April stopped going to church about the time she left for college. At school she met people who, although they had good hearts, did not live by the same values she had been taught. The more she cultivated friendships, the more April concluded the Church crowd was not for her. She decided to align her life and decisions with her newfound friends and had little to do with the Church throughout college.
By the time April finished school, she felt she was ready to make some changes. So with a master’s degree in information systems, she headed to Silicon Valley in California to join the technology boom of the late 1990s. She had a good job and faced the transition of settling into a new city and a new life as part of the workforce.
When she arrived in the San Francisco Bay area, she was alone and needed to establish herself in a social circle. She weighed her options: meet friends as she had during school—at bars—or go back to church and meet friends there.
April chose church. It was not easy. She still thought the Church crowd was stale and even odd, but she felt an inner pull to reconnect with the Spirit. She gave herself six months to find friends, and if unsuccessful, she would return to the scene she felt more accustomed to. April began attending a young single adult ward, sitting on the back row and sneaking out after sacrament meeting. She gradually stayed for all meetings. Almost six months to the day after deciding to come back to church, she realized she felt comfortable there, she had made several good friends, and most important, she was feeling the Spirit again and gaining a testimony of the gospel. She decided to stay.
“Thank goodness I chose the Church,” April says. “It’s made all the difference. I’ve been able to make lots of friends, and that’s helped me get my life back on track and going in the right direction. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and although I have many good friends who aren’t LDS, I still need to have the influence of my friends who are.”
Finding and cultivating good associates is important throughout our lives. But during the years after leaving our families and before starting our own, our associates are particularly pivotal. Our friends are the people with whom we spend much of our time. They influence our choices as we establish our identities and habits. Ultimately one of our associates will become the person with whom we establish our own family. Young adulthood is a crucial time to seek out friends who make it easier for us to live the gospel.
As a young single Church member myself, I have often been struck by the power my friends and associates have to influence the choices I make—large and small. Most often I’ve been struck by how that power can be wielded for good. I have been impressed again and again as I’ve watched individuals and groups make good decisions—and as my friends have helped me make good choices too.
Surrounding ourselves by good people is a principle most of us have been taught since our youth, but finding good associates—especially when we are establishing our own lives away from our parents—can be challenging. Several young single adults have shared their ideas with me about where and how to cultivate good associates.
April’s experience demonstrates a fundamental place to meet good associates: at church. Whether you attend a traditional ward or a young single adult ward, church provides not only a place to worship but also a congregating place for people of like values and goals. Through activities, lessons, callings, and Church programs, we are influenced for good because of the principles taught, and we can cultivate relationships with others who share our love for the gospel.
With programs around the world, institute is a powerful force for good. Like other Church meetings, it provides a place for personal spiritual development and for congregating with young adults who have similar goals and a similar focus. It also presents opportunities to serve and to participate in activities—both great ways to get to know people and cultivate positive friendships.
For Amy Valentine of Wellington, New Zealand, institute provides a sharp contrast to the environment at her university. “Institute helps you keep your standards because you are surrounded by good people,” she says. “It’s so good to find people having pure fun, without alcohol or drugs.”
Tom Cumner from Reading, England, credits the friends he made through institute with helping him decide to serve a mission. Tom joined the Church when he was in his early 20s. He was unsure about going on a mission because he was older than the typical missionary. However, his friends at institute strongly encouraged him to serve. Then he and his friends attended a single adult conference, and there, amid deep pondering and prayer, he received an answer to serve a mission.
“Institute has always been a place of gain for me—whether through friendships, knowledge, or answers to prayers,” Tom says.
Faithfully fulfilling our callings gives us a chance not only to serve in the kingdom but also to associate with our brothers and sisters. Through planning a ward activity, teaching a lesson, scheduling bishop’s interviews, or organizing visiting teaching routes, callings allow us personal interactions with people who may become our dearest friends.
Angela Barrus of Washington, D.C., understands that the most important reasons for serving in a calling are spiritual, but she also knows there are blessed associations to be had through our callings: “I have served in many callings and capacities with people who desire to put the Lord first in their lives. I have recently become a temple worker with many others in my ward. It is a blessing to be a temple attending people and to associate with others there who desire to serve Heavenly Father with all their heart, might, mind, and strength.”
If you have a calling, fulfill it valiantly. If you don’t have a calling, let your leaders know you are eager to serve. If you aren’t worthy to hold a calling, prepare yourself so you can.
Many of us no longer live with our parents and siblings, and we don’t yet live with a future spouse and children. For some, it is a time to live alone and independently. For others, it is a time to have roommates. We get to select associates who will influence us each day in our homes. Good roommates can bless our lives; roommates who make poor choices can cause heartache.
Trisha Barker from Sterling, Virginia, recalls one of her first experiences with a new roommate: “Before we moved into our townhouse, we collected a few pieces of dilapidated old furniture from neighbors and friends. One day we were told of a family who had moved overseas and were giving away all their furniture and appliances. It seemed like an answer to our prayers, but when we called to inquire, the agent said we could only pick up the furniture on Sunday at 2:00 P.M.
“I hung up the phone and consulted with my roommate. We needed the financial help so badly, but we knew Sunday was the Lord’s day and couldn’t bear to break the Sabbath. We called the agent back and asked for a different pickup day, but she would not budge. It felt so good to be able to tell her that as much as we needed the furniture, Sunday was a day of worship and we would not use the day to move furniture.
“Our townhouse is still empty and bare, but we have never regretted the decision we made. It was a defining moment in our relationship as roommates and in our personal conviction of the Savior’s gospel.”
Our work and school environments will provide us with a wealth of associates. Some of these associates will be our cherished friends and will help us live up to our potential. Some of them will not. Inasmuch as we are able, we should be selective with our work and school environments, placing ourselves in uplifting and supportive situations. However, in some cases, we may have little control over the environment, and it may fall on our shoulders to provide those around us with positive associations.
Natalie Slaugh from Sunnyvale, California, shares a simple but poignant example of how we can be a force for good in the workplace: “I have a nonmember coworker who was very offended by the language used by people at work, especially a young man in our department. She said she was glad I started to work there because she used me as an excuse when she told him to watch his language. Since I live by high standards, it was easier for her too.”
For Chris Wilde, being an example of what he believes helps him cultivate a good work environment. As an airline pilot, Chris works with a variety of people. Because he is from Sandy, Utah, the topic of religion often comes up when his coworkers ask if he is “Mormon.” Just knowing his coworkers are aware that he is a Latter-day Saint is a positive influence. “You can maintain that mantle of missionary work, and that can recharge your batteries,” he says.
Finally, some friends we simply acquire along the way and keep. We should treasure those good associations. I know of two women who have been fast friends since junior high school in Denver, Colorado. Shauna is a Latter-day Saint, and Amy doesn’t claim a particular church. Amy may not share all of Shauna’s specific standards or religious convictions, but she does respect them. Throughout their junior high and high school years, Amy knew Shauna’s beliefs and was supportive of her choices to live them.
As young adults, Shauna and Amy have faced more complex issues such as where to live, what jobs to take, whom to date, and whom to marry. They continue to be influences for good in each other’s lives, and Amy continues to support Shauna in her choices to live the gospel. In Shauna’s most difficult decisions, Amy has offered support and counsel that has helped Shauna cling to the principles she knows to be true.
Good associates may not ultimately share all our values or beliefs, but they will understand them, respect them, and help us honor them. True friends never ask us to be less than we should be, and they consistently help us to be better. These are the friendships we should honor and treasure.
During our young adulthood and throughout our lives, our closest and choicest association should be with the Savior. He sets the perfect example of a true friend. He possesses charity and long-suffering for our shortcomings; He offers gentle and sometimes strong nudgings to follow Him; He is patient and kind but firm in His commands; He wants the best for us; and He helps us achieve our highest potential on earth and in heaven.
He is also unwavering. There will be times when, despite our best efforts, we will struggle to find close associates who share or respect our desires to live the gospel. We may be in circumstances where there simply are few people with common values or interests. Our efforts to develop friendships may be rejected. We may be faced with cultivating new relationships as we make our own personal changes. Throughout these times, the Savior stands steadfast with us as we stand steadfast with Him. He will see us through storms and through calm.
We are true disciples of Jesus Christ when we live His commandments. And we are true friends to others when we make it easier for them to do so too.
The scriptures provide the surest guide to finding and being true friends:
Bear one another’s burdens.
“Ye are … willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
Share testimony with each other.
“Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in” (Mosiah 18:9).
“A friend loveth at all times” (Prov. 17:17).
Be a good influence.
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).
“Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands” (D&C 121:9).
Give of yourself.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).