Singles occupy a unique place in the Church. At least one-third of the adult Church membership is single. As President James E. Faust has pointed out, we were all single before we were married, and many, due to divorce or death of a spouse, will once again be single. The promise of an eternal family is nonetheless available to all who are worthy.
With the help of many friends who have graciously shared their experiences, I will focus on the particular challenges and opportunities facing single adults within the Church as they age.
Being Single in a Family Church
The Church is stronger because of the single men and women, holders of the priesthood and active workers in Relief Society, who are tremendously important to building the kingdom. Although some single people may feel lonely in a church that emphasizes families, it is important to keep our sights fixed on the goal of family living. By making ourselves part of the ward family and extending ourselves in service, we feel connected, needed, and valued.
In addition to the ward family, there are many kinds of families to which we can belong: parents, extended family, neighborhoods, professional colleagues, groups with similar interests, and so forth. The associations, connections, and experiences with each can be fulfilling. But when we get discouraged, it may be easy to segregate ourselves, to feel like an outsider or to wait to be noticed.
“I have learned to be very careful who I choose to spend my time with,” said one friend. “It is natural for single people to congregate together with a closeness and understanding. But while this association can offer a unique support system that at times can lift and strengthen me, it can also be a trap which drags me down. I know I need to be around people who are positive.” Being grouped together merely because “single” is in the marital status column does not automatically create satisfying relationships. Choosing associations by attitude, interests, and disposition rather than marital status can enrich the lives of both those who are married and single.
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Coping with Aloneness and Loneliness
Regardless of the circumstance that bring one to singleness—never married, death of a spouse, divorce or abandonment—in each instance, positive solutions can abate loneliness. “Feeling lonely while single,” one observed, “is dependent upon personality and situations.”
As Lehi taught, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). This is as much a commandment as a statement. “There are many ways to fight off loneliness, but the most important first step is to choose to not be a victim of self-pity,” observed one friend.
Being alone, though sometimes challenging, does not mean you must be lonely. One friend summed it up this way: “Keep busy doing the things that make your life happy. Reach out for something new—really new and novel. Find humor when you can; cry when you need to. Keep your expectations of health, wealth and happiness within reasonable reach.”
For many, the realities of life itself—family, church, work—keep them so busy they have little time to be lonely. But for most, periods of loneliness are customary. Another of my single friends explained: “I still struggle with this. It’s a great tactic of Satan to make you feel like you are all alone in the world and that no one understands what you are feeling. If you keep busy with lots of activities, it can help, but you are still going to hit bottom from time to time. It’s cyclical for me. Sometimes I’m way cool with it; sometimes it’s unbearable.”
Maintain a close relationship with the Lord, nurture friendships, and find opportunities to serve and grow.
Preparing for the Future by Having a Happy Life Today
Varied thoughts come to mind when preparing for the future. One friend commented: “What does a full and happy life mean? How do you measure it? I used to think it was based on the number of people who attend a funeral. If the chairs went back into the gym, you knew that person had a full and happy life. But it’s hard to base everything on something that happens at the end of a life.”
Even the terms “preparing” and “planning” suggest doing something now, and it is important to have a happy and full life now. The Lord will strengthen us in time of need when we own what we have control over and leave the rest to Him. The Atonement allows the Lord to take away burdens, leaving us free to focus on what we can control. Let’s consider some of those things that are in our control.
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1. Finding Opportunities for Growth and Service
One key to happiness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is involvement rather than isolation. Latter-day Saints, by the very nature of our gospel participation, interact with others. Seclusion, on the other hand, preempts service, thwarts rich interpersonal relationships, and limits learning from others. We must seek opportunities for regular, meaningful involvement with others.
In addition to church callings, local community service opportunities abound for singles, such as mentoring underprivileged children, reading books for the blind, and being politically involved. Volunteering as a tutor in an elementary school takes little time but can result in benefits for generations to come. I admire the generosity of two women associated with the medical profession. They spend three weeks each year in a village in Africa, at their own expense, giving not only professional help, but also large doses of love and compassion.
While not always true, it is often assumed that singles, in the absence of family responsibilities, have unique opportunities for service and growth. Although the opportunities may not be unique, singles need to be open to giving service. One of my gregarious friends responded: “I found that I have a lot to offer a family ward, stake, and community. I think the second verse of the song ‘Have I Done Any Good?’ was written for the single members of this church. We as singles do need to wake up and not worry about our mansion. Give that worry to the Lord and discover the pleasure and the joy of serving.”
2. Continual Learning
In addition to serving others, there is no better preparation for the future than experiencing the joy and fulfillment that comes from continual learning. No matter how old we grow, we can add life to our years by obtaining knowledge of new things and applying that knowledge in our relationships and our service. Elder David A. Bednar explains, “The overarching purpose of Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness is to provide His spirit children with opportunities to learn.” Continual learning can bring great happiness and feelings of success.
Continual learning in formal and informal settings and in service brings growth and a greater ability to serve. In turn, this growth fosters relationships and greater satisfaction.
3. Maintaining Family Connections, Friends, and Associates
A sense of family and community can be gained through those around us.
As stated by one friend, “I cherish the time I have with my aging parents. In addition, my friends have been the biggest blessing in my life. They are truly a lifeline for me.”
In this same regard, a retired university professor proclaimed: “Family connections are my mainstay. Some give me support with spiritual grounding, others outside of the spiritual, but also most-needed. I try to make myself available when needed, try not to impose when I’m not. I want above all to keep the connections open so that I can laugh, cry, pray, and play with my family at all ages.”
Another friend refers to close friends as “family by affection.” There is a dilemma, however, when parents who have always been a mainstay in life are aged or dying and neighbors who have become family by affection move away. It is difficult for some people to establish a new network of friends and family—difficult, but possible.
4. Keeping the Future Where You Can See It
There is a plan for happiness available to Latter-day Saints, and it is available now, during one’s lifetime. We learn of that plan in the temple. A main value of temple worship is that it symbolizes the long-range view of things, an eternal view. With the endowment comes a comprehension of the larger purpose of life. This understanding can help diminish many trials and concerns and bring them into a gospel perspective.
This concept was illustrated by a friend who wrote: “I plan for my future as if I’ll be single until I die. And deep down I hope that someday I’ll learn what it means to want to give up everything for someone else. I believe in this family church for a reason. And that reason is it makes no sense to live alone. Nothing makes more sense in my life than being part of a family. So I have hope for the future. I hope that as I go through this single stage in my life, I am learning the important things that will develop within me a caring, thoughtful, insightful, giving, loving individual. And when I refer to ‘my life,’ I refer to my life through the eternities. I have hope in the big picture.”
One single friend observed, “I do not think I am in denial, but I really do not think of myself as single. My perspective is I just have not married yet. I would rather be known as a daughter of God, a disciple of Christ, a covenant child of Israel, one who loves life and chooses a holy walk.” These realities describe us whether married or not.
I believe that there are more similarities than differences in the lives of Latter-day Saints, and that understanding the perception of those who are not currently in a traditional family setting will lead to more satisfying interactions. People in all categories can work and live together to promote gospel peace, harmony, love, and service.
We can choose the way we spend our time. We can choose to be positive. We can choose to be faithful. We can choose to serve. We can choose to enrich our minds, strengthen our bodies, and nourish our spirits to stimulate growth and happiness. And it is reaffirming to know we are not left alone in our decisions.
Lead image from Shutterstock.
To learn more about how you can start preparing for retirement now, check out Embracing the Future: Preparing for Life After Retirement by Elaine Jack, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.