The day before my parents were to return home after visiting me during the holidays, Dad suffered a stroke. He was hospitalized, then taken to a care center. I watched as my mother and father became my children and I became their parent.
Memories of what I had been calling my “best Christmas ever” quickly faded, and uncertainty and fear overshadowed my feelings of excitement and joy. I canceled out-of-town obligations and rearranged my schedule so that I could spend after-work hours with Mother, who was alone all day. Each day I visited Dad, even if it was ten o’clock at night.
One night when I was reviewing all that had happened, a new insight came to me. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, these circumstances gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my love for my parents. With my thinking refocused, I was able to respond to the rigors of Dad’s illness more peacefully and eagerly.
In many ways, that Christmas experience mirrors my life. Seen in proper perspective, many of life’s experiences or disappointments are not so much frustrations as opportunities for growth.
For example, like most girls, I expected to marry. But when years went by and I didn’t marry, I began to ponder my purpose on earth. As I’ve studied and prayed, I’ve found nothing in the scriptures that suggests that this life is meant to be particularly easy or comfortable, or that everything will be the way we expect it. I’m sure Moses was not overjoyed at the prospect of leading the Israelites across the Red Sea and through the desert to the Promised Land. Mary, being “great with child,” probably did not expect to travel on a donkey to give birth in less-than-favorable circumstances. (See Luke 2:1–7.) The Savior himself, only hours before the Crucifixion, was “sore amazed” by the pain he suffered and prayed to his Father, “If thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” (Mark 14:33; Luke 22:42.)
Each of us, single or married, young or old, prays from time to time to have circumstances removed from us. Often we look at others and think that if only we were in their situations we would be happy. As Thoreau pointed out, we stand on our island of opportunities and look toward another land. But “there is no other land,” he wrote. “There is no other life than this.”
Since none of us has any other life than the one we are living, it is imperative that we learn who we really are and what our purpose on this earth is. For that knowledge, we must go to the truths revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith at the opening of this dispensation. From him we learn that we are, literally, children of our Heavenly Father. For as often as I had listened to or sung “I Am a Child of God,” I never fully comprehended that message until I read the following passage by George Q. Cannon:
“We are the children of God, and as His children there is no attribute we ascribe to Him that we do not possess. … We existed with Him … as His children. … There is not one of us that He has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save and that He has not devised [the] means to save.” (Gospel Truth, 2 vols., Salt Lake City: Zion’s Book Store, 1957, 1:1–2.)
I read this statement often, especially when I’m feeling inadequate or sorry for myself. I come away with increased confidence, knowing that if I have the same attributes as God, even in embryo, I am greater than my challenges. I need not wait for marriage or any other change in my circumstances to bring me joy; life offers me joy enough now.
As I talk with single members of the Church, I sense that many are “waiting”—waiting to get the right job, waiting to marry—expecting someone or something else to make them happy. (See Karen Lynn Davidson, Ensign, June 1986, p. 50.) This suggests we have no desire to control what happens to us. One of the problems of this “waiting syndrome” is that we are depriving ourselves of experiences that could lead to growth and new understanding.
I learned a little about opportunities to grow several years before I joined the Church, when I was teaching on Long Island, New York. One Saturday, a planned iceboating activity fizzled at the last minute, leaving me “high and dry” with no plans. I had never felt more alone, and I retreated to my apartment to feel sorry for myself. Around noon, the monthly newsletter from the church I was attending arrived in the mail. Inside was an article about one of the senior members of the congregation. She had severe arthritis, was no longer able to care for herself, and had moved to a local nursing facility. “She is so lonely,” it stated. “Please take time to call her.”
For reasons I can’t explain, I put on my coat and went to visit this total stranger. Nearly an hour later, I left the nursing home feeling happy and good about myself. I had found a new friend.
As my friendship with Mrs. Siebert developed, I began looking forward to our visits and seldom went shopping without looking for a special treat to share with her. For the first time in my life, the scripture “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25) came to have meaning for me. By thinking of someone else, I had begun to find myself.
Over the years, I’ve talked with many never-married women who describe feelings of anger, disappointment, and self-pity similar to those I felt that Saturday morning. While a visit to a nursing home isn’t a “quick fix” for every problem, love, compassion, and service are the framework upon which anyone—married or single—can build a meaningful life.
When my friend, Kathy, and I bought our home a number of years ago, we developed a casual “Hello, how are you?” relationship with an older couple across the street. When spring arrived, the neighbor asked if he could pick up some petunias for our yard when he purchased his. That was the beginning of an enriching relationship for all of us. They watched our home when we were gone, and we watered their plants when they were away. We grew to love them and they us. They became more than neighbors and friends—they became like our parents, and we like their children.
When we stop worrying about being single, we have more energy to spend on living the abundant life. With an “eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 4:5), we can more fully rejoice in our opportunities to serve, sacrifice, and build the kingdom.
Too often, singles in the Church express displeasure at the number of references made to families—they say they have no family. But we all have and are a part of a family. These are “families of orientation.” They include our “genealogy families”—our parents and siblings, as well as our extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins; our “gospel families”—members of the Church who share common eternal goals and show Christlike love to those around them; and our “neighborhood families,” who, because they live closer to us than anyone else, can be the first to whom we turn when we need help, friendship, or just a kind word.
I began seeing my ward as part of my family following a camping trip to Church history sites a number of years ago. My friend and I had traveled from Utah to Vermont, taking pictures of Church history wherever we went. When we returned home, we decided to prepare a slide presentation to show friends and neighbors. Following a preview at a home across the street, ward members heard about our slides and asked us to show them. Soon, we began making appointments for showings. For almost a year, we spent one night a week in the homes of families in the ward, sharing with them what they might not have been able to enjoy firsthand.
I believe marriage is important; it is a covenant through which the Lord blesses men and women in ways that are otherwise impossible. I hope that when I have the opportunity to participate in this covenant, I will be prepared and worthy to do so. In the meantime, as I look at the many opportunities before me, there seems to be little time to do all the good there is to do. By loving our neighbors as ourselves, we can bring about life-changing experiences—for ourselves as well as for those whose lives we touch. As Moroni teaches, “He that is happy shall be happy still.” (Morm. 9:14.)