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Sister Oaks Shares How She Discovered "Being Single Does Not Mean You Have to Put Off Being Happy"

I remember feeling many times that I was just marking time, waiting for my life to happen.

I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the final days before the Savior returns to this earth to rule and reign. There could be no better and more eventful time in which to live. It is a time when all the great and terrible events foretold in the scriptures will come to pass. It is a time of great adventure, a time to be valiant, a time to rejoice, a time to testify, a time to join in the battle for goodness and right. So much was taking place around me, and yet I was struggling just to get started—I was a single sister in the Lord’s army, and I was still seeking to find my place. On occasion my experience was similar to sitting around waiting to receive my uniform before I could enter the war.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has written of living our lives in these last days. His words rang especially true to me because I often waited in uncertainty about the direction my life would take, not realizing how much control I held over that direction and over my own personal happiness.

“We must not be paralyzed just because [the Second Coming] and the events surrounding it are ahead of us somewhere. We cannot stop living life. Indeed, we should live life more fully than we have ever lived it. After all, this is the dispensation of the fulness of times.”1

Although, as Elder Holland suggests, we are living in the “greatest of all dispensations,” as a single woman I remember feeling many times that I was just marking time, waiting for my life to happen. I had to learn to make it happen. In my early twenties my life was not progressing confidently in the direction I had envisioned for myself. In fact, it seemed not to be progressing at all. I did graduate from college. I did teach school. I did buy a car. But I was waiting for my life to happen. I was afraid to develop myself too much because somehow I mistakenly believed that I might make myself unattractive to a prospective husband. In reality, maintaining the status quo was making me unhappy. President James E. Faust cautioned single members, “Being single does not mean you have to put off being happy.”2

I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be content. I looked to examples in my life, to the scriptures, to literature, and to the words of the living prophets to help me. Looking at sisters around me, those who were happy and fulfilled, I began to notice that their happiness had nothing to do with their marital status. It is so important for singles to integrate themselves in a married community at church and with family to maintain an eternal and balanced perspective.

In her novel, The Face of a Stranger, Anne Perry, herself a single, faithful Latter-day Saint woman, writes words that had significance to me. She writes of Hester, who is fast approaching age thirty, and the advice given her: “‘Do I detect a note of self-pity, Hester? . . . You will have to learn to conquer that. . . . Too many women waste their lives grieving because they do not have something other people tell them they should want. Nearly all married women will tell you it is a blessed state, and you are to be pitied for not being in it. That is arrant nonsense. Whether you are happy or not depends to some degree upon outward circumstances, but mostly it depends on how you choose to look at things yourself, whether you measure what you have or what you have not.’”3

President Harold B. Lee gave similar advice: “Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you but on what happens inside of you; it is measured by the spirit with which you meet the problems of life.”4

I realized that I had to go forward with my life. In my late twenties, I began a major identity check. My dreams of having a husband and family were not coming true and looked as if they would never come true. After a crushing breakup with a longtime high school boyfriend, I realized the identity I expected for myself as a stay-at-home mother was not going to be: no children and no one to support me financially, emotionally, or physically. This was an incredibly heart-wrenching time for me. It was heart-wrenching because I had not prepared for it or even anticipated it. This was not the life I had expected, and I had no plan of action to accommodate it.

Many can relate to this who have had their plan for life shattered by a divorce, by a death, by a disappointment, or by a major betrayal. We need a period of time to heal and to regroup. In my case, I was given help in the form of a dear friend, Donna Lee Bowen. She is a tenacious visionary and has great determination to get things done. She was merciless. She told me to get on with my life and make something of it. She saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, and she helped me have the courage to try new things.

The reality hit me that I had no real skills to support myself. My studies in English literature had fed my soul, but now I needed to feed my pocketbook. I attended graduate school to learn a skill so I could support myself, and then I just kept going to school because no one stopped me by marrying me. More than that, I loved every minute of learning and discovered not only new ideas but also my own capabilities. Where I had felt shy and somewhat incapable, I now felt I could function. The fear that I could not support myself left me, and I became excited and even intoxicated with my occupation. I earned a master’s degree and ultimately a doctorate in education. The great blessings from all this experience were the things I learned that would help me so much as a mother. (See chapter 3, “Single Switch Points.”)

I continued to pray and ask for direction from Heavenly Father. Spiritually, I am a late bloomer. Slowly, ever so slowly, spiritual things unfolded in my life and came to serve as the foundation of my life. I came to know revelation is real. At age twenty-six, I went on a mission and learned Japanese. I also learned a new depth of commitment to Heavenly Father. I learned to persist—by going door to door in monsoon weather, by eating chicken skin and seaweed, and by being told by people looking me directly in the face that no one was home. The truths of the gospel became truer to me as I declared them to others. Truths do distill upon us, a drop at a time. To this day, whenever I walk down a busy street, I look at the people passing by, think how the gospel could bless their lives, and want to tell everyone of its truth. That mission laid the groundwork for my life.

Life was not perfect, but I was going forward. Work became a blessing to me. I moved from the classroom to consulting. Heavenly Father provided so many opportunities for me. The Lord kept directing me to opportunities where I could grow and contribute and find happiness.

There were also many hours alone. At times I felt quite content and occupied; at other times I felt actual physical pain. In fact, at times the pain was debilitating. Being alone was not fun for me. Everyone is different; we all have differing needs and desires.

My great love is children. My sisters were generous in allowing me to take care of my nieces and nephews. I felt my time with them was more than just a travel opportunity or time to play. It was the “sacred, noble stewardship” Elder M. Russell Ballard described to teachers and leaders of children because “we are the ones . . . to encircle today’s children with love and the fire of faith and an understanding of who they are.”5

We prayed together, visited Temple Square, and had walks and talks. I attended their baptisms, Primary programs, and sacrament meeting talks. We also had sleepovers and went to plays, museums, carnivals, car washes, libraries, and bookstores. We cooked and we swam and we played. We did school projects together. We visited Nauvoo, Illinois; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Park City, Utah. I was available for every school project and activity. Homework became my specialty; I fear I sometimes gave too much help. The Lord blessed me with a wonderful family, and I stayed close to them and had the privilege of nurturing them.

This time with the children in my family brought me great joy and contentment, and it also provided me with experience—experience that would later benefit me as a wife, a mother of six, and a grandmother of twenty-nine.

The more I devoted myself to the gospel, the richer my life became. I believe that is Heavenly Father’s plan. Service and activity in this Church enrich our lives. All those years of cooking for Young Women parties, planning Primary activities, and making Christmas wreaths at Relief Society Enrichment meetings began paying unexpected dividends. I learned domestic skills and, more important, the Lord put me in contact with noble Church members of varying ages. The Church community provided me with experiences that would bless me for my future family life. It was like practicing in a flight simulator. I learned how to calm screaming babies, to instruct children, to interact with priesthood holders, to support the priesthood, to conduct meetings, to counsel, to cooperate, and to be part of a group—skills that are integral to family life.

Many times living a happy and contented life was a day-to-day challenge. Daily small acts of faith strengthened my relationship with Heavenly Father. I was more valiant some days than others, but I persisted because I so much desired His Spirit to be with me. I prayed and He answered. I read the scriptures and came to understand His doctrine. I attended the temple to serve and to receive revelation. I was protected by these small acts. Just as Elder L. Tom Perry promised, “The discipline contained in daily obedience and clean living and wholesome lives builds an armor around you of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality.”6

By age fifty-two I lived alone, had my own condominium, had a terrific job working for a prestigious publishing house, and had just purchased a new SUV. My employment as a national and international educational consultant who trained teachers to teach reading was purposeful and rewarding. For me, teaching reading and doing missionary work are on a similar plane because they unlock a beautiful world of possibilities and understanding for those we teach. This work also provided me with all the perks of travel—from free tickets to Marriott points. I worked hard, and when I played, a world of possibilities opened to me: Boston for a visit with a friend or Disneyworld with my nephews. I loved my Church callings. I was the Gospel Doctrine teacher in a home ward I dearly loved, surrounded by great friends and leaders. My parents were still living, and my sisters were my best friends. Life was good.

As the years went by, I began to believe less and less that I would marry in this life. I never doubted the Lord and my patriarchal blessing that I would have my husband and family but maybe not while I lived on this earth and on my timetable. I remember friends saying, “If you just give up hope and turn it over to the Lord, it will happen.” This caused me to wonder if I had given up enough hope.

In fact, I trusted the Lord. I had complete faith that He knew who was best for me and that He also knew the time that was best for me. That trust helped me avoid much pain and anguish. Many older singles will identify with me when I say I accepted my situation, and it was fine with me. The Lord had blessed me with a full and happy single life. But I never gave up the desire to marry or the hope that it would happen.

I never had the goal to marry an Apostle. My goal was to draw close to Heavenly Father and make my life as meaningful and happy as I could. Because I value and believe in the plan of salvation, I wanted all the blessings associated with it. That included someday, in this life or the next, finding a companion that I loved and respected, a man I could trust and depend on, who would be loyal to me and active in the Church. I wanted to marry a man who loved the Lord more than he loved me, whose allegiance was to His eternal covenants. It would simply follow that such a man would be true to me and our future family.

Lead image from lds.org

Image titleIn a Church that is focused on family, singles can feel somewhat discounted and discouraged. Oftentimes the very resources meant to support people can inadvertently cause pain. A Single Voice addresses these concerns and offers valuable insights, personal reflections (including the story of the author's courtship and marriage to Elder Oaks), and rich advice for living life to the fullest as a single member.


^1. Holland, “This, the Greatest of All Dispensations,” 53–54.

^2. Faust, “Welcoming Every Single One,” 8.

^3. Perry, Face of a Stranger, 147–48.

^4. Lee, “A Sure Trumpet Sound,” 78.

^5. Ballard, “Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,” 59–61.

^6. Perry, “Called to Serve,” 39.

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