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.
(READ THE BOOK!)