medicine.