“While waiting for promised blessings, one should not mark time, for to fail to move forward is to some degree a retrogression. Be anxiously engaged in good causes, including your own development. The personal pursuit of hobbies or crafts, the seeking of knowledge and wisdom, particularly of the things of God, and the development and honing of skills are all things that could productively occupy one’s time.” President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95), “The Church Is for All People,” Ensign, June 1989, 77.
At some point in my life I was assigned to a classroom labeled “single.” Despite my efforts, I realized I had little control over when I could leave, so I spent most of my adult life seeing my classroom as a prison.
Although my attitude may have seemed positive on the outside, my relationship with Heavenly Father suffered through many long nights of desperate pleading, angry demands, and general despair. I struggled despite Heavenly Father’s many reassurances that all was well, that my deepest and most dearly held dreams would come to pass, and that He would never leave me truly alone. To my mind, that just wasn’t enough. All I could focus on was the door of this prison, and all I wanted was out.
I finally reached a point several years ago when my hope, faith, and energy hit an all-time low. Walking past affectionate couples depressed me. I watched my married friends deal with the joys and trials of marriage and family life with envy, even when toddlers threw tantrums and dishes were left undone. As far as I was concerned, I just couldn’t handle being single anymore.
I went to church one particular Sunday having already decided to ask a friend for a priesthood blessing. When I arrived, one kind sister complimented me by saying I looked “so put together.” I smiled and thanked her, while the irony of her words weighed on me: I actually felt close to falling apart.
The words of the blessing I received later that day shook my soul. The Lord’s reassurances had never been so clear or so directly linked to my particular thoughts at the time, and I had never felt the Spirit more strongly. And while the blessing did not answer all my questions, it started me on a road that took me closer to the peace I had been seeking.
Feeling stronger than I had in a long time, I started looking around my “prison.” I began to see, dimly at first, the positive aspects of the room. I began to take inventory of the ways in which I had been of use in the lives of my friends and family. I realized that being single allowed me more flexibility and freedom of movement, something I had always taken for granted. It allowed me to serve in ways I might not have been able to otherwise.
However, I continued to struggle at times with doubt, loneliness, and confusion. The tears did not come as frequently as they had in the past, but I still did a fair amount of complaining. It was as if I had started to explore my situation in a limited way, tiptoeing around the room and catching glimpses of beauty through half-closed eyes but still never truly seeing what I had been given.
I began to wonder if I had somehow failed Heavenly Father. I thought maybe it was taking longer for the door to open because there was something I was supposed to be that I wasn’t being, and that it was all my fault. Lasting peace continued to elude me. Again, I requested a priesthood blessing. Again, the reassurances and counsel of a loving Heavenly Father quieted my fears and unfounded guilt. But I also received some counsel that puzzled me: I was told I needed to humble myself—despite the fact that I had just spent the last several months beating myself up for imagined offenses. Obviously I needed a different kind of humility.
The answer finally came. It didn’t come in words; it came as a feeling. During a ward activity, as I looked at my surroundings, several thoughts ran through my mind. I remembered many such activities in the past as well as the people who had been a part of them. I realized just how much the people in that room and in my life meant to me. I thought of the many small miracles that had guided and comforted me throughout my life. Reflecting on Heavenly Father’s infinite patience with me, I remembered the Savior, who had been through the greatest torment of all so that He could succor us through life’s challenges. I felt overcome with gratitude.
It was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I realized that what I had considered a prison was filled with more wonderful things than I had ever noticed. In my obsession with getting out, I had either missed or had only partly seen the Lord’s hand in filling that room with people and experiences that had taught me, comforted me, and filled my life’s cup to overflowing. I had only needed to humble myself enough to be deeply grateful for those gifts to finally feel years of pain fall away.
The exit to my classroom still has not opened. I don’t know when it will. I still listen for the handle to turn—after all, I will never lose the desire to leave my single status behind and become a wife and mother. As I have been counseled many times, that is a righteous desire. But I am finding myself more occupied with painting murals on the walls these days, contributing to the beauty of my surroundings rather than pounding on the door. I believe that when someone finally comes into the room, holds out his hand, and says, “Honey, you’re finished here; let’s go,” I will have to stop long enough to take one final look around at what the Lord has done for me as a single person before finally stepping through the door—and into another classroom.
A Different Path
Being single can be challenging at times, but it can also bring unique blessings. Here are a few suggestions, based on my own experience and that of my friends, for making life meaningful as a single Church member.
Focus on what is good in your life. While it is true that nothing can bring greater happiness than marriage and children, it is also true that lasting joy and fulfillment can come from other things: nurturing relationships with family and friends, developing a skill, cultivating our testimony, enjoying the beauties of nature. There is more than one pathway to happiness.
It has been said, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.” 1 Being single helps us develop traits we may not have had otherwise. It may help us develop more compassion for those whose lives are not “ideal.” It may encourage us to rely more on the Lord for strength and guidance. It can refine us and help ensure that our testimonies are based on what truly matters, not just on what those around us are doing.
Take advantage of your discretionary time. Being single doesn’t necessarily mean having more free time, but it may mean we have more control over how we use our time. My friend Suzette stays involved in community service. Cinda makes pottery and goes mountain biking. Brad works on home improvement projects. Other friends attend school, participate in community theater, read good books, and travel. They make meaningful contributions to society and improve the lives of those around them. They know that real life isn’t only for those who are married.
Don’t give up. I have heard people say, “If I’m ever going to get married, he’s just going to have to drop out of the sky and land on my doorstep.” Trust me, that isn’t going to happen. I believe that if we extend ourselves and venture outside of our comfort zone at times, God will make up the difference if and when the right person comes along. In the meantime, we shouldn’t dwell excessively on what we lack. As President Gordon B. Hinckley once counseled single adults: “Do not give up hope. And do not give up trying. But do give up being obsessed with it.” 2
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Some time ago my roommate and I were taking a married friend on a tour of our home. She paused when she saw a framed copy of the family proclamation hanging on our wall. “That’s so great that you’re displaying that, even though you don’t have families!” our friend exclaimed. My roommate and I just laughed. Of course we had families—we had parents, siblings, and extended family members, just not husbands and children yet.
There have been other times when, unfortunately, I may not have felt quite so magnanimous. But I know that most of the time people mean well. It’s true that those who married young don’t understand what it’s like to be an “older” single. But we single people don’t understand every trial that others experience either. We hope that others will give us the benefit of the doubt and look on the intent of our hearts, so we need to extend that same courtesy to them.
Know that God is mindful of you. I have found that my relationship with Him is my best antidote to loneliness. He has declared, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). He loves me not because of what I do or what label I wear—single, married, or anything else—but simply because I am His child. He wants every experience I have to work for my good (see D&C 122:7), including the experience of being single. Because of Him, I am never ultimately alone, and my life has purpose and meaning.
Richard Bach, Illusions (1977), 57.
“A Conversation with Single Adults,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 60.