The doctrine of belonging
Elder Christofferson approached belonging from a doctrinal perspective with practical application to belonging. That approach confirmed what we’ve been discussing here for years on Joy in the Journey Radio. But it also enlightened my understanding of what it means to belong. It’s easier to feel belonging when we truly understand the doctrine of belonging.
See the commonalities
Elder Christofferson begins by listing the three parts of the doctrine of belonging: “the role of belonging in gathering the Lord's covenant people, the importance of service and sacrifice in belonging, and the centrality of Jesus Christ to belonging.” Let’s talk about how each of these parts relates to LDS singles.
As the Lord gathers His covenant people across the world, we’d expect, as Elder Christofferson rightly notes, Church membership to become more diverse. We see that diversity today in every conceivable way, including life situation. This diversity offers great strength and richness but also great challenge as our biological hardwiring influences us to compare ourselves with others in order to assess how “normal” we are.
Without context, such comparisons can demoralize and depress us. Elder Christofferson illustrated this effect in the story of Jody King, a married woman confronting infertility. As I listened to the heartrending emotions expressed in Sister King’s experience, I recognized a great parallel. You could change the details of her story from would-be-mother to would-be spouse, and the emotions would stay the same. We need to see less of the details differentiating us and more of our commonality as children of God.
Elder Christofferson recognized that need when he taught,
We too should care about what others around us are becoming more than what they are today.
Serve one another
In addition, we gain a sense of belonging within the Church as we serve and contribute to the larger Church community. This makes obvious sense and yet the realization of its truth escapes many of us precisely because it is so simple.
We feel like we belong to a larger group when we do what those in the group do. Singles don’t do everything marrieds do (or at least they shouldn’t), and that distinction highlights the earlier distinction of identity (“I’m single and you’re married”) that destroys any feeling of belonging.
But serving one another is something everyone can do. Being true to as many covenants as one’s made is something everyone can do. When everyone serves everyone else and turns their focus there, we see ourselves more doing what the group does and foster the sense of belonging we crave.
Elder Christofferson recognized this truth as he shared,
How often have we singles focused excessively on our own unmet needs? Think back to such a moment in your life and consider whether you felt like you belonged to the larger Church community in that moment. However legitimate your unmet needs, focusing there always leads to feelings of isolation and abandonment, not belonging.
Come unto Christ
Of course, the highest and most important sense of belonging comes through Christ. We best promote that sense of belonging by nourishing a personal relationship with Him. We must spend time with Him daily.
As I think back upon my many years of LDS singles life, I can remember many struggles with finding acceptance within my peer group. What helped me the most in those times was remembering He Who “came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). Leveraging my struggle to feel closer to the Lord has helped me feel more belonging to Him, the only sense of belonging that really matters in the end.
Elder Christofferson displayed that perspective as he declared,
LDS singles must live the doctrine of belonging in order to thrive and experience maximum joy despite their circumstances. As we identify as members of the covenant, strive to keep those covenants while serving one another, and spend time daily nourishing our relationship with the Lord, we can gain a sense of belonging to Him and His Church. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Our relationship with God
Check your thinking
Elder Christofferson starts with Job, recounting how Job’s sufferings tried him so deeply he began to condemn God for “wronging” him. God then reminded Job of His omnipotence and omniscience. Job, realizing he couldn’t hold a candle to his Maker, humbly let God prevail. In the end, “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).
Often the suffering of LDS singles leads them down the road of Job. They can feel wronged when they do their best to keep the standards of righteousness and yet desired righteous blessings don’t materialize. Worse yet, those blessings don’t show any sign of ever materializing.
But the problem here is in how we think. We need to correct the faulty assumption that keeping the standards means we’ll have our desired blessings and certainly not in our way and on our schedule. Elder Christofferson taught,
The idea that “I’m not happy so God must be doing something wrong” assumes God’s main job is to make our lives blissfully care free. But God’s work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). As we discussed last week, growth is often uncomfortable. Sometimes that discomfort comes from living without desired righteous blessings.
Correct your assumptions
How then do the blessings we want come? Many LDS singles simply shrug their shoulders as they give the most common response: “I don’t know.” But other responses abound.
In recent years, as the proportion of singles in the Church has grown, leaders have increasingly suggested the receipt of righteous blessings is largely out of our hands. They say God has an individualized and personalized plan for each of His children, and righteous blessings are dispensed as God executes that plan.
Elder Christofferson appears to be in that camp when he taught,
I agree blessings which don’t conform to God’s will won’t materialize. However, I don’t think that means the lack of a particular blessing means it’s God’s will that blessing isn’t there. D&C 130:21 teaches every blessing is predicted upon obedience to the law connected with that blessing. If you don’t keep the particular law, you don’t get the particular blessing.
Thus, any lack of companionship and marriage lies not in failing to keep the standards good enough but rather in the assumption that keeping the standards should yield the blessing of companionship and marriage. Those desired righteous blessings are predicated on a different law.
Partner with Him
You may well ask, “What is that different law?” The blessings of companionship and marriage come as singles progress through the stages of the dating journey. When singles follow the fundamental principles of that journey, they make progress in that journey. When they don’t follow fundamentals, they don’t progress. Period.
Following fundamentals means becoming more agreeable, and that means changing you. Partnering with the Lord is the best way to know what changes you need to make now to become more agreeable. Partnering with the Lord also provides guidance, courage, and strength in making those changes. So a failure to see desired blessings in our lives should motivate us to increase our relationship with God, not diminish it. Elder Christofferson taught,
God hasn’t abandoned us simply because desired blessings haven’t come how or when we want. But we abandon Him when we lose faith in Him and allow that loss of faith to tolerate a lack of devotion to our covenants and our place in His work. That work is not about making life easy and comfortable but about helping others progress along a path that stretches into eternity.
When life doesn’t go as planned, we need to increase our relationship with God. Hard times are a call to deepen discipleship. By heeding that call, we’ll find the guidance we need to know the next step as well as the faith and courage to take it. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
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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