The year St. Patrick died is in question (some say 461, others say 493), but all seem agreed on the day he died — March 17. St. Patrick’s Day started as a feast held annually to commemorate the man who led Ireland’s conversion to Christianity. The history of how the holiday has evolved is rather interesting, but I found one legend about St. Patrick particularly applicable to LDS singles. And that connection will have me going green on St. Patrick’s Day for years to come.
See the "snakes"
Multiple legends involving St. Patrick abound, but the one catching my attention involves snakes. (And yes, I can hear Indiana Jones right now saying, “Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?) As legend has it, God’s power was so manifest in St. Patrick as he preached on a hill that all the snakes simply fled from the island.
That’s not likely actual truth, since snakes were never native to Ireland. But there is a Celtic legend of serpent-like spirits called nagas which supply water to trees and make streams and rivers flow. The legend of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes is probably an allegory for the missionary ridding Ireland of old pagan beliefs.
And that got me thinking. What “snakes” in the form of old, defunct ways of thinking do I still have? What habits continue to hold me back from living my best life? Many LDS singles stand in their own way of experiencing the joy surrounding them every day. Instead of fully living life, they live far beneath their privileges.
Banish the "snakes"
St. Patrick didn’t rid Ireland of “snakes” in a single day. He didn’t arrive on the Irish shore greeted by masses of eager converts. Rather he started where he was with what he had. He went from village to village, achieving success one convert at a time. With persistent dedication, over time he stepped into the conversion of the entire island.
It’s not much different for LDS singles (or anyone else for that matter) struggling against the challenges of their lives. You won’t step into your best life all at once as it’s handed to you. You step into your best life one day at a time as you slowly but surely create it. And creating your best life always begins inside you.
What “snakes” inside you prevent you from experiencing the joy all around you? What “spirits” do you need to remove from within you in order to recognize and receive that joy in your life? The way you think determines what you do, and what you do determines the life you live. With persistent dedication, over time you can step into your best life.
Embrace your life
I know this take on St. Patrick’s Day seems odd. Particularly in the United States, Canada, and Australia, St. Patrick’s Day has become associated with parades and parties. We wear green and pinch people who don’t. But behind the frolic lies a fascinating history offering insight into improving your life. And that improvement always begins with changing the way you think.
Often what we need to trigger new thinking is a new experience, and St. Patrick’s Day offers many opportunities for new experiences. Delve into the history of the holiday as well as Ireland and learn something new. Or try your feet at an Irish jig. Or experiment with an Irish dish. St. Patrick’s Day offers many opportunities to have a new experience that can trigger new and different ways of thinking.
Embracing such opportunities can have you going green each and every St. Patrick’s Day. And finding those opportunities every day of the year will open the door to the new ways of thinking you must embrace to experience your best life. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
That’s because if you always get back up and keep pressing forward, sooner or later you’ll achieve your goals and live your dreams. You don’t get that staying down. So if you’ve been knocked down, get back up and let the journey begin again.
Always get back up
It is about the journey, after all. The destination is essential in that it determines the direction; it sets the course for your sails. But no destination ever changed anyone. It’s the journey that does that.
And it does that job well, but only if you embrace it, only if you choose to be changed by it. If you stay down when life knocks you down, you essentially choose to stay separated from the destination embodied in your goals and dreams. You essentially choose to stay unchanged.
But when you get back up after life knocks you down, when you refuse to stay defeated, you choose to be changed by your challenges into something that overcomes those challenges. Is it easy? Of course not. If it were, everyone would be doing it. Most don’t do it because they aren’t willing to pay the price for what they want. They prefer the easy choice of staying down. They prefer the fade out of failure to the surge of success.
Perhaps they console themselves in being normal. Everyone does fail, after all. So failure doesn’t make you defective or deficient. It just says you’re normal.
Even those who succeed start out as failures, and many of them failed over and over ad nauseam. Take Stephen King, for instance, one of the most prolific and popular American authors from the last century. Publishers rejected his first book Carrie 30 times. And when that 30th rejection came, King was so disheartened he promptly placed his draft in the circular file.
Life had knocked King down, and left to his own devices, he would’ve chosen to stay down. But he wasn’t alone. His wife removed the draft from the circular file, handed it back to him, and asked, “Why don’t you try just one more time?” That one more time was all King needed. He published his first novel, and the rest is history.
Every success story I’ve ever encountered goes the same way. Everyone fails initially, and often abysmally. But those who succeed choose not to stay down when life knocks them down. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again. They rise and declare, “Let the journey begin.” And off they go to begin again.
Just start over
All of us can do that, and yes, that includes you. And here’s the best part. You don’t need to wait for the first day of the week, month, or year to begin choosing better. Every day offers the opportunity to begin again. So if you’re normal and find yourself knocked to the ground before January is through, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over again.
Did you fall off that exercise train you committed to ride at the start of the year? Hop back on. If you messed up that diet, forgive yourself and get back on it. Trying to gain a new skill and missed a day or two or more? Pick up where you left off. Struggling with adopting some new positive habit? Keep struggling, keep fighting, and every time you fail keep starting over.
Whatever goal you set for yourself this year, don’t let failure settle you back into staying your old you. Let the journey begin again. Embracing the confrontation with challenge lets you grow into something that transcends your challenge. You’ll probably fail countless times, and that’s OK. Just keep punching. Keep getting back up every time you get knocked down, and eventually you will succeed. You’ll achieve your goals, you’ll live your dreams, and however many failures you had won’t matter at all. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
How it started
My friend and I served in the same mission — in the same district, in fact. She and her companion were from Honduras. As my companion was also from Honduras, I got dragged into a small circle of Honduran expats serving the Lord across the border.
We all got along famously, but this particular sister and I really hit it off. We never broke any mission rules; we were completely appropriate in our interactions. And yet we each felt there was something special about each other.
I was in my last area when we met, and so before long the time came for me to go home. I had a wool blanket that had served me well but would not fit into any of my luggage. I had no choice but to leave it behind. I could have just left it for some future elder, but I chose instead to gift it to this sister. I remembered her remarking at our last district meeting how cold she was at night, and I felt prompted to gift her the blanket.
She received my surprise gift with great joy. And now all these years later, I’ve received her surprise gift with great joy this Christmas season as we have reconnected.
How it stopped
We kept in contact after I returned home. These were days when cellular phones were the size of bricks and email, though not new, was still in its infancy. And so our communication occurred through handwritten letters.
Because the postal system in many Latin American countries is unreliable, the Church made arrangements to organize its own postal service for missionaries called POUCH. (I’m sure that’s an acronym or has some significant meaning, but don’t ask me to know it, because I couldn’t tell you.) Though I was no longer a full-time missionary, she still was. And so POUCH worked out great.
We kept writing letters through POUCH after she returned home. Now neither one of us were full-time missionaries. For some reason, our letters continued to get exchanged, but it wasn’t to last. Eventually, my last letter was returned with a notice written on the outside of the envelope to use the regular postal service.
I totally understood. Using this system for missionaries while we weren’t missionaries put the whole system at risk of being shut down. And if you’ve served a mission, you know how important mail can be for maintaining motivation and morale. So I wasn’t going to argue. But I did miss my friend and the joy I felt in reading her letters.
How it continues
Now imagine my joy to see a Facebook message from that same friend after all these years. We quickly learned about each other’s careers in the intervening years. We shared stories about COVID and how the church has responded in each of our home countries. And we relived the joy of friendship we shared all those years ago. We picked up so well it was as though we had never lost contact.
Yes, miracles still happen. And what better time for a miracle than the Christmas season? This unexpected but warmly welcomed gift fills my heart with gratitude not only for my Christmas miracle but also for the greatest Christmas miracle of all. As the source of all good, He is everything. We have nothing without Him.
And so as we #LightTheWorld this Christmas season, let us open our hearts to the miracles that can unfold in our own lives. Miracles still happen, both during Christmas and all year round. When you open yourself to possibility and give freely to others, sooner or later others will give freely to you. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
As I read the specific aspects of the fast President Nelson proposed, I remembered my own participation in that worldwide fast. President Nelson said, “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!” But that raised this question: Did God hear us? How effective was the worldwide fast?
To answer that question, I searched for evidence regarding the specific points in President Nelson’s invitation. What I found gives me hope and a strengthened testimony in the power of fasting in opening the heavens for help.
Examining the trends
President Nelson declared the first purpose of the fast was “that the present pandemic may be controlled.” And so I searched Google this morning for “covid 19 deaths worldwide” and obtained an informative chart. It shows the general trend of COVID-19 related deaths rising around mid-March. But then after April 10, the general trend becomes more constant.
We see something even more hopeful for those living in the US. A similar search in Google for “covid 19 deaths us” produced another chart. Again, COVID-19 deaths rise after Spring Break. But after April 10, the general trend actually decreases!
Now, what drives that decrease is a separate question, one I’m not tackling here given my limitations of space and time. But did the fast lead to a control of the pandemic? As I’ve often told my statistics students, correlation is not causation. Just because two events happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other. But is it a coincidence that the turning point for the trend in both of these curves is around April 10, the same day as the worldwide fast organized by God’s living prophet? I think not.
Hearing the stories
The second pleading President Nelson invited us to make in the worldwide fast was that “caregivers [be] protected.” What can we say about that?
We often think protection means physical safety, especially in a pandemic context. But protection could apply holistically to include other areas such as emotional and psychological health. In that light, I searched for stories relating what support health care workers have received. The American Hospital Association has a page on its website dedicated to stories about health care workers serving on the front lines of the pandemic. And these stories are amazing.
What I find especially encouraging is the HERO registry, an initiative launched by the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. The registry collects stories from health care workers so that administrators and public health officials can better understand and work to solve the problems health care workers face both in real time and over time.
For me, the especially encouraging aspect of this effort is its launch date — April 13, just three days after the worldwide fast. Again, just because two events occur together doesn’t mean one causes the other. But again I ask, “Is this coincidence?” And again, I think not.
Looking forward in faith
President Nelson’s invitation for a worldwide fast ended with two final pleadings: one for “the economy [to be] strengthened, and [one for] life [to be] normalized.” So what about these aspects? Did God hear us in these?
Well, what measure should we use to assess economic strength? Whatever we choose isn’t going to tell us much; it’s only been about a month since the worldwide fast. In that time, we’ve seen the devastation of many economic sectors resulting in record unemployment numbers. And what exactly does “life normalized” mean? What standard do we use for “normal”? However we define our terms, many of the issues affecting the economy and daily living have yet to find resolution. And so we look to the future with hope that God will resolve these issues to the satisfaction of His purposes.
What we see so far after the worldwide fast gives us hope that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. He will prepare the way for His promised blessings. Indeed, fasting can open the heavens for help. Looking for the ways in which God hears us gives us greater encouragement to look for ways in which we can hear Him. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
This past Sunday I decided to attend a special singles meeting in my stake. I didn’t even know about the meeting until I went to church and saw the announcement in the bulletin: Special Meeting for singles tonight at the stake center.
My question then is probably your question now. What’s a “special meeting for singles”? I had no interest in another fireside, because typically they’re just another helping of Sunday School. I get enough of that at church.
But a “special meeting”? Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. And so I donned my white shirt and tie later than usual and, at the appropriate time, made my way over to the stake center. As I walked in the door, a gentleman greeted me and asked if I were here for the fireside.
Instantly I cringed. But, tampering down the anxiety attack within me, I replied, “Yes, I’m here for the meeting.” This brother directed me to the Relief Society room.
Singles activities are often sparsely attended, but I guess the same influence that worked on me worked on others. The room was packed! I had to take a seat in the front corner of the room.
Start by listening
I soon learned the purpose of the meeting. The stake presidency was looking through the responses to the recent survey — wait, survey? I thought to myself. What survey? I never got told about any survey! — and now they wanted to take the opportunity to listen.
Hold up! Listen? You actually want to listen to us singles? Hallelujah! There is a God, and He hears and answers prayers!
The meeting then became something free form, with individuals sharing feelings and perspectives on LDS singles life and what singles need. I of course have a lot to say on those topics. But I decided to listen myself. I wanted to learn what concerns were most prevalent so I could make my response more targeted to what people needed to hear.
But I never got the chance to share anything. Many expressed frustrations with the family-centered LDS culture and with leaders who because of ignorance or apathy or whatever other reason aren’t sufficiently supporting singles. By the time I grasped the main themes of others’ comments, the stake president ended the meeting. Apparently there was another meeting to attend. But he did offer some closing words of encouragement before ending the meeting with prayer.
Raise your voice
Not having the chance to share my voice, I quickly approached the stake president as soon as the prayer had concluded. As I shook his hand, I thanked him for listening. Not many leaders actually stop to listen, and I made sure he knew what a rarity his approach unfortunately is.
We spoke briefly about what had just transpired, and I assured him that solutions do exist for all of the frustrations and negative emotions that had just been vented. Those solutions we can find in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, but it takes a new way of thinking to see them. Most people aren’t taught to think in those ways, which is part of the reason why I have my blog and radio show.
I then asked if it were okay for me to email some information that could bring added perspective on others’ comments. He consented, and with that, I had my mission. I knew what I needed to do.
Act in faith
I rushed home and began writing that email. After listing all of the concerns I could remember from others’ comments, I organized those concerns into themes, and then planned my response.
Because much of my response mirrors what I’ve already said on both my blog and the radio show, I decided to provide him with links to the relevant posts and shows. Even with the links, I quickly amassed four pages of material. I’m working on paring that down so it won’t overwhelm.
I still can’t contain my excitement at what transpired. Indeed, I believe many are unaware of the wonderful opportunity within the grasp of leadership and the singles they want to serve. And I feel especially blessed to have leaders who chose first to listen to the people.
Listening opens the door of possibility to establishing the support network that will improve the lives of singles and help to fill their needs. If you’re in a leadership position with stewardship over the singles, I urge you to listen to the people. As you listen, you’ll set the foundation to establish the support network necessary to minister most effectively to LDS singles. As that support network grows, more and more LDS singles will have more and more of their needs met. And that will bring more joy in your journey.
I have a love-hate relationship with RootsTech. I love the energy and excitement which RootsTech generates for family history work. But you can’t really talk about family history work without telling stories about ancestors who did this wonderful thing or left that inspiring heritage. And hearing those stories makes me bawl like a baby every time. Yeah, that’s right. Every time.
Stories connect us to our ancestors and help us discover who we are. Truly our hearts turn towards our fathers when we discover, gather, and share stories of our ancestors with the generations after us. That turning of the children’s hearts aligns very well with our innate yearning for our heavenly home. And that provides for a contribution we need to make.
What will you leave?
When I learned that Family Discovery Day at RootsTech 2018 would feature President Oakes, I could hardly contain my excitement. Here we have the General Authority who’s perhaps more closely identified with LDS singles life and issues than any other General Authority.
Of course the presentation was outstanding. President and Sister Oakes told stories, and I broke yet another water main. But they also touched on a theme similar to Elder Uctdorf. The Oakeses emphasized the need not just to provide ordinances for our ancestors but also to retell the stories about those ancestors continuously for the benefit of future generations.
And they brought examples. President Oakes showed copies of journals from some of his ancestors and told how sharing those journals have benefitted his descendants. Sister Oakes described how the journals of her ancestors gave her a wonderful religious education. The testimonies they bore of the restored gospel taught her much.
It made me wonder, “What stories am I leaving for the generations that come after me?” You don’t need to be married to leave a strong testimony or inspire a wonderful heritage of faith and courage. But future generations will never know it unless someone records it.
Who will you follow?
Hearing the stories of our ancestors stirs a longing inside of us. We yearn to be united with those we love who have passed on before us. Yet the same Spirit which prompts us to turn our hearts towards our fathers also invites us to follow the Savior and return to our heavenly home.
Elder Uchtdorf spoke of how God knows each one of us intimately — “your every thought, your sorrows, and your greatest hopes.” He also declared that following the Lord on the path back to our heavenly home will make our lives better. Said he,
Is there any better way to follow the Savior than participating in family history and temple work? Surely the fruits of the Spirit will be ours when we contribute to this wonderful work. And LDS singles can make very meaningful contributions.
What will you contribute?
Those who embrace this cause on their journey home will reach a wonderful realization. Elder Uchtdorf declared this life isn’t about just you or me but all of us. We all feel the yearning to come home, and that puts all of us on the same journey back to that heavenly home.
President and Sister Oakes shared similar principles in their RootsTech presentation. We must be linked together with our ancestors because we cannot be saved without them, nor can they be saved without us.
If such grandiose visions make you question what role you could possibly have in such a cause, consider Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks when he offered these thoughts:
Family history and temple work isn’t just for old people. And I don’t care how much pioneer ancestry you have; there’s work for you to do! We singles can make mighty, meaningful contributions to advancing this work. We can discover, gather, and share the stories of our ancestors in ways that will inspire those who come after us — whether or not they are our literal descendants.
As Elder Uchtdorf testified,
Let us each move forward and embrace our own contribution to the cause. When we do, we’ll work miracles in the lives of others. And that will bring more joy in our journey.
is the very real result of choices you and others have made. But that doesn’t mean you’ve lost a glorious future. There is always hope because there is always Christ.
Many LDS singles easily feel their hopes of a temple marriage reside far outside their reach, if they even exist at all. Yet our reality abounds with opportunities for us to have the blessings we desire. We simply need eyes to see what’s really there around us.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf testified of that. His April 2016 General Conference address entitled “He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home” reminds us of the hope all of us can have in a bright and wonderful future.
God can rebuild you
President Uchtdorf recounted his childhood experience living near Dresden, Germany, during World War II. Bombing totally devastated that city. President Uchtdorf particularly noted the destruction of the Lutheran church the Church of Our Lady. The war reduced this once grand monument to rubble.
Yet 70 years later, the city now stands completely renewed. This includes the Lutheran church. Some of the old stones were used in its reconstruction. President Uchtdorf describes the sight of these stones within the structure as “‘scars’ [which] are not only a reminder of the war history of this building but also a monument to hope — a magnificent symbol of man’s ability to create new life from ashes.”
President Uchtdorf then remarks,
No matter how derailed you feel your life may be, you can get it back on track. Through the Atonement, Christ can heal anyone and restore anything. But He won’t violate individual agency. We need to choose Him to effect His marvelous Atonement in our lives.
Of course the Savior will. That’s the whole purpose behind His Atonement — to rescue us from an impossible situation separated from God. While not on the same scale, many LDS singles experience their own individual impossible situations. “With all my deficiencies, how could anyone want to marry me in the temple?” “How can I ever rebuild my life after losing my marriage to divorce?” “How can my life have any meaning now that my spouse has died?”
No matter the question, choosing Christ is the answer. That’s because choosing Christ is always the answer to life’s difficult questions. Centering our lives around Him provides us with the perspective we need to journey home.
And because He’s already feeling after you, you’re sure to find and feel His love once you choose Christ. President Uchtdorf proclaimed,
You are made of more glorious matter than what your earthly eyes can see. No matter how lost or despairing you may feel, the eternal God of the universe Who has always and will always love you is still in control. Your eternal destination has not changed. Although earthly circumstances may necessitate a different path than what you anticipated, that eternal destination is still within your reach.
So reach after it. Abandon your doubts and embrace your faith. Forsake your fears and face the glorious future awaiting you. When you choose Christ, He’ll stand by you for each step you can take and carry you for each step you cannot. Choose Him today and start to experience the hope that can lead to more joy in your journey home.
When I was a boy, I loved riding my red bicycle. Then one day my father suggested we take the training wheels off my bike. I was really confused. How could my dad want me to fall flat on my face?
Despite my staunch resistance, my dad more staunchly and patiently persisted in moving me forward. He offered to hold the bike while I rode. My little kid brain couldn’t understand how that solved anything. I could pedal faster than he could run, so how would he keep up to balance the bike? Surely facial scars were in my near future.
But my dad simply waited and did the deed while I watched Saturday morning cartoons. When I realized he was outside with my bike, I rushed to find him fastening the last nut after removing the training wheels. My dad tried to curtail my obvious angst by suggesting I now give riding my bike a try with his help.
Reluctantly I mounted the bike. Because deep down I trusted that my dad really didn’t want to hurt me, I began riding down the street. I soon realized my dad wasn’t holding the bike, and I wasn’t falling on my face!
I couldn’t understand it, but it was incredible. I was happier riding that bike than I had ever been, and since then I’ve never even so much as thought of using training wheels again.
This experience applies directly to LDS singles trying to navigate life.
Although my kid brain couldn’t understand it, I later learned that forward motion balances a bike without training wheels. Moving the bike forward supplies the forces needed to keep the bike in balance. To prevent myself from falling on my face, I just need to keep pedaling.
Very often we LDS singles feel we’ve fallen flat on our face. We see others getting married and wonder where our blessings are. Or we experience a very painful loss of a marriage we thought would last forever. We wonder how our lives won’t end up with us falling flat on our face forever.
The way to prevent that is the same in life as it is on the bike without training wheels. We need to keep moving forward. It’s the forward motion that keeps the bike and our lives in balance.
Bad situations are part of mortality. Dwelling on the negativity of your bad situation will perpetuate imbalance. Your focus always becomes your reality. So look ahead to better times and move forward towards them.
That may be challenging if you feel like you’ve never been successful. I used to think I’d never succeed at dating because I didn’t look like a movie star and wasn’t otherwise “good enough.” But that focus on my failures brought me a life filled with failure because your focus always becomes your reality.
How do you improve your focus? Everyone has experienced success somewhere. Use that success to leverage success at small wins in new areas. Those small wins can help propel you to greater success with bigger wins.
Don't go it alone
Sometimes you simply won’t have the strength to go it alone. That’s OK because you’re not supposed to do life alone. Reach out to the Lord and partner with Him. Just as my dad initially held my bike so I could take the leap of faith I needed to ride without training wheels, so the Lord will hold you so you can take your leap of faith. That’s what partners do, and the Lord loves you more than any other partner you could ever have.
You’re not here in this world by chance. You’re here as part of a noble plan designed to promote your growth into something so amazingly incredible you can’t really imagine it. And guess Who designed that plan? A Heavenly Father who loves you so immensely that anything less than your growth into an exalted, celestial being would never be His ultimate objective.
You’re not here to fail. You’re here to succeed, and that gloriously! The way to succeed is to keep moving forward. The obstacles in your path may seem huge, but the power of the Lord’s Atonement is greater than any power any other opposition may offer. Partner with Him and keep moving forward.
Just as I learned to balance my bike without training wheels by continuing to move forward, so LDS singles can balance their lives without a spouse by continuing to move forward. Partnering with the Lord can help you to know what you need to do to move forward and provide the strength you need to do it.
So what are you waiting for? Partner with the Lord today, and enjoy the serenity of a life in balance.
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 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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