“Going to church isn’t always a picnic,” I thought to myself as I studied the congregation. There must have been 200 people in the room, but I felt painfully alone.
All around me families sat snuggled cozily together on the benches, and Bishop Campbell was up at the pulpit talking about the joys of eternal families. “Right,” I thought sadly. “Sometimes that seems like a fairy tale.” My parents were divorced; my sister, the only other member in my family, was away at school; and I had no one to sit with in sacrament meeting. I felt warm tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Once again, the depression inside me began to swell and completely overwhelm the messages that were being taught from the stand.
There are probably a lot of you who feel the same way at times. More teens than ever are joining the Church on their own, without having other family members join them in the waters of baptism. Or maybe your parents stop coming and you continue to attend. You wish your family were with you—you wish they were feeling the same spirit, learning the same things, receiving the same blessings. You wish you had someone to lean on, to talk to, to discuss the talks with after the meeting. I know. I’ve sat through countless meetings alone because I didn’t think my friends and their families wanted an intruder to squish in with them on their bench.
Now, for those of you who have always had loving, supportive families to sit with and can’t understand the loneliness your friends are experiencing, you might take a look around and see just how many of them there are. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. Consider going out of your way to invite them to sit with you, even if it means your family will have to sit on two rows. You have no idea how grateful your friends will be.
But for those of you who are going it on your own, here are a few suggestions:
1. Avoid sitting by yourself. Find someone else who is sitting alone, and ask if you can join them. They’ll probably be just as grateful to have a friend by them as you are.
2. Try not to let self-pity get the best of you. It’s easy to think, “I put a lot of effort into coming to church—no one’s dragging me here. I’m here because I want to be. Yet sitting alone reminds me that these people are way ahead of me in the blessing department. They’ve got celestial families, and I’m by myself.” When these thoughts come into your head, concentrate extra hard on the speaker. Pull out the hymnbook and start singing something to yourself (maybe not “Love at Home”). Say a quiet prayer. Read your favorite scripture. Think about the blessings you do have. Do anything to get your mind off the loneliness.
3. Realize that you, and only you, are responsible for your attitudes about church. Don’t try to blame your negative feelings on the actions of others. It’s how you react to those other people that counts. And try not to expect ward members or the Church in general to solve all your problems. That responsibility lies with you.
4. Whatever you do, don’t start resenting those who do have families, and are happily seated with them. They’re not purposely trying to hurt or ignore you, and they’re probably not aware that you’re in so much pain. Be happy for them, and use them as good examples. Vow that one day your children will be able to sit cozily with their family and will never have to suffer the same ordeal that you’re going through.
5. Make a commitment that you’ll always come back. Don’t even consider neglecting church because of the loneliness you sometimes feel there. As you sit in church alone, you might feel bad about your family situation, but at least you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what you know the Lord wants you to do. If you stay home, you won’t feel good about anyone. Besides, many times the Lord reaches out to you and answers prayers through speakers and through your fellow ward members. Why deprive yourself by missing out on important learning, inspiration, and fellowship?
6. Know that you’re not completely alone. The Lord is with you and is very mindful of you. He’ll bless you for your diligence. He knows that it’s not easy for you to sit there by yourself, and he shares your sorrow. But he also knows that in the long run, the experience can prove useful to you.
7. Realize that you can benefit from the experience. You have to stand on your own two feet when you don’t have anyone to lean on, and this can help you develop inner strength and endurance. You’ll build your own testimony, and not be dependent on anyone else for your devotion. If your mind is open and your heart is pure, the Lord will supply you with the understanding you miss by not having someone there to discuss the meeting with. You’ll develop a strong relationship with Heavenly Father, because there aren’t a lot of other places to turn. And you’ll develop compassion for others in similar circumstances.
Maybe these pointers sound a little idealistic, but I can tell you they work. Every now and then, I still have to sit alone in Church, and it’s still not fun. But these days, I try to relax and count the blessings I’ve received from the experience. I’ve become more aware of other’s needs. While serving a mission, I was able to successfully battle the loneliness a missionary feels when there is no one familiar around. I gained a bit of spiritual self-confidence, because I knew I could do something difficult that the Lord asked of me. But best of all, I developed a very strong relationship with Heavenly Father.