Typically you don’t think of the scriptures as a “how-to” manual when it comes to being single. But some of the best advice I’ve heard about being single and dating comes from the Doctrine and Covenants.
Life as a single member of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ can be challenging—you often feel like you are stuck in the unknown. It’s easy to feel the lack of permanency is a valid excuse to not set down roots, because who knows what life will bring next week, next month, or next year?
These two scriptures taught me the error in that way of thinking—the best thing we can do for ourselves as single members of the Church is to “bloom where we are planted” as we trust in the Lord’s plan for us. This provides us solid ground wherever we end up.
Bloom Where You Are Planted
When the Saints began to arrive in Kirtland, Ohio, the Colesville Branch made camp on the Leman Copley farm. In May 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith received specific counsel for this group of Saints.
"And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;
"And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good" (D&C 51:16-17, emphasis added).
The Saints knew they wouldn’t be here permanently; at some point, they would move on. They just didn’t know when. Yet no matter how long their stay was to be, the Lord instructed them to act as if they would be on that land for years.
Why would the Lord give them this counsel? Even though they likely would have to leave soon, why did He instruct them to build their life in that spot, temporary though it may be?
Perhaps He intended to give them hope—when you are living in a tent in a muddy field on the edge of town, when other newly-arrived Saints are living it up in actual houses in downtown Kirtland, it would be easy to become discouraged and dissatisfied with your situation.
The Lord’s counsel likely changed their perspective from one of discouragement to one of hope. He was aware of them; He knew of their plight. They knew He would provide for them. He had plans for the Colesville Branch, currently knee-deep in a muddy field, beyond which any of them could imagine. But, for the time being, they were to work the land where they stood and build a life for themselves in their present, albeit temporary, situation.
Being single in a family-oriented church can feel like this at times. It is all too easy to become discouraged when we compare the things we don’t have with the things that others do have. We see the spouse, the family, the home—and the seeming permanency of it all—and it is easy to become frustrated with what we don’t have.
When we “act upon this land as for years," however, we can cultivate a great life for ourselves in our current situation. Essentially, we bloom where the Lord has planted us. We stop seeing our situation as “temporary” or “just waiting for life to start” and we thrive where we are! For some, it may be a "little season" like it was for the Colesville Branch; for others, it may be much longer. But when we “act upon this land as for years,” we can blossom in our current state by taking advantage of the opportunities to grow and stretch ourselves in new ways.
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For example, singles wards can often make us feel like we are just biding our time, waiting to find a spouse, so we can graduate to a "family" ward. We can even fly under the radar, if we want, doing the bare minimum to get by, simply because of the sometimes transient nature of singles wards. Or we could treat it as if this is our ward family and thrust our sickle in the ground and put forth the effort to make the most out of being in the ward. When we put forth the effort, we are often given the chance of new opportunities.
In my last YSA ward, I was perfectly comfortable hiding in the background, and that was a problem. I needed to stretch myself. So I went out of my way to get to know others and participate in class, even though it caused massive anxiety to do so. I even talked myself into giving the thought at ward prayer. It was hard, but I was glad I was extending myself.
The next week I was called to teach the gospel doctrine class—a calling which truly terrified me. I could barely bring myself to raise my hand in class to make a comment; how was I supposed to teach a lesson in front of 70 thoroughly intimidating ward members? (I surprisingly managed to not pass out from nervousness the first time I taught, but it was touch and go for a while there.) Not only did I survive my first stint as a teacher, but I thrived—I went on to teach that class for another three years and it became my favorite calling ever. My testimony grew in so many ways and I learned that, despite my anxiety doing it, teaching is actually a talent I never knew I had. And who knows if I would have had that opportunity in another ward?
As we cultivate a great life for ourselves and “act upon the land as if for years,” we grow in the gospel in ways we may not have otherwise. We stop “watching the clock” as we are less intent on measuring our life by some arbitrary standard of events and we blossom where the Lord plants us. We begin to focus less on what we don’t have, and we begin to focus more on the opportunities we do have. And when we act on the opportunities the Lord puts before us, we grow in ways we never would have imagined.
Do Your Part then Trust in the Lord
When the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prisoner in Liberty Jail, he wrote a stirring epistle to the Church in March of 1839. In section 121, the prophet records His plea to the Lord to have mercy on the Saints, who had suffered all manner of degradations in Missouri: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" The Lord answers in verse 7: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high."
These are some of the most beautiful scriptures in holy writ, witnessing the tender communication between the Lord and His prophet. But my personal favorite scripture comes later on in that same epistle. While still in the miserable conditions of Liberty Jail, Joseph penned these words, found in section 123:17:
"Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed."
I love this counsel because it suggests a formula for success—attitude, action, and trusting in the Lord.
It is applicable in all aspects of life as a Latter-day Saint. It is especially applicable to singles who face so many unknowns. Whether it is dating and trying to find someone to marry or furthering our career and applying to graduate schools, this formula can apply—we do everything we can to further our goals but also realize that some things are out of our hands. Sometimes the person doesn’t want to marry us, or our first choice in grad schools doesn’t accept us. But we do everything we possibly can and give it our best effort, and then confidently know that the Lord will do the rest.
I also love the inclusion of the word “cheerfully.” This counsel becomes even more poignant when we consider the conditions—even knowing the incredible hardships the Saints have been asked to endure, even while wallowing in Liberty Jail for months himself, Joseph still encourages the Saints to be cheerful. He knew that our attitude makes a huge difference in the midst of challenging circumstances.
We do everything that lies in our power, we respond with a positive attitude to life’s challenges, and then we wait on the Lord and trust in His plan for us.
As we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, we can move forward with faith and confidence in the future. We can follow the counsel of these two scriptures and begin to see that when we trust in the Lord we can thrive wherever He plants us.
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