I receive hundreds of letters in my office, and many of them describe the heartache that results from the categories we sometimes create for each other. Below is a letter describing the pain of being single in a Church focused on family:
“I’m 48 years old and have never been married; I’ve really struggled with this reality. I’ve had a difficult time knowing what my purpose in this life is as a single person with no family or posterity. Family is such a big focus in the Church (as it should be), but when that blessing isn’t given to you, it can be challenging to know where you fit in. How do I get past feelings of emptiness and feel more purpose in life?”
Other letters describe different issues, but the authors all share a feeling of being on the “outside” of the “regular” Church.
I have found that the things we have in common as disciples of Christ are much more compelling and important than the labels that keep us segregated. The Church of Jesus Christ, focused as it is on creating the conditions for Zion, can be a church without categories—a place without -ites, as the Book of Mormon says (see 4 Nephi 1:17).
The following seven ideas are my response to this sister’s letter. Your situation may be different, but if you have felt pigeonholed, I hope there is something here for you.
During mortality, people label us and divide us into categories—single, Nigerian, returned missionary, Hyundai driver. The variety is almost funny—but these categories mean very little from the eternal viewpoint. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, recently taught us that only one label matters: “Each of us is a child of God with a potential destiny of eternal life. Every other label, even including occupation, race, physical characteristics, or honors, is temporary or trivial in eternal terms.” God is truly “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34; see also Alma 1:30).