Yet a recent experience caused me much reflection on both my own transformation to optimism and how we can all help those singles wont to wallow in their own mire come Friday.
An unexpected experience
Last Saturday, the newest member of my ward was baptized. The service reminded me of my own mission, and I cried as the Spirit brought past sacred experiences to my remembrance.
As I left, I noticed across the parking lot a sister missionary who’d previously been in the ward. She had obviously returned to attend the baptism. Just before her transfer, she and her companion gave me a very special gift. They snuck up to my apartment door and plastered it with paper hearts sharing messages of love, hope, and encouragement.
I never had the chance to thank them, because the very next day transfers came, and elders arrived in place of both sisters. Seeing that sister now in the parking lot, I called out to her and confided that what she and her companion left for me that night before their transfer meant a great deal to me. I then thanked her.
What happened next surprised me. She told me I should be thanked because I’d helped her tremendously. She didn’t go into details — I’m still insanely curious — but then she said something that later drove deep reflection. She said, “You’re awesome.”
A meditated realization
What surprised me was less that she said it (although yes, I wasn’t expecting to hear that from anyone, let alone a sister missionary) or that she was really sincere in saying it (which she was) and more that I found it hard to hear.
That realization caused me much reflection. I’m very comfortable with myself and enjoy my own society immensely. So why wouldn’t I believe I’m awesome? (And why is there an obnoxious song from The Lego Movie playing in my head right now?)
Seriously, why would that message be so hard for me to hear? After some deep reflection, I concluded it was hard for me to hear because I’d grown too accustomed to hearing the exact opposite.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Looking back over more than two decades of being a single Latter-day Saint, the vast majority of the messages I received from single LDS ladies were negative. They didn’t affirm my divine worth nor recognize the goodness of a heart that had sacrificed and suffered much. That’s not to say there weren’t those few who gave me positive messages (there were) or that I made my own mistakes worthy of negative messaging (I did). Rather it simply means I heard negative messages so often, especially in the dating arena, I came to believe them.
A more joyful life
I don’t believe them any more. My view today is much more optimistic. But what would my life have been like had I received more positive messages from other single sisters more regularly? And what of the other LDS singles who are now what I once was? What of those who are prone to throw that pity party on Friday because they don’t have a valentine of their own?
If you’re among that crowd, please know you have agency. That means you choose everything for yourself, including what to believe. I struggled for a long time with negative messages until I realized my agency means I get to choose everything for myself, including what to believe. Just because someone else believes something doesn’t mean I must believe it also. I don’t have to believe what I don’t want.
It’s the same for you. When others send you a negative message, don’t believe them! Instead, believe you have great worth (because you do) and God loves you so much He has prepared glorious blessings for you (because He does and He has). Then share that love with others and skip the pity party. Let your messaging reaffirm the worth of every individual. Then you’ll feel your own worth reaffirmed. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Long time audience members know I’m not much for social media. But occasionally I do dip my toe in the pool. And despite the infrequency of my visits, I do notice trends. One I observed recently is the continual appearance of memes that claim to know all about real men.
These memes would have us believe real men always follow the natural hunter instincts buried deep within them. If he wants a woman, so say these memes, a real man won’t hesitate to chase after her. So, they conclude, if a man isn’t obviously chasing after a woman, then that woman should stop hoping for a relationship with said man because clearly the man isn’t interested.
Seeing something like this once, I just shake my head. But several appearances make a trend. And that concerns me more, especially since these folks don’t seem to know much about real men.
Real men are imperfect
Our modern society likes to idealize everything. But that’s nothing new. Ancient Greek statues consistently show figures of perfect proportions even though the distribution of body shapes in their society was undoubtedly not very different from our own. We could say likewise about the Romans.
So it’s no wonder that some would think real men are perfect. After all, no one dreams of living forever with imperfection. Everyone dreams of living forever with perfect.
But perfect doesn’t exist in mortality because every mortal is imperfect. The Brethren have repeatedly taught that the perfect marriage is not the union of two perfect people living happily ever after but rather the union of two imperfect people working together towards perfection. That means real men are imperfect.
Real men have issues
These imperfections will often manifest as some issue. And that issue could prevent a man from publicly indicating any interest in a woman. Primordial instincts may make men the hunter gender, but primordial instincts don’t take precedence over the psychological forces of the present day.
Real men have imperfections. Real men have issues. Some of the those issues we created in each other. Women who complain about not receiving any invitations to go out and then reject casual dating invitations have trained many men into inaction. Likewise men whose actions teach that perfection is a prerequisite to being loved have trained many women to devalue themselves.
The idea that men always go after what they want can’t possibly describe real men. That’s an idealized fantasy which makes no allowance for the reality that everyone’s imperfect. To get to know a real man — I mean, really know him — you need to know his reality: his real hopes, his real dreams, his real challenges, and his real imperfections.
The story has been told of a Latter-day Saint who was inspired to look up a scripture referenced in a sacrament meeting talk. Having that smartphone handy, this citizen of Zion executed the task right then and there. Soon thereafter, this same member received an email from a fellow ward member that went something like this: “I used to admire you, but that was before I saw you use your smartphone in sacrament meeting. I can’t believe you would do something so irreverent.”
Sometimes things are not what they appear to be. Likewise, real men don’t always display the idealized behavior. They’re imperfect people with issues.
Real people want real
Everything said here about real men could also be said about real women. Real women are imperfect and have issues. And you’ll never know a real woman until you know her reality.
In the end, real people want real — real relationships with real people; real compensation from a real career; and real rewards from a real life that really moves them closer to their goals and dreams. They recognize the reality of their challenges but also the reality of their potential to grow and conquer those challenges.
Over four years ago, I declared my desire for real. I still hold that desire today. I’ve long since tired of the typical LDS singles life that has me doing the same things over and over while moving me no closer to my goals and dreams. I want real. And that’s something you’ll never get from social media memes that don’t understand what real really is.
When we see real men and women for what they really are — people with real imperfections and real issues in the real world — we begin to recognize they aren’t all that different from us, because we too have real imperfections and real issues in the real world. As we come to embrace that reality, we also embrace the beauty found in the wonderful tapestry that’s the core of God’s work in this real world. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Life knocked me down earlier this week. While waiting for a student who had an appointment to see me, the text I didn’t expect appeared in my phone. My father announced my mother’s decision to stop eating and drinking. She just wanted to die. After reading that message, I just wanted to die.
My mother has been battling a host of medical conditions for a few years now, most prominently anxiety as a mental disorder and mystery pains no one can properly diagnose. The anxiety turns every mole hill into a mountain. So her mystery pains have become an insupportable burden.
My mother has several doctors, each one adding (and frequently changing) their contribution to the soup of medications she takes daily. The bulk of those doctors, overburdened by long patient lists, often seem more interested in processing my mother through a system rather than listening to her and helping her with her concerns.
I can understand why she just wanted to end it all. Yet it broke my heart to think of her following through on her decision. Emotionally I felt like a bus had run me over. I found it hard to do anything productive. My world seemed at a standstill.
I visited with my mother the next morning. She seemed worse than ever, but had an appointment to see one of her doctors. My time being limited, I tried to use what I had to best advantage.
I always hug my mother when I visit, but this time I hugged her tighter, held her closer, and told her how much I loved her. Then I couldn’t help myself from breaking into tears. The mere thought of losing her simply crushed me.
Later I learned about her doctor visit. There’s something about walking into a doctor’s office and asking for help to die that captures the doctor’s attention. After a lengthy discussion, the doctor was able to convince my mother to submit to some more tests and exercise patience while he searches more intently for a solution to her mystery pains.
I joined with the rest of the family in thanking the Lord for His merciful hand.
Pondering on experience
As they’ve have played themselves out, these events have highlighted the opportunity for reflection. Of course, I know my mother will one day die; death comes to everyone. It’s the thought of it happening so soon that knocks me over.
Many LDS singles are so wrapped up in the pursuit of their own blessings they don’t think about losing the blessings they already have. They’re so busy looking for that one special love that they let opportunities to strengthen their love for the family and friends already in their life pass by and expire.
That’s not a singles thing; that’s a human thing. It’s normal to craft a world for oneself and then get lost in that world. But the events of this week have brought me to question if I’m busy enough with the greater, weightier matters and too busy with matters of lesser importance.
Am I focusing first on those elements that matter most? Do the people I care most about know I love them in word and in deed? Or have I been too occupied in other pursuits to attend to those relationships?
My pondering upon recent events leaves me with a few powerful lessons that apply to us all.
I don’t know when that special someone will become a part of my life. But I know I already have several someones who are special to me today. We all do. When we put first things first, we don’t need to wait for love. We can feel love in our lives today and every day, no matter how long it takes for that eternal companion to join us. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
After church on Sunday, a member of the stake high council asked me if I were going to attend the singles activity later that day. I confided that I haven't been attending because I don't feel welcome. Why should I dress up in a stuffy shirt and tie to sit on benches that aren't that comfortable only to be all alone? I can wear a T-shirt and sweat pants on my couch and be just as alone but far more comfy. So why go?
In the ensuing conversation, I learned that he recognized the people hold the perspective of the dating forum. I then shared with him some of what I’ve shared about the dating forum and the activity club many times in this forum. We quickly came to agreement there, but then he simply repeated his invitation without any resolve to change anything. I said I’d think about it. Of course, I didn't go.
I did think about that conversation, though, during the following days. Those thoughts led to an important realization: Clearly we see the problem in how singles view activities, but the problem will never be solved unless we take action. But exactly what action is anyone supposed to take? I’ve done this before and so know what to do. But do my local leaders? Based on the conversation I had Sunday, it doesn’t seem so.
What can be done to turn around a local singles group so that people choose the support network over the dating forum and the activities club? That's the very question I’m going to answer right now.
Get buy-in from leadership
The first thing you need to do is get buy-in from leadership. Nothing happens in this church unless leadership is on board. So you've got to get the vision of the support network yourself. And then you must sell that vision to leadership.
And by leadership, I mean both married and single members serving in leadership positions. Everyone from the stake presidency to the high council to the bishopric to any singles leaders serving on both stake and ward levels must adopt the vision of the support network. Anyone who thinks their responsibility is just to calendar activities doesn’t have the vision. You've got to work with them until they adopt the support network.
You’ll know they have the vision when they start playing their part in the support network. Those attending activities will actively greet and welcome everyone they can. They'll talk to people, helping them feel somebody cares enough to be interested in them. They'll also look for those sitting by themselves, offering to sit with them or inviting them to join a larger group seated together.
Get buy-in from the people
Once leadership is on board, you’ve got to secure buy-in from the people. That means you instill the vision of the support network in every single adult so that they do the same things leaders do — connecting with people and helping them feel supported.
Too often we think those in leadership positions do things no one else does. In some respects that's true, but more often than not, leadership is something everyone should display. Leadership is a choice, not a position.
And leadership in spreading the vision of the support network is something every single adult should practice. Otherwise, you'll never have the support network. The arrangement of everybody helping everybody happens only when everyone reaches out to everyone. It can't be just those in leadership positions. Everyone has a part to play because everyone matters.
Accept nothing less than glory
Support networks take time to build because you must change the way people think. And because we’re hardwired to follow habit, you're going to meet some resistance both from leaders who think their job is to do nothing more than plan activities and from singles who think in terms of the dating forum or the activities club.
That's why part of leadership’s role is to instill the vision of the support network in everyone. You must tell people directly what you're trying to accomplish. You must show them what can happen when everyone gets on board with the vision. And you must invite them one by one to play their part in making that vision reality.
It won't be easy, and it will take time. But it is possible. I know because I’ve done it. So be patient. Keep working. Love the people. Accept nothing less than glory, and in time you’ll see the support network start to take hold. You'll see people reaching out to each other. You'll see the needs of people being met. You’ll see that you can turn it around. And you'll feel more of the Savior's love for one another. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Last week I addressed how habits can keep LDS singles back from enjoying the eternal blessings they seek. At the end of the day, results are what matter. And whatever results we have come from the choices we consistently make. Our results come from our habits.
Habit is so individualized that no one can detail every habit holding people back. But I can describe some less-effective habits many LDS singles have in common. We talked about some of them on the program last week.
In thinking about that program this past week, I recognize one habit many LDS singles have that deserves special attention. Too many of us want perfection to waltz into our lives and set comfortably in our laps. We look at people as they are now, and we act on the assumption that what we see now is what will always be.
But the truth is that people will always change over time. The question then is in what direction. Will that change be positive or negative? Direction, not position, determines what results we’ll get in the future. If we truly want to think about the long game of eternity, we should value direction over position.
Get to know people
This may seem incredibly simplistic. You might even be thinking to yourself this isn’t a problem you have. But such is the nature of habit that very often what we do and what we think we do don’t match.
A common manifestation of this habit appears when we judge others by their external appearance. Just because someone is fat or otherwise physically unattractive doesn't mean that person will always be that way. And yet isn't that what we think when we see people like that?
With just a single point on a graph, you can’t tell where the next point on a line will be because the line could be oriented in any direction. But with other points to mark the way, forecasting a future point on a line becomes easier.
Likewise, you can't tell from a single conversation or other encounter what direction someone has. You can tell only their position. But after multiple encounters, it's much easier to determine someone's direction.
Those multiple encounters are like multiple points on a graph revealing the patterns that evidence what habits someone has. And understanding their habits allows you to forecast more accurately what results they’ll have – and also what results you’ll have if you both intertwine your lives together. To value direction over position means getting to know people well enough to ascertain their direction.
Accept the risks
Some don’t want to spend that time. Maybe they accept that people will change, but given someone’s present position they don’t want to deal with the inconvenience that change will bring. In this age of instant everything, we want the results we want to appear now. Spending extra time with people to get to know who they really are doesn't jibe with that culture.
But it does mesh well with a Christ-centered culture. Christ was the ultimate example of that love called charity. When we surrender to love and take the time to get to know who people really are, we follow in the path marked by the Master.
Why don't we make more effective choices more often? The best answer is the simplest; we have less effective choices encoded in our habits. We've adopted the habit of not surrendering to love, of staying safe within our own comfort zones, and of avoiding the risk of pain or other difficulty in our lives.
Yet the only true safety lies in taking risks. You can’t have the greatest happiness without risking having the greatest sadness. You can’t have the greatest comfort without risking having the greatest hassle. Greatness simply cannot come without risk.
Put aside the agendas
When we put aside our own agendas and get to know people for who they really are, we not only surrender to love but also invite into our lives the love we seek. When we value direction over position, we declare with our actions that we value the fundamental nature of people more than what appears superficially today.
When we value position over direction, we send the message that we love people only if they meet certain conditions. But when we value direction over position, we send the message that we love people unconditionally because we don’t insist that people be a certain way today. We recognize we’re all imperfect today and on the same journey towards perfection tomorrow.
Value love for others over love for self. Value people over personal agenda. Value direction over position. When you do, you'll find your dating journey more enjoyable. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
If you’re struggling with LDS singles life, and particularly with dating, then you need to examine your attitude and your approach. Your results in life always come from what you do. And what you do inside yourself (your attitude) and outside yourself (your approach) comes from your choices. We’re all choosing the life we want.
Many LDS singles without the life they want need to adjust both attitude and approach. We touched on some aspects of a more effective approach two weeks ago when we discussed the proper role of revelation in dating. Then last week we addressed aspects of a more effective attitude. Neither of these discussions was comprehensive, but they do contain good starting points for positive change.
Here’s another aspect of both attitude and approach: Many LDS singles make assumptions about their world which their habits then use as the basis for action. But it’s like the old saying goes — garbage in, garbage out. A more effective attitude and approach begins with more effective assumptions.
Everything goes back to the way you think. That’s why a periodic reformat and reboot is good; you need to step back, examine your assumptions, and clear your head of anything faulty or less effective.
Question your assumptions
Sometimes what we think is significant really isn’t. Many LDS singles reject opportunities for success because their assumptions about what was important or even essential guided them along a different path. Their assumptions blinded them into thinking what really was an opportunity wasn’t an opportunity.
For example, most singles think the age of their special someone is within 5-6 years of their own. Why? Because they assume that’s what they should want. But often it’s not experience guiding them to adopt that assumption; they’re just being good “sheeple” in following the herd.
Thankfully, President Hinckley’s parents didn’t follow that assumption. They were separated by 13 years of age. And their union produced a prophet!
Life will never fully unfold for you until you start questioning your assumptions. When you let go of what you think you need but really don’t, you open yourself to more possibility. And that increases your probability of achieving success.
Don’t discount the good
Many LDS singles interact with other singles only insofar as it serves their agenda. Once someone no longer serves their agenda, they cease all interactions with that someone.
This faulty approach is itself based on faulty assumptions: Spending time and money on people who won’t progress with you towards marriage is a waste. That assumes people matter only insomuch as they help you achieve what you want. In the end, all that really matters is getting the goal.
When you spell it out, it’s not hard to see how ridiculous those assumptions are. People have inherent worth as children of God. Everyone matters. Yet many of us don’t have the self-awareness necessary to realize how ridiculous our own assumptions are.
Yes, lovers should be friends first. But friendship alone has intrinsic value. Who couldn’t use more support in facing the challenges of LDS singles life?
Every relationship you have, romantic and otherwise, offers knowledge and experience that can help you have a better relationship with that special someone when that person comes into your life. By discounting the good many potential friends have to offer, you make life harder than it needs to be. And you might be staying single longer than needed as well.
Look for the flecks
Elder M Russell Ballard once told the story of a young man who went to California during the Gold Rush to seek his fortune. He eagerly panned for gold nuggets like the ones he had heard about before coming west. But after weeks of effort, he had found nothing.
Then one day he met an older gentleman who had spent many days prospecting and found enough gold to fill a small bag. The young man was discouraged to learn that gold was not the nuggets for which he searched but rather many tiny flecks. After hearing his discouragement, the older gentleman responded that those flecks had made him a wealthy man.
If we assume the eternal companion we seek is a gold nugget, then we may be joining that young man in disappointment. Most people aren’t gold nuggets; they have imperfections aplenty. Yet they also have flecks of gold mingled among those imperfections. Choosing to give those gold flecks more weight than the imperfections can make us wealthy indeed.
When you clear your head of faulty assumptions, you can more easily meet with your success. Embracing all experience opens the door of possibility, increases your probability of success, and helps you to find much more than you ever imagined you could. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Last week we discussed President Nelson’s remarks from the most recent General Conference about increasing the revelation we receive in our lives. By following the Prophet’s counsel, we can find answers to questions and solutions to challenges.
Many LDS singles rightly seek revelation during their dating journey. However, many become their own worst obstacle when they seek too much revelation too soon.
These singles ask the obvious question: Is this person “the one”? That question seems appropriate for exclusive daters contemplating engagement. But many ask that same question before they get anywhere near the Exclusive Dating stage. They’re in the Casual Dating stage or even still in the Friendship stage.
I understand why they do it. They don’t want to waste their time with someone who ultimately won’t give them what they want — a temple marriage. And they don’t want the emotional pain of heartache after investing in a relationship that dies. But I also understand why this approach turns LDS singles into their own worst obstacle.
So much of the thinking in LDS subculture is binary. Everything’s either good or bad, black or white. There’s no room for gray.
This narrow perspective drives LDS singles to see every dating prospect in extremes. Everyone is either potential marriage material or an acquaintance. Why waste time and money, the thinking goes, on someone who won’t be with you in the end anyway?
It’s little wonder we don’t really know what friendship is anymore when we discard further association with others once their failure to satisfy our personal agenda becomes evident. Getting to know other people is never a waste of time. Who couldn’t use more support while traveling the road of LDS singles life?
Cutting off association with others once all hope of romance dies sends the message that our worth comes from our ability to provide marriage. Yet our worth really comes from our status as children of God. Building genuine friendship with others — especially when they can’t really help us any — is the mark of a true friend. And more true friends means more support when relationships we do hope will work out don’t.
Asking “Is this the one?” too soon introduces excessive seriousness in our dating journey. Everyone retracts, becoming extremely cautious about everything they do because they don’t want to be tied to any undesirable commitments. And that restricts progress in our dating journey.
We also tend to misinterpret our experience with revelation when we ask such a serious question too soon. What will be the answer to such a question? More often than not, it’ll be “No.” We then assume that means this person isn’t “the one” and proceed to sever all relations. In actuality, it’s far more likely that “No” simply means “No, you’re going about this all wrong.”
I once met an attractive woman at a singles conference. We really seemed to click. But a couple of emails later, she told me she prayed to know whether I was “the one” and God told her to stop talking to me.
Please! Revelation properly used in dating is about confirming choices we make, not instructing us with what to do. Her choice was in no way informed. We never went on a single date!
And what resulted from her choice? No one won. Both of us remained single longer than we needed to be, and neither one of us gained a new friend. In many ways, we really are our own worst obstacle. If only we could get out of our own way!
Be where you are
We can promote rather than frustrate our progress in our dating journey by respecting where we are. Before the Exclusive Dating stage, there’s no elevated commitment level. Any commitment between people dies with the end of the date activity.
With such low levels of commitment, asking a very serious question like “Is this the one?” has no place until time with the more serious commitment of the Exclusive Dating stage prompts consideration of progressing even further. No wonder the answer to that question asked too soon is more often “No.” The Lord is trying to tell us, “No, you’re going about this all wrong!”
Why can’t we just focus on where we are in our journey and enjoy that place? Dating is supposed to be fun, and it can be when we set aside our expectations, enjoy getting to know others, and build friendships rather than rushing everything towards the end goal.
Don’t be your own worst obstacle. Save serious questions for later stages of the journey when the level of commitment demands that level of seriousness. When you do, you’ll free yourself to enjoy more every part of dating. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Today is Valentine’s Day — the day when every man with a significant other must make an expected love offering to his significant other. That could take the form of flowers or chocolate or something else — or even some combination of the above. If you’re in this category, then you know what I’m talking about.
Then there are the myriads of LDS singles who don’t have that special someone in their life. Many of these will be pining away in their lack, yearning to have what they don’t have, and frustrated that the life plan our LDS subculture gives us all hasn’t worked out for them. They focus on what they lack and the belief that they are so much less because of that lack. Because your focus always determines your reality, their reality is one of lack.
Yet not all singles associate Singles Awareness Day with negativity. These hardy souls reject defunct, old ways of thinking and adopt better ways of thinking that produce a better focus leading to a better reality. These singles focus on what they can do, what they can give, and how they can serve. They partner with the Lord in fulfilling a personal ministry. In essence, they ditch the pity party.
Envision a new reality
Some years ago I wrote what I’ve come to regard as a classic blog post on the pity party. If you have any doubt pity parties are dungeons of doom to be avoided, please read that post. You’ll find your time well spent.
More than one Singles Awareness Day has passed since I wrote that post. I can honestly say that I was emotionally stable for each of them. I never felt like crying or surrendering to a pit of despair or even The Pit of Despair of The Princess Bride fame.
In fairness I should acknowledge I had a significant other for at least one of them, and in that event I made sure to satisfy that special someone. But during the other Singles Awareness Days in which I had no significant other (like today), I felt as though the day was no different from any other.
What I’m describing is not apathy or disconnectedness. It’s a reality created by a different focus and a different way of thinking. And I’m not the only LDS single who has them.
Truly believe the gospel
Do we know something pity party advocates don’t? Assuming we’re all LDS, not really. We all know the same basic truths of the restored gospel. The difference is in what we believe.
We truly believe the Lord loves us so much He can’t wait to bless us. The Lord will play His part in realizing our desired blessings. We understand we also have a part to play, but we believe that, in addition to playing His part, the Lord will help us to play ours.
That faith allows us to let go of the frustration associated with wanting what we don’t now have. We believe Him so much that we’re willing to wait on Him.
Instead of focusing on what we lack, we focus on what we have. That focus allows us to see the tender mercies of the Lord surrounding us every day. And it allows us to feel the love of the Lord for us in every one of those tender mercies.
Embrace new ways of thinking
Truly believing the truths of the restored gospel is just the first difference in our beliefs. The second difference lies in what we believe about happiness.
Long-time audience members will recognize my definition of happiness: Happiness isn’t just doing the right things but giving your all to the right things for you. We truly believe that definition of happiness. And we demonstrate that belief by living it.
I devoted the entire radio program last week to this new way of thinking about happiness. We know happiness is a choice. And because we always have a choice regardless of our circumstances, we can always find happiness no matter what life may bring us. We don’t need to wait to be happy, and we aren’t.
No desire to host a pity party can touch us. We’ve effectively ditched the pity party.
You too can ditch the pity party, if you haven’t done so already. You can change your focus from what you lack to what you have. You can change your thinking about happiness. You can choose to trust the Lord and walk by faith.
When you do, you’ll free yourself from all the negative emotions that often attend pity parties. You’ll see that you don’t have to wait to be happy. You’ll rise towards your best self. And that will bring more joy in your journey.
Last week we discussed our need to continue looking for the answers we need in our lives no matter how long it takes. Certainly that process will involve prayer.
If your prayers are anything like mine have more often been, you’ll be quite familiar with the checklist exercise. Even if you begin by thanking God for your blessings, your prayers can still be rote activities in which you repeat the same vain desires for your life to be better.
Is there a way to take prayer up a notch? Of course there is! The answer lies in the Sermon on the Mount.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Sermon on the Mount may be the best handbook ever written on discipleship. I’ve also described an annual tradition I have of studying the Sermon on the Mount during the last 40 days of the year as a way to renew my own discipleship of the Master.
This tradition has benefited me greatly. One of those benefits has been insights into taking my prayers to the next level. Here’s one such insight: If you want to take your prayers to the next level, have a care for His work.
Thy Kingdom come
The first words (“after this manner”) indicate that what follows is a model. Examining each part of this model reveals its structure: First comes an acknowledgment of God and His work. Then comes a pleading for our needs, both temporal and spiritual. The final part connects with the first by again acknowledging God.
Thanking God for our blessings is one way to say, “Hallowed be thy name.” But what comes after — “Thy kingdom come” — is something few of us practice. We rarely discuss with Him our own individual participation in His work. And yet it is one of the key practices for taking our prayers to the next level.
The better approach
It makes sense when you think about it. One of the purposes of prayer is to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Which approach is more conducive towards fostering that relationship? Approaching someone to speak only of your needs and wants? Or approaching someone to speak of his or her needs and wants?
Obviously it’s the latter. Yet so many of our prayers are more the former. We disburse a list of everything God needs to do for us so that our lives will be better.
Yet how better would our lives really be if we approached Him to discuss His needs and wants? We know what those are. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Is it any wonder that the Master first taught His disciples “Thy kingdom come” before teaching them “Give us this day our daily bread”?
This of course doesn’t mean we should never bring our own needs and wants before our Maker. We just shouldn’t lead with it. You build a relationship with someone by having an outward focus, and that means leading with their needs and wants, not yours.
Advance His work
God’s work is so expansive that the possibilities for our prayers are truly endless. That’s quite fitting since Endless is His name (D&C 19:10).
You could talk about those who you home teach or visit teach. You could discuss your efforts to find the names of your ancestors and provide them with the opportunity to have the ordinances of salvation and exaltation. You could talk about your member missionary activities. Or you could discuss your current calling in your ward or stake.
Perhaps you’re struggling with bringing an inactive member of your ward or your family back into Church activity. You could even discuss your own personal ministry. Every effort to bring goodness into the world advances God’s work. And I’ve long advocated partnering with the Lord to embrace your own personal ministry.
Whatever aspect of God’s work you choose for your focus as you lead your prayers, you’ll notice an immediate change in the quality of your prayers as you begin with a care for His work. That’s been my experience.
If you want to get out of a repetitive prayer rut, or you just want to improve your prayers, trying having a care for His work. The increase in the quality of your prayers will result in an improved your relationship with your Heavenly Father that you can feel. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
We’ve discussed ways LDS singles can overcome the challenges of LDS singles life. Dating becomes more simple and fun when we act out a proper understanding of the dating journey. Learning to forgive others along the way can lighten the load on our journey. Partnering with the Lord can help us understand our gifts and fulfill our own personal ministry. And holding fast to our covenants while being industrious can help create our happiest time.
Yet all this assumes we assume ownership of our lives. No one will create your best life for you. You must create it.
Fortunately the Lord wants you to have your best life and is willing to help you create it. But first you must accept responsibility for however your life turns out. You must own every part of your life.
You have the power
Owning your life must precede living your best life. Failing to accept responsibility for how your life turns out means assigning that responsibility elsewhere. And that leaves you playing the victim.
Confident people never play the victim. Victimization isn’t a position of power. Victims are victims because they’re powerless. Playing the victim means giving away your power to someone else. And yes, you had power over your life before you gave it away. It’s called agency.
The Lord has declared, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28). We make our lives by the choices we make for ourselves. Inasmuch as we choose well, we’ll not lose our reward.
That’s the law of the harvest. We reap what we sow. Any other result would place the universe out of balance, and God would cease to be God.
It is your fault
I know what some of you are thinking. “It’s not my fault no one ever married me.” “It’s not my fault I got divorced.” “It’s not my fault I’m widowed.” In short, “It’s not my fault I’m single.”
Actually, it is. And the sooner you own all of your life by accepting your part in the events that have brought you to where you are, the sooner you can move past your challenges and live life with confidence and satisfaction.
Sure, other people make decisions that directly impact your life. But your decisions — the ones you make for yourself — also impact your life. Those decisions are the only ones you can control. You empower yourself by placing your focus there.
I’m sorry if you’ve never married. But you chose how to present yourself, what attitude to broadcast, and what direction to take in life. You can’t convince me those factors didn’t influence others when they decided against you.
I’m sorry if you’re divorced. But if you’re completely honest, you’ll admit you contributed to your failed marriage. Even if (and given how imperfect everyone is, that’s a really BIG if) you did everything right, who decided to get married? Yes, you married a jerk, but who chose that? You chose to enter a marriage that ended how it ended.
I’m sorry if you’re widowed. But again, who decided to marry your spouse? You chose to marry someone who died before you do. Had you known that would come, you might have chosen differently. But you couldn’t see then all the consequences your choice would have today. We often make such choices in life. And now you have the consequences from your choice.
You can be free
This approach may feel incredibly harsh, but it’s also incredibly empowering and liberating. Having once tasted it, you’ll never want to go back.
Why is owning every part of your life empowering and liberating? If your choices can make an undesirable life, then your choices can also make a desirable one. Your past doesn’t determine your future. Your choices in the present determine your future. You can make better choices and get better results.
Again, the choices of others do affect the course of our lives. But placing any focus there is unproductive because you decide only for yourself. Your choices brought you the life you have today. You must accept that truth to move forward.
Accepting that truth doesn’t mean wallowing in self-pity or punishing yourself constantly for choosing poorly. Just accept your choices had their consequences, learn from the experience, and move on. It’s really no more complicated than that.
Own every part of your life. Don’t allow failure to take responsibility for anything in your life hold you back from having your best life. When you take that attitude, you can move forward with confidence towards that best life. 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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