Somehow we have put a badge on a very important group in the Church. It reads “Singles.” I wish we would not do that. You are individuals, men and women, sons and daughters of God, not a mass of “look-alikes” or “do-alikes.” Because you do not happen to be married does not make you essentially different from others. All of us are very much alike in appearance and emotional responses, in our capacity to think, to reason, to be miserable, to be happy, to love and be loved.
You are just as important as any others in the scheme of our Father in Heaven, and under His mercy no blessing to which you otherwise might be entitled will forever be withheld from you.
You are precious and important to Him. You are precious and important to the Church. You are precious and important to all of us.
While we are all very much alike, we are also different from one another. We have our individual problems and concerns. I know of no one in this world who is entirely without these, be he or she single or married. As a matter of fact, unfortunately and regrettably, there is much of misery and unhappiness in many, many homes where there are husbands and wives and children. A happy marriage is an ideal much to be sought after and worked for. None of us would deny that. All of us would wish for it and encourage it.
Your numbers include various categories—young men and women who have never married and who, possibly, are not yet ready for marriage. Some of you wish to serve missions first, and that is commendable. Your numbers include some who are older who have not married and who may not have that opportunity in this life. There are likewise those who have been married and who are now divorced, and also many who have been widowed.
I do not worry about you young men who have recently returned from the mission field. You know as well as I what you ought to do. It is your responsibility and opportunity, under the natural process of dating and courting, to find a wonderful companion and marry in the house of the Lord. Don’t rush it unduly and don’t delay it unduly. “Marry in haste and repent at leisure” is an old proverb that still has meaning in our time. But do not dally along in a fruitless, frustrating, and frivolous dating game that only raises hopes and brings disappointment and in some cases heartache.
Yours is the initiative in this matter. Act on it in the spirit that ought to prompt every honorable man who holds the priesthood of God. Live worthy of the companionship of a wonderful partner. Put aside any thought of selfish superiority and recognize and follow the teaching of the Church that the husband and wife walk side by side with neither one ahead nor behind. Happy marriage is based on a foundation of equal yoking. Let virtue garnish your courtship, and absolute fidelity be the crown jewel of your marriage.
Permit me now to say a word to those who have never had the opportunity to be married. I assure you that we are sensitive to the loneliness that many of you feel. Loneliness is a bitter and painful thing. I suppose all people have felt it at one time or another. Our hearts reach out to you with understanding and love. We do not pity you, for you do not want pity. You want opportunity and challenge and appreciation.
Many years ago I had a secretary who one morning was plainly in a bad mood. I said, “Something’s wrong. Can I help?”
She burst into tears and said, “It’s my birthday. I am thirty-five today. What do I have to show for it?—a job, yes, but no husband, no children, nothing of consequence.”
I replied, “So, you’re thirty-five? Happy birthday! According to actuarial tables you have more years ahead of you than you have behind you. Now with all you’ve learned over these thirty-five years, you can build and grow and live a wonderful and productive and happy life. Lift your head. Smile and be happy and go forward.”
Her dour face finally broke into a pleasant smile. I guess it was about five years later that she married, had a child, and did many interesting and productive things. Thirty-five is not the end of life nor of the world. Neither is forty or fifty or sixty. As Madame Curie, the great scientist, said, “So little time and so much to do.”
For you in this category, this season of your lives can be wonderful. You have maturity. You have judgment. Most of you have training and experience. You have the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to lift and help and encourage.
There are so many out there who need you. It is not enough to work at a word processor forty hours a week and feel that you have done all that you can do. You are needed. There are young people to be taught in the organizations of the Church. Refine your skills. Accept every challenge and assignment. Put time and effort into the preparation of your lessons. Keep your spiritual batteries at full charge and light the lamps of others. It is better to light one candle than to curse the dark.
There are so many other people and causes out there who need your help. I think of Florence Nightingale, the English girl born of wealthy parents to a gentle life. She received an excellent classical education. But she was not content to exist as a social butterfly, flitting from party to party and tea to tea. As a single young woman, she visited hospitals where she saw the suffering of the sick and the inadequate care given them. She became a qualified nurse. She worked her way up to become superintendent of a London hospital. In 1854, word reached London of the terrible plight of the sick and wounded in the Crimean War. She pestered government officials to let her go to the Crimea and finally received permission from the Secretary of War. With a staff of thirty-eight nurses, she traveled to the war zone.
She saw the wounded brought in by the hundreds to an inadequate and unsanitary hospital. She defied the military and the bureaucracy in making improvements. She personally would work twenty hours at a time. At night she made her solitary rounds, her lamp in hand, to speak words of comfort and faith to the suffering and the dying.
She soon had ten thousand of the wounded and sick in her charge and was made superintendent of all military hospitals in the area. In February of 1855, shortly after her arrival, the mortality rate in the hospitals was 42 percent. By June, it was down to 2 percent. She and her associates worked miracles in saving the lives of thousands of the wounded and suffering.
Word of their accomplishments reached London. Florence was proclaimed a heroine. At the close of the war in July 1856, a battleship was ordered to bring her home for a great reception. Instead, she slipped away on a French boat, quietly crossed over to London, and reached her country home before news leaked that she was back in Britain. She became the founder of the nursing system of England.
I think of another woman, Clara Barton, born to comfort in Massachusetts, who during the Civil War distributed supplies for the relief of wounded soldiers. At the close of the war, she organized a bureau of records to aid in the search for missing men. She identified and marked the graves of more than twelve thousand of those buried in the national cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia.
She was the moving power in organizing what became the American Red Cross and served as its first president from 1881 until 1904, a period of twenty-three years. She died at ninety-one, honored, respected, and loved as one who had lightened the suffering of uncounted thousands.
My thoughts turn to Sister Rebecca Olsen, who served a mission faithfully and honorably. She is an outstanding teacher. She is a student working on an advanced degree. And beyond all of that, she has spent her summers in Bolivia blessing the impoverished people of that nation. Shall anyone say that her contribution is less than that of some of her married friends? Does anyone dare think her gift of service is any less valuable in the eyes of her Heavenly Father? Said the Lord, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
I am not suggesting that you become a Florence Nightingale or a Clara Barton. But you can help. There are so many out there whose burdens you can lift. There are the homeless, there are the hungry, there are the destitute all around us. There are the aged who are alone in rest homes. There are handicapped children, and youth on drugs, and the sick and the homebound who cry out for a kind word. If you do not do it, who will?
The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.
To you wonderful young women I send a charge to reach beyond the routine of your daily work to serve in the Church, in the community, in the society of which you are a part. Though your talents be meager, polish them. Increase your skills, extend your love to help those who need your lifting hand.
Now a word to the single parents among us. Most of you are divorcees who carry exhausting burdens in fighting the daily battles that go with rearing children and seeing that their needs are met. This is a lonely duty. But you need not be entirely alone. There are many, ever so many in this Church who would reach out to you with sensitivity and understanding. They do not wish to intrude where they are not wanted. But their interest is genuine and sincere, and they bless their own lives as they bless your lives and those of your children. Welcome their help. They need to give it for their own sakes as well as for your sake.
We have thousands of good bishops in this Church. We have thousands of good quorum officers. We have thousands of wonderful Relief Society women. We have home teachers and visiting teachers. They are your friends, put in place by the Lord to give of their strength to help you. And never forget that the Lord Himself is a source of strength greater than any other. I was touched by an experience recounted by Sister Ginger Evans, a single parent rearing seven children, when she pleaded to her Father in Heaven that she might go to Him, if only for a night, to find comfort and strength for the trials of tomorrow. Tender was the response that came into her mind almost as a revelation: “You cannot come to me, but I will come to you.”
No, we do not leave this life at our own will for a heavenly respite. God our Eternal Father would not have it so. But He and His Beloved Son can come to us by the power of the Spirit to comfort and sustain, to nurture and to bless.
To you who are divorced, please know that we do not look down upon you as failures because a marriage failed. In many, perhaps in most cases, you were not responsible for that failure. Furthermore, ours is the obligation not to condemn, but to forgive and to forget, to lift and to help. In your hours of desolation turn to the Lord, who said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. …
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28, 30.)
The Lord will not deny you nor turn you away. The answers to your prayers may not be dramatic; they may not be readily understood or even appreciated. But the time will come when you will know that you have been blessed. For those of you who have children and struggle to rear them in righteousness, be assured that they will become a blessing and a comfort and a strength to you throughout all the years to come.
Now to those of you who have lost a companion in death, our hearts go out to you with love and understanding. As a man once observed, “There exists no cure for a heart wounded with the sword of separation.” (Hitopadesa, Elbert Hubbard’s Scrapbook, New York City: Wm. H. Wise and Co., 1923, p. 21.) With many of you, there is the gnawing pain of bereavement and fear. To you the Lord has said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4.)
We know that for many of you, there are days of loneliness and nights of longing. But there is also that which comes from Him who said, “I, even I, am he that comforteth you.” (Isa. 51:12.)
The Lord is your strength. He is available to you, and, when invited, by His Spirit He will come to you.
You, too, have great talents to enrich the lives of others. You will find comfort and strength as you lose yourself in their service. Your own troubles will be forgotten as you help others with theirs. Your burdens will become lighter as you lift the burdens of the downtrodden and the oppressed.
For many of you, this is a great season for enjoying the finer elements of life. I have a friend who was left a widower. He was retired without the challenge of a daily job. He had never played the piano, but he began taking lessons. Mastering that instrument became an obsession that replaced his sorrow. He found happiness, usefulness, and companionship in his piano. It changed his outlook on life; it made him more cheerful and positive. It led to association that culminated in a delightful marriage.
That may not be possible for all of you, but even with advancing age there is the challenge and the opportunity of learning and developing new skills. It is never too late. Remember what the Lord has said: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” (D&C 130:18.)
That applies to attainments reached in old age as well as in youth. There is so much wonderful reading to be done. The scriptures can be our comfort, our challenge, our strength. They contain the word of God, before whom we must someday stand, each of us. The better we are acquainted with His word, the more pleasant and wonderful our conversation is likely to be.
You, too, can reach out and give companionship, friendship, love, and nurture to many who are in worse circumstances than your own. Writing of the angel of the slums of Calcutta, George F. Will said: “Nothing is more beautiful than cheerfulness in an old face. Mother Teresa is proof that a small star’s twinkling becomes more noticeable as the night becomes darker.”
Well, now, my beloved brethren and sisters, the challenge is great. The opportunities are all about us. God would have us do His work—and do it with energy and cheerfulness. That work, as He has defined it, is to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.)
It is to minister to those in need. It is to comfort the bereaved. It is to visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction. It is to feed the needy, to clothe the naked, to shelter those who have not a roof over their heads. It is to do as the Master did, who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38.)
Before all of us is the great and tremendous challenge to work in the temples. I went through a session the other day in behalf of a man born in 1707. That was 282 years ago. As I sat in the temple, I reflected on his long wait for someone to provide this help for him.
There is a great work of redemption that needs doing, and you have the capacity to do much of it. I compliment you on the degree to which you are doing this, and urge you on.
Our Father loves you, each of you, as much as He loves any of His children. Your righteous service is as acceptable, your strength is as greatly needed, your love is as much desired as that of any.
You carry in your hearts, each of you, a testimony of this great latter-day work, of the God of heaven under whose plan we operate, of the Savior of mankind in whose name we act. Where there is loneliness, may you find understanding friends. Where there is weakness, may you find strength. Where there is sorrow, may your hearts come to know gladness. Where there is bitterness, may the sweet spirit of the Lord bring a soothing balm and grant you courage to face the dawn of each new day. Your hope can be as strong as the hope of any, your faith as powerful. Your Eternal Father loves you. Your Savior loves you. All of us love you. We pray for you that you may be happy and productive in your lives and shed a beneficent influence wherever you go.