I went to a clinic where a doctor ran some tests and came back with a diagnosis I didn’t believe then and still don’t today. But I wasn’t about to argue with the doctor while in pain. I didn’t want to postpone the relief that drove me to see the doctor in the first place.
The doctor prescribed some meds, I followed his directions, and the chest pain went away. But then arrived stomach pains and more intense vomiting. I couldn’t keep anything down. After I vomited everything so I knew my stomach was empty, the stomach pains vanished only to be replaced with abdominal cramps. I didn’t sleep well that night at all.
I’m in recovery now, but as I’ve always been the pensive and reflective sort, I certainly can’t resist reflecting on this experience. As I do so, I can see clear connections between my experience and Elder Gong’s Conference address. All of our lives have been greatly blessed by covenant belonging.
A culture in change
When I first heard his address in Conference, Elder Gong’s description of a gospel culture centered on Christ impressed me. Indeed, true gospel culture is centered on the Savior and solidified by covenants we make to serve Him and each other.
Yet traditionally LDS subculture has centered on marital status as the marker of belonging. And that center has caused countless challenges for many LDS singles. Long time audience members know I once harped endlessly on our need to change the culture. The problem is in how singles think, yes. But the problem is also in how everyone thinks, and that thinking is manifested in culture.
Elder Gong cuts through all of the bunk to the real heart of a Zion culture — making and keeping sacred covenants to become more like Jesus Christ.
God never looked at His children through the lens of marital status. I’m not entirely sure why we as a people ever did, but I rejoice in our culture changing for the better.
A bridge across the gap
I also rejoice that Elder Gong’s message to center ourselves in Christlike covenants is not the first apparently aimed at changing the culture to adopt a more ennobling marker of belonging. Albeit not as directly as I have, various Church leaders have occasionally spoken about the divide between singles and marrieds in LDS culture and our need to bridge the gap.
Elder Gong followed suit in addressing that divide but doing so in a somewhat less indirect manner.
I love that balance between including singles and promoting marriage and family. These two elements were never meant to be mutually exclusive! Those who understand the concept of covenant belonging see that truth plain as day.
A place to belong
You may be wondering now what all of this has to do with my near miss of a heart attack. It’s very simple. I belong as all LDS singles do to a community bound together by covenants to serve the Lord and serve one another.
The day after my near miss, my ministering brother and a member of the bishopric were in my home visiting with me and providing a priesthood blessing. Now, I know that doesn’t happen everywhere. I’ve been in some of those wards where it doesn’t happen. But if you find yourself there, I can assure you it will pass and you will come to a better place if you stay faithful to your covenants and do your best to practice covenant belonging.
The Lord is mindful of all of us. I know He’s been mindful of me. Feeling that love has renewed my desire to be true to my covenants and to exemplify God’s definition of real belonging that we can find therein. And it is by living covenant belonging that we can best feel that love. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
We need a new culture
Like it or not, many Latter-day Saints consider being married with kids as the definition of acceptance within their culture. And since we all want to belong, many LDS singles strive to obtain that mark of belonging. So if you define motherhood to require the bearing of children, then you’re limiting your window within which you will feel accepted.
Clearly, the results observed respecting this issue go back to how people think. If only we could all adopt a new culture that grants acceptance from doing one’s best to make and keep every sacred covenant that one can, we wouldn’t be hearing from the single ladies who are really complaining about how they don’t fit in under the guise of complaining about whatever presentation they saw in church.
That’s easier said than done, but no single woman need wait for the culture to change in order to change the way she thinks about what it means to be a mother. In fact, we should all change how we think about that because we are biologically hardwired to get our sense of normal from the people around us. Single women can more easily adopt a more effective definition of mother when everyone around them does the same.
We need a new definition
And what is this new definition of motherhood everyone should adopt? Being a mother simply means consistently recognizing and then meeting needs in others. That’s something every woman can do, whether single or married.
Think about it in terms of your own mother. If you’re like me and were blessed to have a mother who loved you and always worked every day to show she cared, isn’t that what we best remember about our mothers? Isn’t that what we most treasure about the memories of our mothers, that this woman consistently recognized our needs and worked to satisfy them?
Now if you didn’t have a mother like I had, I’m sorry, but you should still be able to see the point. You don’t need to give birth to children to recognize a need within them and then work to satisfy it. And women are uniquely endowed with a natural ability to do just that, whether or not they’ve given birth to children or not.
We need a new approach
It’s high time we all embraced a broader approach to motherhood. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Your focus determines your reality. When you focus on what you lack, your reality becomes filled with lack. That breeds discouragement and despair. But when you focus on what you have and on what you can do, your reality becomes filled with possibility and opportunity. That breeds optimism and hope.
Let’s help single women everywhere by defining motherhood in terms of what all women can do and not just those who have given birth to children or even those who are legally responsible for raising children. Let’s define motherhood as consistently recognizing and meeting needs in others. This is a definition that fits all women based on what they can control (their actions) and not what they can’t (their life circumstances).
When we adopt a broader view of motherhood, we make every woman a mother who strives to serve others in ways that meet their needs. We show greater sensitivity towards those whose life circumstances aren’t what they desire. And we better support them in feeling loved and supported themselves. And that will bring us all more joy in our journey.
As the new year approached, I wondered which president of the Church we’d be studying this year. Then on the last Sunday of December, my ward held a joint meeting for the third hour to explain what would follow in 2018.
No longer would we study the words of modern prophets in manuals devoted to individual servants of the Lord. Now we’d study the words of prophets and apostles from recent Conference addresses. And we’d be discussing them as a group, with everyone seated in a circle facing each other.
The word discussion is key. The Church would no longer provide lesson plans as it had previously. Now discussion leaders would need to prepare their own plans ahead of time considering the needs of the class.
Since learning of these changes, I’ve been intensely curious to see how well they’d work. After all, this free-form format leaves a lot of blanks to fill. But observing how those blanks have been filled over the past two months, I’m totally sold on the new model. I believe it’s but a prelude of greater things to come when we embrace the moments.
Embrace the freedom
Part of my concern with the new program related to my new calling as a Sunday School teacher for the 12-year-olds. It’d been years since I last taught the youth, and the Church has made many changes to youth instruction in that time.
For the past couple of years, the youth have experienced in their classes what all of us now experience in our classes and meetings. The Church still provides the skeleton pieces of what could be a lesson plan. I like this new model, especially the freedom to put the pieces together in the way I feel inspired.
I also love how, even though we make our own lesson plans, we can go off script any time we feel inspired. Instructors have always had this freedom, but I’m glad the new model builds on it. Some of the best learning moments for both student and instructor occur during those unpredictable moments that simply come.
Embrace the belonging
What I really like best about the new model is a newfound sense of belonging. Perhaps the biggest contributor to this sense lies in the seating arrangement.
Before, chairs would commonly be arranged in rows. Often people would sit as far back as they could. Everyone has typical places to sit as well, providing a feeling of stagnation.
Now, with the insistence on sitting in a circle, there’s no more seeing the backs of other people’s heads. The circle arrangement has everyone seeing everyone. And there’s no “fixed position” for anyone. That arrangement changes the whole dynamic of how I’ve come to see myself in my ward.
Over the years, I’ve typically felt estranged. Lessons were typically about this marriage-and-family thing I didn’t have. And sitting so as to be less visible by others didn’t help with the sense of belonging either.
That’s all changed with the new model. Lessons still focus on the marriage-and-family thing I don’t have, but there’s something about sitting in a circle where everyone can see everyone that provides this sense that we don’t need to be in the same chapter of life to be on the same journey.
Embrace the opportunity
That shift in perspective helped me to see something I wasn’t seeing before. We singles need to contribute more to meetings and classes in general membership wards. Our failure to do so hurts everyone.
The other week in quorum meeting, the discussion turned to descriptions of children spending countless hours watching online videos of other kids doing things, like play a video game or build a model. A flash of inspiration came to me, and because I felt more a part of the group, I decided to share it. After announcing my ignorance in dealing with kids, I suggested the fathers actually do with their kids what they’re watching other kids do in the videos.
This comment completely changed the tenor of the meeting. The discussion branched into a direction it otherwise wouldn’t have. The spirit and comments that followed helped me to see that many of the brethren were edified by the new direction the discussion took after my contribution.
As I said before, I’m totally sold on the new model the Church has employed for our classes and meetings this year. We singles have much to contribute therein. Instead of complaining about how we don’t fit in and tuning out, we can embrace the moments the new model offers to lift where we stand. When we make those contributions, we can bless the lives of others on the same journey we’re on. And that will bring more joy in our 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.
LDS singles can easily feel like second-class citizens in the family-centered culture of the Church. The continual focus on something we don’t have just makes feeling like we belong and staying positive and optimistic more difficult.
Of course, the Church must teach the doctrines related to the family. How could they not? “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” begins with the solemn declaration “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
Yet teaching the gospel as though everyone has the ideal situation serves more to alienate those who are different than invite them to continue participating. We need to teach the doctrines related to the family while at the same time help those who don’t have that ideal situation to feel fully included in the Kingdom.
The way forward likely includes a recognition that we’re each at different points along the path to the same heavenly home. And we must testify with our actions that, no matter where along the path we may be, all of the gospel is indeed for all of us.
That recognition will carry more weight when we truly care for everyone around us. Words in Sunday School about a wonderful and inclusive ward family mean little when singles are left to confront the storms and other challenges of real life on their own.
Often, lessons about the family focus on the needs of those who are married. Broadening that focus to recognize those who don’t have the ideal family structure in their lives can provide a foundation for inclusion.
Spending some time during lessons applying the family doctrines to singles as well as to marrieds can further that sense of inclusion. For example, we read towards the end of the Family Proclamation,
Whereas marrieds strive to maintain their families, singles strive to create new ones. Why must lessons focus solely on those who already have families? Why can’t they include those who are trying to create them?
For instance, we can include examples of applying the principles in the Family Proclamation to dating. When considering a dating prospect, do we truly prize qualities such as faith, forgiveness, respect, and compassion? Or do we refuse a prospect who may have those qualities in spades but lack the more worldly qualities not mentioned in the Family Proclamation?
My single brethren, how are your presiding skills? D&C 121 is a great start if you need a refresher. How is your ability to provide the necessities of life? Note the word necessities doesn’t include fancy sports cars or weekly shopping sprees at the mall but does include putting a roof over people’s heads, food in their bellies, and a pillow under their heads at night. If you find your ability to provide lacking, what are you doing to improve?
Single sisters, don’t think you’re getting left out here. How are your nurturing skills? Again, if you find your ability lacking, what are you doing to improve?
Let all help all
As a divinely inspired document, the Family Proclamation is filled with wonderful sentences that can both teach the doctrine of the family and help everyone regardless of their situation to feel included in the larger community of the Saints.
However, of all the sentences in the Family Proclamation, I do have a favorite. It’s this one: “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” I love that sentence!
Why do I love that sentence so much? Here the Brethren acknowledge that life is sometimes less than ideal and those who find themselves so situated are still acceptable before God so long as they do their best with what they have.
Note that “individual adaptation” applies to more than just those who find themselves in less-than-ideal situations. It applies to everyone. We’ll never truly live in Zion until all of us labor to help all of us along the path home. That’s because we can’t live in Zion without embracing all of the gospel. And all of the gospel is indeed for all of us.
Ministering to everyone around us and not just those who are like ourselves may be difficult at first. But if pursued honestly, it will bring us more joy in our journey.
the General Conference addresses. I always have a hard time picking just one. Returning again and again to Conference is a great idea.
As I recently returned to Conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund’s remarks entitled “Through God’s Eyes” spoke to me again. Reading his words, I found a powerful message I wish many of our local leaders would receive when ministering to us LDS singles.
But seeing Chad’s parents as they saw their dead son shattered that emotional distance. Elder Renlund’s own words say it best.
Then Elder Renlund delivered the crux of his message:
How I wish our local leaders could see us LDS singles as God sees us! Too often no one mourns with us when we mourn or comforts us when we need comforting. It’s easy to say they do that because they’re so focused on family. As true as that may be, I think a larger reason for their inactivity in our lives is they simply don’t see us as God sees us.
Seeing as God sees
Too many leaders reduce singles committees to activity planning groups. They think all they need to do is provide a fireside, a dance, a conference, or some other activity. Then they can rest easy, having “done their duty.”
As wonderful as many of these activities are, not a single one helped me when my cat died, or when I needed a job, or when my girlfriend broke up with me. When the storms of life came to me, I needed support. I needed others to reach out to me and put their arm around me and help me to keep walking. Who was there for me? Not my ward or stake leaders. And neither were any of their agents.
My experiences in different parts of the country convince me that many other LDS singles have the same problem. And I think it’s because our local leaders see us more as numbers on a membership report rather than children of God trying to get back to the same heavenly home they are. And I think they see themselves more as activity sponsors than as ministers of the Good Shepherd to a beloved part of His flock.
Turning the tables
Pointing the finger of blame at others is really easy. But for every finger we point at others, there are three more pointed back at us.
So let’s turn this question around. What are we doing to see our leaders and other married friends in the Church as God sees them? Are we using the same lenses of compassion and concern we want them to use when viewing us? Our complaints about their failure to support us won’t go far if we aren’t supporting them.
Elder Renlund gives some good counsel in this regard. Said he,
I say we go one step further. We should pray that not only we ourselves be filled with this love but also our ward and stake leaders. We should plead with God to open their eyes to our situation and their hearts to our suffering. We should cry for heaven’s help in supporting them and call angels to incline our leaders in our direction. And we should plead with God every day for this.
The changes we want to see in our culture won’t happen unless we look within and change ourselves first. We have to start seeing our leaders as God sees them if we want them to see us as God sees us. And we LDS singles have to start seeing each other, our fellow LDS singles, as God sees all of us.
Only after we adopt that perspective will we see clearly the path we need to take to invite others to come together and live in Zion for real. I pray that we will all adopt this vision and continue to pray for the changes we need in ourselves so that the changes we need in others can come more readily.
Welcome to the new home for my blog.
It all started back in 2012 — 12/12/12 to be exact. I couldn’t let the opportunity to start something on a date like that pass me by. Little did I know that my first year would be training for what you see today. And I’ve changed along the way. Now that my blog has a new home and we’re starting a new year, I thought it only fitting that I establish a few expectations. This first post may turn out to be the longest post I make, so if you aren’t comfy, now is a good time to get there.
First, it's not about me.
When I started my blog, I had some ideas that needed expression. Many of those ideas were in a book about LDS singles that I've been working on since January 2011. In researching how best to publicize the book, I found the ubiquitous advice to start a blog and use it to promote the book.
But that doesn’t work for me.
See, I started with that idea. And I found along the way that it led me to make everything about me. I felt the tendency to make outrageous comments to drive more traffic or to write for search engine robots to increase page ranking. But things like that don’t matter. It’s people that matter, and it's relationships with people that matter most.
That’s why I started writing my book in the first place.
It’s a longer story that I can share later if you’re interested. Bottom line = I wanted to create something that would help the growing LDS singles population confront and conquer the challenges of LDS singles life.
So I’m turning conventional wisdom on its head.
Writers use blogs as marketing tools to promote books. To me, that’s all backwards. I intend my book to support the blog. And I see the blog as a platform for changing the culture within the Church. We need to get more serious about building Zion. A big part of that means changing how we think about what it means to be single in the Church. Too many LDS singles feel like second class citizens in the Church of Mormon Families Who Sometimes Talk about Christ when they should feel like equal members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the culture will never change if we don’t do anything.
We need to start having a conversation about LDS singles life, one that encourages all of us to change the way we think about what it means to be single in the Church. There are changes that marrieds need to make and many more changes that singles need to make. We need to support one another in these changes.
That means we have to cut the crap and speak the truth.
I’ve been single now for almost 20 years. That’s two decades. So I’m tired of all the high school games and other associated crap that I’ve dealt with in that time period. I want real. I want to connect with other people on a real level and not have everything revolve around my marital status and my desires for eternal companionship.
So when I see crap from anyone, I’m calling them out on it.
That means some of you will discount me or try to ignore me because what I have to say will contradict whatever agenda you have. Others I will simply annoy. Still others will outright hate me. I’m okay with all of that. You see, I want real.
I understand that not everyone is prepared for the truth. That is part of what my book is all about. We all develop habits in which we continue to believe lies about the way the world and our lives are constructed, because those lies make us feel more comfortable. But I’m done with all of that. I want real. That means embracing the truth, no matter what it may seem to do to me in the here and now. And I got three words for those of you who aren’t prepared to hear the truth.
I don't care.
That’s right. Again, it’s not about me. It’s about changing the culture so that we LDS singles can more easily confront our challenges and we can all — married and single — get about the business of building Zion for real. That is, after all, what all of us covenanted to do at baptism and in the temple.
Oh, and I don’t care applies to just about everything.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to trample intentionally on the feelings of others. It doesn’t mean I won’t attempt to regard the views of others with respect and courtesy. I probably won't always succeed, as imperfect as I am, but I will strive to be a gentleman.
What I don't care does mean is when you read one of my posts, you’re getting real — the real me, what I really think and feel, and all presented in a real way. I don’t care about search engine robots because I write for people. I don’t care about page rank or other Internet statistics which in eternity will be meaningless. I don’t care if I continue writing posts week after week which generate no comments. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me or my opinions. I want real, and I can’t get real if I put on rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything is just peachy when in reality it’s putrid. If a cow crapped it out, I’m going to call it what it really is — cow crap!
That means that a lot of conventional wisdom and me just won’t mix.
I’m done trying to be someone I'm not just to impress someone into having a relationship with me — and that’s any type of relationship, not just the romantic kind. I’m done living the lie of a life on autopilot. I’m done going through the motions of being an “active” Latter-day Saint. I want to do what I do because I truly feel it deep inside. I want what I do to mean something. I want real.
Real also means I don’t look on people reading my blog as customers to be marketed to constantly. I don’t like receiving constant emails telling me how I can’t live without purchasing XYZ, so I’ll never send anyone anything like that. It’s not about me or my book. It’s about building a community through which we can change the culture by changing the way we think about LDS singles life.
I refuse to believe it cannot be done. I refuse to follow the herd just because everyone else is doing it. I refuse to believe what I say and do makes no difference. I refuse to believe I'm second-rate or that God must want me to be single because I haven’t yet experienced the subcultural rite of passage that is temple marriage. And I refuse to back down.
Sure, I’m imperfect, very much so. I've got more imperfections than Swiss cheese has holes. I understand that my endeavors may result in total and complete failure. But that just brings me back to the three words I shared earlier.
I don't care.
You see, I’ve failed so many times in my life at just about everything in life that I am not certain whether failure has any real meaning anymore. But I am certain that just going through the motions is meaningless. I want real. And real is what you will get from me.
I envision a glorious future in which LDS marrieds and singles come together and build Zion – a place where everyone cares for everyone and everyone looks out for everyone. That is the place where I want to be, whether or not I ever find my eternal companion. Of course, such a place is more made than found, which brings me back to my first point.
It’s not about me. It’s about lifting a light so that others can see amidst the darkness. It’s about bringing hope to those in despair. It’s about changing the way that we all think so that we can unite and build Zion. And it’s about becoming more like our Savior so that we can live there and feel like we belong.
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 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.
Joy in the Journey Radio offers many free resources to help LDS singles everywhere, but it certainly isn't free! Help Joy in the Journey Radio in its mission to improve the lives of LDS singles by donating today.
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