I recently came across three powerful and uplifting articles "Dear Single Members," "Why Chastity Only Gets Harder," and "Singles at the Temple" as part of an Exponent II blog series entitled "Single and Married in the LDS Church." Written by this regularly featured author, Suzette's heartfelt essays on staying active in the church as a never married mid-single and the challenges we face really struck home for me. I encourage everyone to go to these links and read all of the articles in this series.
In her first article, Suzette gives singles a challenge to "Tell a New Story" and share it with other members that everyone might be strengthened in their testimonies of Christ. As single members who struggle to remain active in a church that celebrates eternal marriage and family, we are painfully aware of our label as the "square pegs" who just don't fit into those perfectly round (eternal) holes. No one takes us seriously. We are the outliers, the single points distant or separated from a main group for various reasons. Yet, singles should not let the condescending remarks and attitudes of "the marrieds" bother them. This is not an "Us against Them" debate. Our unique positions and lifestyles in the church give never-married singles the opportunity to grow and increase in wisdom; especially in our unique relationship with God, our family, friends and with ourselves.
Singles in the church who are active yet never-married have a unique understanding of loneliness. Living the chaste, wholesome life required by the gospel is not easy. Everything we do, every choice we make, (including abstaining from pre-marital sex which the world scoffs at,) is done without fanfare and without supervision. Gone is the cute, naive teenager, we stand on our own testimonies now, survivors, living life as best we can as fully grown adults, entirely on our own.We face solitary daily work and household chores, yet find time to serve and socialize with our friends. Most of us returning home every night to an empty residence. We worship on Sundays, often sitting alone, yet find joy in fulfilling our church callings, traveling, spending time with friends and family, pursuing new interests and hobbies, obtaining all the education we can.
This is not the life we would've chosen for ourselves. Or even our worst enemies. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Everywhere we go in the church, after all the individual ordinances have been met: baptism, gift of the holy ghost, and temple ordinances (up to a point) we are reminded that those who lack the final crowning achievement in our eternal progression-temple marriage-remain incomplete. This puts us in a very unique situation that isn't always acknowledged by church leaders and teachers or even family members.
According to Kristine Haglund, we live in "The Borderlands," a lonely place in the church where individual outcasts wander all by themselves. It's not as depressing as it sounds. Our solitary confinement gives us the unique opportunity for greater understanding of what Suzette calls, "Peaceful or Sacred Holiness" finding wholeness in our incomplete state. We are not "broken," and just because we lack spouses doesn't mean we are unlovable. "In our lonely places, we reach out to God and come to know His love, peace and virtues more intimately. We are made whole by this close connection." (Suzette, "Dear Single Members," Exponent II, May, 2016) By our example and teaching, by telling our story, we can help others come closer to God.
In my mind, I'm suddenly picturing never-married singles in the church as these awesome robed and hooded Obi-Wan Kenobis: medieval and wise Holy Men and Women of the desert, to whom all the Luke Skywalkers seek out for wisdom and advice. Those who have found peace and wholeness in their solitary confinement need to share this information with the world.
Singles should own their borderland spaces. We can tell a New Story of how our testimonies and understanding of the nature of God has been increased through the "peaceful holiness" we've achieved through our years of learning how live happy and fulfilling lives-without being married.
While I have seen more acceptance and understanding toward singles in the church, singles still need to claim our "Borderland" spaces, making them our own by telling our stories; for "Zion's borders must be enlarged," (D&C 82:14).
As an unmarried single with no children, loneliness is an adjective I am all too familiar with. The challenge of how to endure loneliness without becoming increasingly bitter, especially towards God, is a personal trial and challenge I face daily. Peaceful Holiness is a nirvana I have yet to achieve. I'm no Obi-Wan, but I'm trying. I acknowledge the unique blessings that come from living the law of chastity but temple attendance for me is hard. I find myself challenging Elder Holland's reassurance in the recent Face to Face event that young single adults in the church are loved.
We are not loved, Elder Holland. That's why we're single.
It is then I must pause and reflect. As the spirit reminds me of the many people in my life who mean so much to me and I to them. I realize, I am loved. My nephews tell me this all the time, as well as close friends and family members. I am grateful for the many opportunities I have to serve others. Since quitting my food service job, which required working Sundays, moving back in with my mom and step-dad and finding part-time work, I would have no reason to keep attending church if I wasn't allowed to keep my records and continue to attend my old ward with my married sister's family. For me, church attendance is just too painful when you have to sit alone so I am grateful I have people to share a pew with. I still don't know why I was never blessed with a career that would allow me to use my two bachelors degrees so I could live more independently or why I was never asked to my high school prom. I still don't know the reason why I was born or where my place is in this world but I'll continue to pay my tithing, sing in the ward choir and spend time with my nephews who bring me such joy.
What I have learned being single is this: when we stop to count our blessings, we don't feel so alone and ostracized after all. That is the only cure I know for combating loneliness-keeping busy with work and hobbies and spending time with those we love.
I continue to wait upon the Lord.
That is my story.