Monday, August 22, 2011

"the unexpected life is no less a life"

I had a conversation today at lunch that got me thinking about a book I read earlier this year, A Single Voice by Kristen M. Oaks. Five years ago, when I was a young little 21-year old, I was in a YSA ward with another girl who had just turned 30. I thought she was very intelligent and wise because of the comments and insights she would share during classes and the lessons she gave in Relief Society. One Sunday she shared some of her feelings about being "old" in a Young Single Adults ward, i.e. being 30 and still single. I can't remember exactly what she said, but I do remember feeling the Spirit, as well a deep admiration for her. She casually mentioned having read A Single Voice and recommended it to us.

I forgot about it until my 26th birthday in January. All my childhood and adolescence I just sort of assumed I'd get married at 25. Of course, as I grew into adulthood I understood that marriage would happen "when it was supposed to" and that having a definitive age number in mind was silly... Yet, when I completed my twenty-fifth year and began "the downward slope towards 30" I felt a clear and strong sense of panic. Irrational panic, I knew it was irrational... and yet...

That's when I remembered Renee, and her recommendation. So I hopped online and ordered a used copy off amazon. I began reading it the day it arrived in the mail and I have to tell you, it changed my life -- it changed my life, by helping me change my perspective. I've never felt more at peace with my "singleness" and age as I have these last few month. (Not that I still don't experience moments of grand alarm about being single-with-no-prospects and/or depression and loneliness... but my perspective of it all REALLY is very different so the frequency of these moments is low, and I cope differently. But that's a post for another day!)

So, without further ado -- let me spend a few paragraphs sharing some of my favorite parts from A Single Voice. At the least perhaps it will motivate you to read it yourself! (Even if you aren't single, I still recommend it. It gives excellent advice on how to be your best self).

One of the things that Sister Oaks did in her book, was put into words the feelings that many single people experience. In my opinion, that, in and of itself, was enough of a reason to validate the writing of the book. It can sometimes seem like no one understands what it feels like to be single. Especially during a barrage of "why aren't you married yet"s and "helpful" advice. Reading how other people describe their experience and relating to it so completely, really helps to validate your own feelings.

Near the beginning of her book Sister Oaks pointed out something very insightful, that many people "believe marriage is proof that they have worth. It is the ultimate game of choosing sides for teams. It is hard to be picked last, but not to be chosen is unbearable -- especially if you know you are a good player and can help the team. Not only are you excluded but you also have to stay around and watch the game. The members who were chosen wonder why you were not chosen. A multitude of reasons is invented, whether voiced or not. What answer do you give when someone dares to ask why you are not playing in the game or why you were not chosen to play? The answer is that you do not know" (30).

She went on to describe this confusion and pain: "Rather than the continuous loss experienced after a death, the hurt of singleness may ebb and flow over time and be triggered by circumstances like weddings, births, weekends, holidays, or family celebrations. Because of this noncontinuous process, it never feels quite legitimate to grieve. Confusion, loneliness, sadness, hurt, and hopelessness are grief feelings, however. And with each passing year, the loss feels more potent and painful" (31).

But even despite this, the pain, embarrassment, confusion, loneliness, and harassment of a whole lot of unsolicited advice, Sister Oaks affirms that "You should only consider marriage with someone that you love and respect with all your heart. Anything less will be inadequate eternally." And, "Never let the opinions and pressure put on you by others unduly influence your choice of a marriage partner." She then quoted Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "I believe that the most important single thing that any Latter-day Saint every does in this world is to marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority" (27). I think that "the right time" fits in there, and ought to go without saying... but sometimes we all have a tendency to forget that part. Timing IS important, and when you think about it, can be the ultimate test of FAITH because you have to trust that even when you are doing everything right, everything may not come together... it may take time. Joseph Smith himself taught that "There is no pain so awful as that of suspense" (TOTPJS 220).

Throughout her book, Sister Oaks addresses how to successfully navigate this unique trial of our faith, and I think at the heart of all her suggestions is the idea that "we make ourselves happy or miserable by how we respond to our circumstances and the expectations we set for ourselves" (75) and that "marriage or the lack of marriage does not make us happy, faithful, and steadfast" because "there are no perfect circumstances, only perfect faith" (125). For that reason, we have to learn to take the experiences of whatever phase of life we are in and use them to make us "stronger, kinder, and more devoted followers of Christ" (130).

Sister Oaks went on to explain how to do this as well, that it means we must live an examined life - where we "constantly ask ourselves what a godly identity means" and through that "we come to know who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe" and thus we can stand true to those beliefs and gain greater personal integrity, which brings along with it a greater "ability to cope with difficulties and find happiness" (157).

To get the full depth of coverage she gives these ideas and "how to"s, you'll have to read the book yourself. But I want to end with a few of Sister Oaks careful warnings. As anyone who has had to struggle with some unexpected years of singleness (be the few or many) can attest, "Loneliness and our hearts' longings may create great problems for us" (242) and lead us to stray from what we have always wanted; to set aside principles and eternal goals to somehow escape our singleness. Sister Oaks cautions against seeking for a relationship with someone outside the church, or even those inside the church who are not worthy. Such relationships will ultimately bring unhappiness. We diminish our ability to do what is right when we are so consumed with our "lack of blessings" -- as opposed to focusing on and rejoicing in what we do have, and faithfully waiting for what we don't -- which can lead us to make choices that bring "profound sorrow, remorse, and despair" (243).

There IS a cost for peace and happiness in this life. That is what the Lord's law of sacrifice is all about. But, Sister Oaks testifies that "Every person I know who has made this journey told me that in the end the struggles brought an inner peace and joy never experienced before. The sacrifice was well worth it" (244).


"As we wait upon the Lord for the desired blessings of love and family, we have a choice to make. Do we turn to Him, keep His commandments, pray to Him to direc our actions and ease our burdens or do we give up? How do we handle ourselves when our desires and expectations do no come to fruition in the way and at the time we desire?" (258). It will be a process. One of acceptance, grief, and moving on. We must learn to trust the Lord's timetable, and to depend on him. Our lives may not be as we expected, but they can be very beautiful (258) -- and through them we can become sanctified and filled with the joy that President James E. Faust taught of, "a habitual inner joy learned from long experience and trust in God ("Voice of the Spirit" 3). Because ultimately, all blessings will be ours.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A story from Matthew Heaps

I will always be grateful to a woman in Kenya, Africa, who taught me about willingness to work to obtain water. I met her at a celebration following the installation of a well in her community. With gratitude she told me that the new well would cut her daily nine-mile (14 km) trip to get water to a one-mile (1.6 km) trip. She was overjoyed at the opportunities that would now be hers.
I couldn’t help but think how I would feel if I had to walk a mile to get water. I was impressed that she put everything—from housework to gardening—aside while she made her journey to fetch water. She knew she couldn’t complete the other tasks without that water. I thought about how heavy her burden was. Carrying water takes strength and endurance. Yet, for the sake of her family, she was willing to walk nine miles every day to get it.
I wonder if we who get clean water from taps in our homes sometimes expect to come unto Christ with the same ease as turning a knob to get a glass of water. Or are we willing to put aside other tasks, even important ones, to seek to know Jesus Christ and His Father?
I know that the well of living water the Savior offers us never runs dry and is pure and life sustaining. When we come to Him with an empty cup, He will fill it, often beyond our capacity to receive. He is truly living water, a manifestation of the love of God.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


The gospel of Jesus Christ demands commitment. I've heard it said many times that in each of our lives we will have that commitment tested in incredibly difficult ways and I have recently realized that really is true. All around me I have been seeing friends and family being faced with very important decisions that shape their lives and their character, decisions that at their simplest are a decision of commitment.

The complexities of our lives, the messiness of our emotions, and the reasonable rationalizations we often make can lead us to think otherwise… to think that "this isn't really a test of my commitment to God, I'm committed to Him… this is just what I want right now" or "this just seems to be the right thing because of these reasons" which is a distraction from the plain truth that we already made the choice to do it one way when we originally committed ourselves to God -- so are we committed to that commitment or not?

In the July Ensign President Deiter F. Uchtorf explained that commitment is a little like diving into water in the way that once you've started diving you have to follow through. "Either you are committed or you are not. Either you are moving forward or you are standing still. There's no halfway. We all face moments of decision that change the rest of our lives." If we are avoiding doing what needs to be done, or justifying alternatives, we are not keeping our commitments and "nothing can be more important than keeping a commitment we have made with the Lord." These are the covenants we make within the gospel and our full commitment or lack of will determine our future and our character. "Being only sort of committed to the gospel can lead to frustration, unhappiness, and guilt."

Covenants are supposed to help us keep our commitment to the Lord. When we are faced with the option to delay we can say to ourselves, "well, this alternative is very tempting or that seems like a good reason to wait or do this other thing, BUT I have promised to do this -- so I must. This is why I like the diving analogy so much. In my cliff diving experience, the key to getting myself to dive is just forcing myself over the edge - after that, I'm fully committed and there's no going back. If you see covenants as having already taken the step off the cliff, as already being committed, then there's nothing to be done except to execute the dive and swim back to the surface.

To keep walking to the edge and looking over, to keep thinking about it, makes getting myself to dive harder. I have to just do it. It's a lot the same with my commitments to the Lord. If I start to even consider alternatives and excuses to what I have committed to do…it makes everything more difficult.

We shouldn't be afraid of our covenants. When we made them we had the chance to consider if what we were promising to do really was the best choice. Every time we renew our covenants we have the opportunity to reconsider that. I promised to love God and do what He wants in all things. I really do believe that what He wants, He has stated in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It helps to think "I cannot choose otherwise." That in the same way that I cannot step back onto the cliff once I have jumped, I cannot choose other than what I have promised to God. And I have faith in what He has promised me in return, that as I show him I am fully committed - that I am fully HIS - He will make of my decisions the best results, and make of me my best self.

To me this is a big part of turning oneself over to Christ. My life is His, because my decisions are already made - I am committed to Him.