Belonging to a Ward Family


Robert D. Hales
The opportunities we all have for caring and fellowshipping in the ward or branch are boundless if we are willing to give of ourselves in love and service.

The message that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives to its members in reality has no boundaries as to marital status or any other circumstances. The glorious message is that Heavenly Father and Jesus live and that They love each one of us as an individual. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored so that each of us may have the knowledge and the ordinances necessary to return to the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Some of our Father’s children are married, some are single—but the gospel is the same for all; the doctrines are the same for all.

When called as a General Authority more than 20 years ago, I was asked to work with the single adult members of the Church. I learned much from the wonderful brothers and sisters with whom I served. I have had continuing opportunities to be taught by them about their particular circumstances, feelings, blessings, challenges, and opportunities. I have seen some brothers and sisters withdraw into their own cocoons to live with bitterness, loneliness, or despair. I have seen others soar as they lift and strengthen others, adding brightness to the spirits of everyone with whom they come in contact. I have shared their joys as they have related their successful experiences, and I have shed tears with some as they have opened their troubled hearts in expressing their pain and frustration at not finding all the desires of their hearts.

Some experiencing pain may feel that the Brethren do not have an understanding of their trials and tribulations. However, we do care from the depths of our hearts.

Over the past 20 years, I have also learned a great deal about how the Lord cares for each of us. What I have begun to understand is that every one of us has challenges, pain, and opposition. None of us is exempt from the realities of mortality. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11).

All of us can take heart in understanding the great blessings of baptism. When we were baptized, we moved from the world into the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, salvation is for everyone in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves: married, single, with children, childless, rich, poor, young, or old—the possibilities are endless. There are almost as many categories as there are individuals. But we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to succeed and return to His presence. In that respect, we are all the same. We are not alone. We are all loved.

We must be careful not to place a label on ourselves that implies a condition or category that would make us different and possibly set us apart or exclude us from the main body of the Church. For example, we sometimes hear single people describing the ward or branch where they live as a “family ward” or a “family branch,” meaning a Church unit made up mostly of married men and women with children. Wouldn’t it be better if we all viewed ourselves as belonging to a “ward family” or a “branch family” made up of adults, youth, and children—individual brothers and sisters—caring for and strengthening one another? God’s love is infinite and is not restricted by conditions or categories.

We all belong to a community of Saints, we all need each other, and we are all working toward the same goal. Any one of us could isolate ourselves from this ward family on the basis of our differences. But we must not shut ourselves out or isolate ourselves from opportunities because of the differences we perceive in ourselves. Instead, let us share our gifts and talents with others, bringing brightness of hope and joy to them, and in so doing lift our own spirits.

Early one morning my wife and I were commenting on the fact that our parents had passed away—we were both orphans. We concluded that since we were both in our 60s, it did not have the same effect it would have had if we were in our infancy or youth. We had outgrown our orphan status. It simply was no longer limiting to our growth.

Similarly, there comes a time in our lives when we realize that the fact we are single simply does not limit our growth. By emphasizing and dwelling on our single status, we in essence can make orphans of ourselves and may feel alone. Loneliness in the kingdom of God is often a self-imposed exile.

We hope each of you feels the need to join with the whole ward or branch family and use your unique gifts and talents to touch the lives of all of our brothers and sisters. The opportunities we all have for caring and fellowshipping in the ward or branch are boundless if we are willing to give of ourselves in love and service.

A year or two ago we were at a farmhouse with our extended family. All of the family members were involved in activities—except for one grandson. One afternoon he sauntered into the kitchen and announced to his grandmother, “I’m bored.” He had just expressed the condition in which he had placed himself.

Rather than trying to entertain him for the next several days, his grandmother showed great wisdom in taking this opportunity to teach him a very important lesson. First, she handed him a broom so he could help with some work; then she handed him a piece of paper and a pencil and asked him to sit at the kitchen table. She pointed out a list of family activities posted on the refrigerator door. She asked this young grandson to write down any of the activities from this list in which he would like to participate. The list was long. She then asked him to add to his list anything he would like to accomplish by himself. The list grew. He soon had more than enough interesting activities to keep busy.

With his list in hand, he became happily involved and no longer dwelled on his earlier feelings of being bored. His grandmother had lovingly taught him to be responsible for his own happiness and not to be dependent upon others to bring joy and happiness into his life.

This experience applies to all of us, regardless of our individual circumstances. Like our grandson, we are responsible for our own happiness. Perhaps we should make our own list of ways to bring joy and happiness into our own lives and the lives of others. Our list may include:

  • Praying: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Ps. 55:22).

  • Studying the scriptures.

  • Visiting with your bishop and your quorum leader or your Relief Society president.

  • Giving service to others.

  • Lifting and strengthening others.

And the list could go on.

Because of His great love for each of us, the Lord wants all of us to be happy. He has told us through the prophet Lehi, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). This joy we speak of is in the present. We do not have to wait for another day, for another year, until our circumstances change, or until we pass through the veil and go to our eternal glory. We are to find joy in the present. If we love the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can find joy in whatever condition we find ourselves.

Those who are alone and lonely should not dwell forever in the private chambers of their own hearts. Such retreat may ultimately lead to the darkening influence of the adversary, which leads to despondency, to loneliness, to frustration, and to thinking of themselves as worthless. After they think of themselves as worthless, they ofttimes turn to associates who corrode those delicate spiritual contacts, rendering their spiritual receiving antennas and transmitters useless. What good is it to associate with and ask advice of others who are themselves disoriented and who tell us only what we want to hear? Wouldn’t it be better to turn to loving parents, priesthood and Relief Society leaders, and friends who can help us reach for and attain celestial goals?

A unique aspect of the Church is that its wards and branches are established on a geographical basis. They are created in such a way that leaders can be close to members and can know and nurture them. All members living within these geographical units have access to a meeting place, to a priesthood leader, and to a Relief Society president.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told, “I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:9). Those who live faithful lives and who do not have the opportunity of marrying in this life will have every opportunity for blessings, exaltation, and glory that will come to those who enter into and honor the covenant of eternal marriage. The real question each of us must ask ourselves is, What are the desires and intents of my heart?

We respect and honor single adult members of the Church for their faithfulness, obedience, and dedication. All the blessings of the Lord are in store for us if we will participate in the Church as it has been established, without placing ourselves in a special condition or category. We are all members of a ward or branch family in the community of Saints, where we may all contribute with our individual gifts and talents. It would be good for all of us to follow the example of our Savior when, while suffering on the cross, He was concerned that His mother be cared for and that His tormentors be forgiven. We, too, should focus our concern on caring for the needs of others. Reaching out and helping somebody in need can dispel feelings of loneliness and imperfection—and replace them with feelings of hope, love, and encouragement.

I promise that you will be blessed as you give of your gifts, talents, and spirit. As you love and comfort another who is in need, the Spirit of the Lord will visit you, and you will find love and comfort in your life.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann