What is love?
No, not some hip dance tune from the 90s. OK, it is (baby don't hurt me), but I mean something different.
I once lived in Seattle but unanticipated circumstances prompted a move. Before I left, I met with an aged friend. We had a rather existential discussion that lasted roughly 90 minutes.
Those 90 minutes were quite transformational.
I've posted before about how singles groups need to be support networks rather than activity clubs or dating forums. We need to meet the needs of individuals.
But how do we do that? We need a vision that includes doing things we may not want to do. We need to include others with whom we may not want to interact. And that brings me to the existential discussion I had.
Love can't be defined
The American Heritage dictionary lists the following:
1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
None of these definitions really gets to the heart of what love is. Take the first definition, for example. You can describe love as profound affection, but what exactly is that affection? I can tell when it’s there, and I can tell when it’s not, but what exactly is it?
The scriptures notably do not define love. You can find descriptions of its characteristics and attributes (1 Corinthians 13 and Moroni 7 come quickly to mind). And sometimes love is used to define something else. A few examples appear in Galatians 5:22, 1 John 4:8, 2 Nephi 26:30, Moroni 7:47, and Moroni 8:17. But these examples do not define love.
The closest thing to a scriptural definition of love I could find is 2 John 1:6.
And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
Close, but still inadequate. I've known plenty who’ve "kept the commandments" but treated people in ways that no sane person would categorize as love. Some even apostatized. Clearly the outward performance alone cannot define love, especially if God Himself is love.
After some struggling, my friend and I concluded that our effort was futile. What love really is cannot be defined.
Love just is
This is where our discussion became truly transformational for me.
The path of love is often uncomfortable. So everyone has filters to keep them “safe.” These filters could be a habit, an agenda, or simply a tendency toward a certain way of being. Let me share an example that my friend shared with me.
One night when my friend and his family were all younger, my friend awoke in the middle of the night to hear his baby child crying. His first impulse? Go see what’s wrong. But he stopped himself. He remembered a very important work presentation he needed to give in the morning. Why can't my wife get up and take care of the child? he thought. Doesn't she know I need to rest in order to do well with my presentation?
In retrospect, his first impulse was the correct one. It was the one without an agenda, the one that was completely devoid of any self-interest. That is love. You can describe its attributes, and you can sense that the first option is inspired by it, but you can't really define it. It just is.
And you don't think about it. There is no thought process that creates it. It just is.
Note the first impulse my friend experienced wasn’t preceded by any meditation or soul searching. You don't will love into being. It just is.
Surrender to love
The Apostle Paul gave some great counsel:
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (Romans 12:9)
In other words, we need to remove our filters, take down whatever agenda we’ve been carrying, and just be what love wants us to be --- ministers to those around us without thought of what it may or may not mean for ourselves. We need to act in generosity towards one another, in the words of Paul, "without dissimulation."
Only when we all have that vision of interacting without agenda will we leave the activity-club-dating-forum world of singles programs and transform singles groups into the networks of support that they need to be. We have to let go of the filters that hold us back and not care about the consequences of our actions.
Acting outside of those filters will be very difficult for many. They’ve been living in safety zones for so long that thinking about what others will think or how others will perceive them is an automatic response — a habit!— that steers them away from the path of love.
Nonetheless, the Savior acted in love without concern for how others would perceive Him or how they would think of Him. This is the path we must trod. This is the path of love.
Let’s remove from our lives the habits that prevent us from surrendering to love. What might some of those habits be? Well, that’s where we’ll go next week.
Don't snip at the leaves
Your approach is faulty, not you
For example, Erin’s first point is true. There’s nothing wrong with you just because you’re single. But then she proceeds to dance around that bush with quotes ranging from 2 Nephi to Sister Oakes.
This doesn’t address the root of the problem. WHY do singles feel that way?
Erin proceeds to use logic to convince people they should feel a different way. But you can’t reason your way out of negative emotions. Quoting sources saying you should feel better doesn’t translate into people actually feeling better.
Instead, we should question ourselves and our habits. Yes, many LDS singles feel there’s something wrong with them. But that’s simply a natural response to their subculture that positions marriage as a rite of passage.
When groups of humans collect together, rites of passage will naturally emerge. It’s how everyone can tell who “belongs” and who doesn’t.
Most of us have embraced our subculture without even thinking about it. We want to belong; that’s a normal human desire. So when we singles note we’re on the wrong side of that rite of passage, we feel very much out of place, especially in general membership wards.
I posted last week about how singles can consciously choose to bridge that gulf they feel. So I won’t repeat that here. But feel free to click the link and read more if you like.
You've talked yourself into negative thought patterns
Erin’s second point is well-taken. I do like her attitude of owning one’s life and constantly looking for a solution. Constantly doing something — anything — to improve your situation is quite healthy.
Even still, we can dig deeper. WHY is this thought and the feelings of hopelessness that attend it so common? Here’s my answer: Many of us singles have developed a habit of negative self-talk. We keep repeating discouraging messages to ourselves out of habit.
I’ve discussed self-talk before. Most recently, I extolled our need to understand the role that habit plays in our lives and to replace habits of negative self-talk with more positive habits.
God's love is enough
It seems Erin links feeling unloved with feeling unaccepted within the subculture. In that light, I could respond as I did to her first point. And it would be a good response.
But when you’re talking about love in life, how can you just not mention the biggest source of love in the universe? Yes, we can feel love from those who surround us. But what about God's love? Erin makes not even a passing reference there. This is a HUGE omission.
When you truly feel in your heart as well as know in your head how very much God loves you, you’ll never feel unloved, no matter who surrounds you. And your thoughts won’t be inward on what you don’t have. Rather they’ll be outward, on sharing what you do have.
Your focus determines your reality. When you focus on the love that God has proven and is constantly demonstrating to you, your reality can’t be anything other than bright and hopeful.
God isn't punishing you, but you might be
Erin’s final point really got me going. Here’s what she said.
"Is God punishing me? Is that why He won't answer my prayers to find a spouse?”
This question is inevitable? Seriously? Wow, my ship must not have sailed yet. In my almost 20 years of singleness, I’ve never had that question.
Here’s the question I have had. Why hasn’t God blessed me if all this time I’ve been trying to make the right choices? Of course, I have answers in my upcoming book.
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: God has been trying to lead me to my desired blessings. But I don’t have them because of choices I myself made. Acting from habit, I usually wasn’t aware of those choices. But I made them nonetheless.
God isn’t punishing you with singleness. But you might be. That’s why it’s so important to understand the role of habit in your life. Want to know more? Download the first 60 pages of my upcoming book for free.
I agree with Erin that we shouldn’t believe lies about singles life. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that dancing around on the surface will solve anything. If all you do is snip at the leaves, the roots will remain. And that leaves the weeds in the garden of your life to sprout another day.
Come together now
Be ye one
To understand D&C 38:27 more fully, let’s back up to verse 24.
And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me.
Now verse 25:
The Lord just repeated Himself twice in a row. You should hear bells and whistles screaming, “Wake up! This is important!”
Consider this idea of esteeming everyone as yourself while reading verse 26.
For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
This perfectly describes many LDS wards everywhere. Marrieds can easily ostracize singles. Often marrieds do this simply because they live from habits based in the dominant ideal. Within the LDS subculture, that dominant ideal is marriage and family. Most do what they do without intending any harm or offense.
But the effect is still the same as if it were intentional. Here’s what singles often hear. “OK, you singles can go over there and have your activities and do whatever. When you get married, then you can come and join us here.”
Hello? Is this not the very situation the Lord describes in D&C 38:26? Now read verse 27.
Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
We’ll never become one until we stop putting one another into pre-labeled boxes. That’s hard to do when you describe your church as being centered around something not had by at least a third of your congregants.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Marriage and family play absolutely vital roles in God’s plan. Everyone — married and single — should support and sustain the family. That can’t mean we support only those who have their own family. We need to come together and help one another in all of our unique situations. We need to become one.
So how do we do that? I have a very simple suggestion. And it has two parts.
Singles need to serve marrieds
The law of the harvest says you reap what you sow. You must sow before you can reap. For everything you could want, there’s a price you must pay in full and in advance. You get only after you first give.
So if we singles want marrieds to change their attitudes, we must first change ours. We must reach out to them with a sincere desire to support them. And by sincere, I mean without any expectation of ever getting anything back.
How many of us watch young parents struggle with their children in church? And how many of us then do nothing about it? Impromptu child care is just one example. If we were more involved in the lives of marrieds, we could see lots of ways in which we can help out.
Marrieds need to serve singles
When a married couple experiences a crisis or emergency, other married ward members are often quick to lend a hand. Whether that means baking a casserole or sharing a thoughtful complement, such timely acts of service lift many burdens.
I’ve seen many dark days when similar acts of service would have greatly lifted my burdens. But that service never came to my door. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only single adult with that experience.
Then again, I was never much involved with the lives of the marrieds in my wards. So why should they be involved with mine? Whether or not we singles serve, we silently but effectively grant permission for our married friends to adopt the same attitude.
It has to start with us singles. But then the marrieds need to close the circle. Relegating singles to a separate place “over there” and leaving them alone to figure it out doesn’t create the unity we need for the Lord to claim us as His.
So many of us singles could benefit greatly if the marrieds of our wards involve themselves more in our lives. I’m not talking matchmaking. I’m talking help to dig deep within ourselves, examine habits, and remove the obstacles that impede us from creating our own families.
Championing the family has to include creating new families as well as supporting existing ones. And you can’t help us create our own families if you keep relegating us to a separate place “over there.” We need to be together. We need to be one.
If you’re married, what can you do to help a single adult you know? If you’re single, what can you do to help a married couple you know? When we stop putting each other into boxes and start bridging the gap in love, we step closer to becoming one. We step closer to becoming Zion.
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)
Start loving yourself
This past week I participated in some Facebook discussions. Someone viewed my comments and decided to ask a question. I sought and acquired permission to share that here.
Thanks so much to Lydia (not her name, of course) for allowing me to respond so that more may benefit. MANY singles experience this very same problem.
Hello Lance- . . . so I saw your comments on the "whats holding us back" thread- and I have a question! I have dug deep, and I know what is holding me back- but how do I free myself from it? I have completely bought into the lies that have been told to me for years, so much so, that they have become my inner truths. I know in my head they aren't true, but my heart believes them. (Basically I believe that I am not worth anything and that I am a nothing, nobody will ever want me- I don't love myself.) I am sure that I sound crazy- but I have been praying for direction and help to know how to start building myself up! Can you point me in a direction to start loving myself? (I feel like a freak for sending this to a complete stranger- but I want to be happy and emotionally healthy! So it's worth the risk! lol) Thanks in advance- Lydia
Lydia has made some important progress. She’s dug deep and faced her truth. Some of that truth is believing she’s less than what she's truly worth.
Awareness and acknowledgment are important first steps. The question now is what to do from here. On that note I have a few suggestions.
Understand the role of habit in your life
We humans are hardwired to have and follow habits. There’s good reason for that. But staying inside habits provides a life on autopilot. When you understand the role of habit in your life, you can choose habits that propel you to the life you want, one fully lived and enjoyed.
The power of self-talk
Some of the most important habits we have relate to the messages that we receive. These in large measure drive our assumptions, our attitudes, and our emotions. That’s one big reason why modern day prophets have always counseled us to take care with the media that we accept into our homes and lives.
We should always seek to drop the false friends and other purveyors of negativity from our lives. But life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we just have a harder row to hoe.
That doesn’t obscure the great resource we have entirely within our control. We can give messages to ourselves. In fact, most of us are already doing that. For good or bad, we’ve established a habit to send messages to ourselves.
For many singles, that habit provides a constant stream of negativity. It’s little wonder that many singles feel trapped in despair when you consider that self-talk controls 95% of our emotions. Many routinely reinforce their own prison, and they don’t even know it!
But here’s the good news: Self-talk can be just as empowering as destructive. Just flip it around. Recognize whatever habit you’ve developed in delivering negative messages to yourself. Then use your agency to replace those negative messages with positive ones.
Nature hates a vacuum. So you can’t just quit the bad. You must replace it with good. Otherwise, Nature will replace it for you. And Nature’s default selection is always to go back to the habit you have developed. If that habit is negative, you’re right back at Square One.
That’s why you have to learn the role of habit in your life and make conscious choices. You must determine what messages you’ll receive when the triggers for your bad habits reappear. And when you by your own choice fill yourself with positive messages over and over enough, you develop a new habit that reinforces who you really are. With such a habit in place, you can begin to believe in your heart and not just your head.
His love is enough
One of the most important messages to tell yourself constantly reinforces the way that God sees you. When you see yourself the way He does, it’s so much easier to love yourself the way He does.
Self-talk plays a huge role in how we see ourselves. If you tell yourself habitually that you’re worthless and no one will ever love you, what sort of reality do you think you will have? Conversely, if you tell yourself habitually that you’re glorious because you are a child of God, where do you think that leads?
Positive self-talk habits do more than help us to feel our divine worth. They help us to feel the Atonement on a totally new level. Christ suffered and died for you. How could such love not be enough?
When you truly understand that in your heart, you’ll quit feeling beneath your potential because you don’t have the love of some other person. And that’s incredibly liberating in so many ways!
Align your thinking with the reality that you want
When you understand the role of habits in your life and make conscious choices to align your thinking with the reality you want, you become truly unstoppable.
Using an empowering scripture as self-talk fosters that alignment most effectively. Whenever doubt or fear creeps in, quote your scripture. Once this become habit, you’ll be giving yourself an instant boost whenever you need it.
One of my favorites is Philippians 4:13. Find one that works for you, memorize it, and then feed it to yourself habitually. Start aligning your thinking with the reality that you want. Not only can you arrive at your desired destination but also the journey there can feel so much more enjoyable.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly Internet radio show and podcast 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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