Last week I described the best vacation I’ve ever had. It imbued me with a new attitude and zest for life. I feel I have endless opportunity to bring my life to the next level.
Some of those opportunities I found by identifying knowledge I lack. For example, to improve my relationships with family members, I can acquire better communication skills. I decided to look for a book or other resource that can help me learn those skills.
We often think about school when thinking about learning. But sometimes the learning we need is in the local library. We can often create our own “courses” to acquire the knowledge and skills we need with the resources which many libraries provide to their patrons for free.
Regardless of the venue, we all need to be learning something in order to take any aspect of life to the next level. There’s even value in learning something simply for the sake of learning. Simply put, if you’re not always learning, then you’re missing out on opportunities to get more out of your life.
We believe in learning
We Latter-day Saints inherently believe in continuous learning. It’s encoded in our religion. After all, “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).
In a great treatise on truth, the Lord describes acquiring light so that it grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). He later extolled, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). We also have His admonition to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people” (D&C 90:15).
We don’t have to learn everything at once, “for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength,” but we must be diligent in applying ourselves, “that thereby [we] might win the prize” (Mosiah 4:27). As the Prophet Joseph learned while translating the Book of Mormon, “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end” (D&C 10:4).
And we have the assurance our diligence will be rewarded, “for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (3 Nephi 14:8). Embracing learning in every stage of life can open new pathways to live our religion more fully and deepen the measure of our faith.
We have endless opportunity
Every stage of life also provides endless learning opportunities. We can acquire new knowledge for our current stage in life or transition into the next. We can also learn for its own sake.
I’ve known several single sisters who saw the need to return to school. Providing for their family required earning more income, which they weren’t getting outside of a career path which a college degree would open for them.
It certainly wasn’t easy. Just working and raising their children is challenge enough. Adding school into that mix was no picnic, but they squared their shoulders and did what was necessary to conquer the challenge before them.
Other LDS singles need simply to learn more about their current career path. Rather than change careers, they need to learn skills that can make them more valuable in the marketplace. If that describes you, seek advice from successful professionals in your field. If you do what they do long enough, their success can be yours.
The world is filled with so much to learn about. It’s hard for people on the learning train to get bored. But if they ever do, they can always sit in another car and keep enjoying the ride.
Embrace your opportunity
What do you need to learn to take your life to next level? What do you need to learn to improve your relationships or your employment? What do you need to learn to grow and embrace the blessings your Heavenly Father has prepared for you?
And let’s not forget learning just for the sake of learning. Learning for its own sake is great for enhancing curiosity. And it’s curiosity that opens the doors to greater joy in living.
Whatever you need to learn, when you partner with the Lord, you can counsel with Him on how you should proceed. In my life, I’ve often found that the resources I need to learn what I need to learn cross my path if I share my concerns with Him and then proceed about my way with an open mind. Embracing those opportunities has greatly enriched my life.
In short, learning simply enhances the value of living. And that brings us more joy in our journey.
This past weekend I’ve had the best vacation I’ve ever had in my entire life. Most people hearing that declaration will wonder where I went to have such a great time. But my vacation was great not so much for where I went as for what I did.
I went to Afton, Wyoming. “Why would you go there?” some of you undoubtedly wonder. “There’s nothing there.” To which I answer, “Precisely.”
Recently I’ve felt my life dead end in so many ways. I wanted to search my soul and think deeply about my life. I wanted to re-calibrate myself with a sense of hope that all isn’t lost for me. And I wanted a game plan for taking every part of my life to the next level.
For me, that’s all best done surrounded by mountains, fresh air, and as few people as possible. Wyoming’s Star Valley fits that bill to a T.
Start with the temple
My first order of business was a session in the Star Valley temple. This has to be the absolutely smallest temple I’ve ever seen. There’s only one endowment room, one sealing room, and four sessions per day.
I arrived hoping to join the last session. Every seat was already reserved, so the front desk called someone to see what work I might do. I took a seat and waited patiently.
Very soon, a temple presidency member came out and greeted me. We shook hands as I expressed my hope in doing a session. Instantly this kind man put his arm around my shoulder. He thanked me for coming in a way that made me feel truly welcome. Then, turning to the attendant at the front desk, he instructed a space be made for me to attend a session.
He then offered to show me where to go. I accepted, although the building is so small I couldn’t possibly get lost. Early during my session I began to feel a quiet confidence the blessings I desire are still available and the Lord will walk with me towards their attainment. What a wonderful start to my vacation!
Get down to the nitty gritty
I spent the next four days writing in a Moleskine notebook. I wanted to take my life to the next level, and I had a plan for how I would proceed.
I started by listing every part of my life I wanted to take to the next level — my spiritual life, my relationships (both ones I had and ones I wanted), my career, my own businesses, my residence, my finances — literally everything.
Then for each of those individual items, I followed a five step process:
I followed these steps for every individual part of my life, so little wonder I filled 71 pages in my notebook. From those pages I extracted the individual action items (271 in all) that get me started taking my life to the next level.
Feel the power
Admittedly, 271 action items is a lot, but I need do only one item at a time. And having lots to do is great. It gives hope I’ve got endless opportunity to turn my life around, a realization that brings with it great empowerment.
I returned home feeling very powerful and very hopeful I can secure eternal blessings and live the life I want. I now have a new attitude. In that sense, my vacation was truly recreational because I came back re-created. This truly was the best vacation I’ve ever had.
If you feel your life has approached a dead end in any or all its aspects, find your own quiet place to search your soul and get back to basics. You’ll find you can do so much to turn your life around. And that feeling of empowerment will bring you more joy in your journey.
I well remember the experience attending my first SA activity after being officially booted from the YSA program. It was a fireside. I was in my 30s, still single, and wondering what the future held for me.
As I entered the room, I saw four ladies seated. Before you start thinking how great a 4:1 ratio is in addition to being the only guy in the room, let me add that each of these sisters was old enough to be my grandmother.
You can imagine my sense of shock. It was like the part of me that felt young and hopeful had been violently knocked out of me. Though I might chase after it and longed to catch it, I was now unable to do so.
I had a similar experience when I turned 40 and still no companion. What spark of hope I had left in me died. This combined with other unfortunate life events at that time led me into a mild but serious depression.
As hard as that was, reaching rock bottom prepared me to learn some life lessons.
There’s nothing wrong with you
Our family-centered culture has given many LDS singles the expectation they would go to college and go on a mission and get a job and somewhere in that mix (after the mission, of course) they would get married and start a family.
You don’t think to question that life plan if your life turns out that way. But if you’re one of the many LDS singles whose life hasn’t exactly followed that plan, you’ve asked a lot of questions.
Many of those questions are completely understandable and yet completely unwarranted. I kept asking “What is wrong with me?” and “Where are the blessings I was promised for being righteous?” As understandable as these questions are, they’re the wrong ones to ask.
First, there was never anything wrong with me. I sure felt like there was, though, especially with the way most ladies responded to my dating invitations. But that’s the thing right there. That evidence I used to conclude there was something wrong with me really said there was something wrong with my approach.
Second. the Lord has always wanted to bless me, but He’ll never violate anyone’s agency. How could I get the result I wanted when my approach was all wrong? Of course my invitations had a low success rate; a poor approach always yields poor results.
All the fairy godmothers are dead
It can be difficult to step outside oneself and question underlying assumptions. I assumed the life plan I received in my youth would work for me. I assumed the scriptures my leaders quoted about God blessing the righteous because of their righteousness meant somehow everything would magically work out for me.
But the scriptures also contain stories of people who weren’t prospered even though they were righteous. Abinadi comes quickly to mind. Expecting some fairy godmother to appear magically and make everything right with the wave of a wand just isn’t realistic.
Here’s the truth: All the fairy godmothers are dead, assuming they were ever alive. The pain I experienced from turning 30 and 40 with no spouse came from holding onto an unmet unrealistic expectation. Once I let that go and owned my life, which includes accepting responsibility to make my own life plan, much of that pain subsided.
In making my own plan, I aim for eternal blessings. I still strive for gospel standards. But I’ve let go of the time table and my preconceived notions of how life is supposed to be. And it’s made a tremendous difference.
Since that time, I’ve had some better experiences and some even more painful ones. Although I’m still single, I’m a better man now than I once was because of what I’ve learned and what I’ve become.
Recently I’ve encountered the need to get out of town to take some time to myself for some soul searching and serious thinking. And I’m sure to let you know more about it next week after I get back.
For now, I just wanted to leave you with the life lessons I’ve just shared. If you’re getting poor results, it means there’s something wrong with your approach, not with you. And all the fairy godmothers are dead. Don’t wait for some magical event to fix everything. Own your life.
Life is largely what you make of it. If you want your life to change, then first you must change. Let go of whatever life plan was handed to you and make your own plan to reach eternal blessings in the way the Lord reveals is best for you. Doing that will bring you more joy in your journey.
It’s spring once more. Time for warmer weather and putting away that winter coat. And time for spring cleaning.
President Hinckley used to relate the annual tradition his mother would lead. Every spring each child received a portion of the spring cleaning chores to accomplish. Looking back on those days, President Hinckley remarked on the exasperating nature of the labor, but he also extolled the liberation everyone found when the work was done. How refreshing it was to live once more in a clean house!
Many of our own homes could use a little elbow grease. We have dirt brought in from the outside world. And we’ve allowed so much stuff to accumulate around us it burdens our ability to feel free in the space we call home.
Many of us have additional clutter in the homes of our lives. We find ourselves burdened with dirt left from encounters with the world. And we’ve accumulated so much baggage we’re burdened wherever we go.
Yet spring is a joyful season. The change that leaves winter behind reminds us we too can change and leave the winter of our lives behind. We just need to clear the clutter.
Clear the physical
All the different aspects of our lives — body, mind, heart, and spirit — are interconnected. That’s why we need to clear the clutter from each of these spaces in our lives. And there’s no easier place to start than with the physical clutter.
Many years ago I realized I had a lot of stuff. I never let go of anything for fear I would need it once I did. Yet I could also recognized the burden of dragging all this stuff around with me.
I refrained from clearing any of it until I realized something substantial. With my income at that time, if I did need whatever I had surrendered, I could just buy myself a new one. And it would be in much better condition than the one I gave away.
That realization set me working. I began divesting myself of anything which had no sentimental value and I wasn’t really using. I was donating my items to a local thrift store, so I began tallying the cost of each of these items for a tax deduction. I was amazed to see a deduction of $2000!
Clear the other spaces
The real surprise, though, was emotional and mental. I had no idea how much my extra stuff burdened me psychologically until I found myself free of it. Had I known before how free I would feel, I would have done it all sooner.
Of course, some burdens are purely emotional or mental in nature. We regret something we said or did, or we feel the angst of not meeting a standard others seem to meet with ease. We should just as diligently clear out the clutter of unfair comparisons and broken commitments as we would the clutter which needlessly occupies our physical spaces.
The only fair comparison is between who you are now and who you were yesterday. Comparing yourself to others rarely ends well in the short term and never ends well in the long term. You’ll always be chasing after something that isn’t worth capturing even if you could. Far better to live free of the burden of always needing to prove yourself.
And of course, broken commitments always hold us back until we do what we can to make amends. Often that involves making a new commitment. Always it means accepting the Savior’s Atonement. Far better to live free of unnecessary burden, especially when our Lord paid such a dear price to make that freedom possible.
Clear it all
The heaviest burdens to bear are spiritual in nature. Clearing this clutter can require the most effort and offer the greatest reward. And clearing the clutter in one aspect often provides strength and encouragement that makes clearing the clutter in other aspects easier.
I saw this with the experience I described earlier. Feeling the freedom from the burden of so many physical things encouraged me to feel that same sense of freedom in other areas of my life. I found it easier to move on from a failed relationship to which I still clung. The freedom I felt from releasing my physical burden gave me hope of feeling something similar after releasing my emotional burden.
We can free ourselves of any burden if we clear the clutter from our spaces. So what spring cleaning could you use? What burdens do you need to surrender? You often won’t know how burdened you’ve really been until you remove it. Once you do what is necessary, you’ll feel an invigorating sense of freedom. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Back in college I prided myself on being able to procrastinate assignments until the last minute and then pull out my magic wand (also known as an all-nighter) and bring home a win. I actually prided myself on being a professional procrastinator!
Then I got older, my metabolism shifted — more than once, I think — and now I just can’t go late night after late night. My body cries out for sleep!
I also find it easier to hearken to that siren voice tempting me to seek instant gratification now at the expense of more worthwhile pursuits. Whenever I succumb, I’ll eventually look around and ask, “How did I end up here, so far beneath what I intended to accomplish?” Procrastination is truly the thief of life.
It’s normal to play the grasshopper fiddling away the summer while the ants labor to prepare for winter. Playing the grasshopper is easy. Playing the part of the ant takes self-discipline and dedication — in short, hard work.
We encounter these struggles with everything in life, including how we live the gospel. For many, being active in the gospel is little more than following a script, a set routine that repeats itself over and over again. But you can’t live life fully on autopilot. Living your best life requires you to choose consciously. That’s the only way you can get real.
I’ve spoken time and again about our need to partner with the Lord. If you read those words, you probably think they sound right. But you won’t actually feel their rightness until you live them.
It’s easy to think, “Yeah, I know that’s what I should do. But I’ll do it tomorrow.” That’s the voice of procrastination inviting us along the easy path leading us far beneath what we intend to accomplish.
That’s not the path we extol when we sing, “I need thee every hour.” Every hour includes all the time yet to come tomorrow and all the time we live right now. Is there ever really a time when we don’t need the Lord? Why then wait to partner with Him?
Yes, living life consciously is hard. Resisting that natural tendency to let our autopilot coast us along is hard. But if we do what is easy, life will be hard.
Don’t let any single tomorrow rob you of the fulfillment you could enjoy today. Partner with the Lord now.
Visit your default future
Often it’s easy to procrastinate until tomorrow what we should do today because the cares of the present moment obscure our view of reality. Visiting our default future cuts through those clouds, allowing us to see more clearly and choose more wisely.
Your default future is the one you’ll have if nothing changes. If you keep doing what you’re doing, where will you end up? That is your default future.
What is our default future if we don’t partner with the Lord now? Where does that path lead us? The Lord Himself informs us.
Our default future will be suffering with unmet needs, suffering we can prevent today by partnering with the Lord now and taking counsel from His hand.
Do it now
If we do what is easy, life will be hard. But if we do what is hard, life will be easy. If we partner now with the Lord, do the work required to receive the revelation that can guide our lives, and then follow that counsel, our lives will be easy.
In that scenario, our default future will still be one filled with challenges. But the burden of facing those challenges alone will be lifted from our shoulders. We will have strength to take each next step in our journey. And we will find joy in each of those steps.
Alma the Younger counseled his son,
Partnering with the Lord means He’ll direct us for good, so of course we’ll be lifted up at the last day if we stay on that path. And the best time to start down that path is right now.
Partnering with the Lord now while we’re single will makes it easier to partner with Him when we’re married, because He’ll guide us to that companion we need, one with whom partnering with the Lord is easier. That will make partnering with the Lord even easier when the children come along — and oh, how you will need Him when the children come along!
Don’t let any single tomorrow rob you of the fulfillment you could enjoy today. Partner with the Lord now, and let His counsel light your way. If you do only what is easy, your life will be hard. But if you do what is hard, your life will be easy. And that will bring more joy in your journey.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and now I produce a weekly radio show to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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