“A Vision of What We Can Be,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 10
I direct my comments to choice daughters and sons of God who at this time happen to be single. Each of you is a valued and important member of the Church. As such, you make vital contributions to the holy work of God in our day.
Please remember that we have all been single, are now single, or at some time again may be single; so being single in the Church is not so extraordinary. In large measure, our challenges and blessings come to us as individuals, regardless of our marriage status.
I suppose that some of you brethren and sisters who have never been married have begun to wonder if your husband or wife might have been killed in the War in Heaven! Of course, this is not true. Being married also carries challenges and great responsibilities. Perhaps you have heard of the young bride who said, “When I get married, it will be the end of all my troubles.” Her wise mother replied, “Yes, my dear, but which end?” A single friend of mine, looking back on several disappointing dates, had this to say, “To protect myself during this painful time, I have often recited these lines: ‘When fretted by this single life which seems to be my lot, I think of all the many men whose wife I’m glad I’m not!’”
Humor may relieve our anxieties temporarily. But what is in our hearts, to a large extent, determines our attitudes and actions.
Helen Keller was one of the most exceptional individuals of our time. Before she was two years of age, she lost her sight and hearing. She never married but became internationally famous, helping literally thousands of people live more complete and happy lives. She took three years to learn the alphabet as her teacher reached her mind by touching the back of her hand. She listened to others by putting her middle finger on the speaker’s nose, three fingers on the lips, and her thumb on the larynx. She graduated from Radcliffe College with honors and began a remarkable writing career. Helen Keller was once asked by a reporter, “What can be worse than being blind?” She replied, “Having eyes to see but no vision.” Having the vision of our worth and capability is an essential prerequisite to finding fulfillment. We also need vision to glimpse what God intends us to be now and in the eternities.
So often that which is visible to the eye escapes us too, and we deprive ourselves of the joy that surrounds us and that can be ours if we only would allow ourselves to see it. This reminds me of a scene from Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. In this play the heroine, Emily, recognizes too late some of those simple but beautiful blessings which she had taken for granted all her life. Emily dies in childbirth, but before passing on, she is given the opportunity to relive one day of her life. She chooses her twelfth birthday and is able to watch herself and others as they were on that day. It is then that she realizes the precious beauty of the ordinary things of everyday life—clocks ticking, sunflowers, the old white fence that once stood around her house, food, freshly ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping, and waking up.
At last the magnificent beauty of all she had barely seen as she lived overwhelms her, and she cries out: “Oh, Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
Mortality is a precious drop in the bucket of eternity. Why not make each minute pleasant and fulfilling? We must make our own happiness. As President Spencer W. Kimball once said, “Happiness does not depend upon what happens outside of you, but on what happens inside of you. It is measured by the spirit with which you meet the problems of life.”
Problems, challenges, and heartaches come to all of us regardless of gender, whether we are married or single, or whether or not we are limited physically or mentally. Many of the blessings of membership are the same for all members of the Church, regardless of marital status. All must be baptized. All, if worthy, can attend the temple. Missionary service is an opportunity. All may receive priesthood blessings, including patriarchal blessings. The key to happiness does not lie alone in gender or marital status or parenthood or being free of physical challenges. Happiness comes from living the teachings of the Savior and having the vision to see what He would have us become. Remember what he said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39). Because we have been given the challenges of mortality, this life is a proving ground for the eternities.
We are a family-oriented church; we have to be. We are all part of a family—either a natural family or a ward or branch family. As President Howard W. Hunter stated: “The Church is for all members. … All of us, single or married, have individual identities and needs, among which is the desire to be seen as a worthwhile individual child of God. …
“The clarion call of the Church is for all to come unto Christ, regardless of their particular circumstances. …
“This is the church of Jesus Christ, not the church of marrieds or singles or any other group or individual. …
“… While it is true that worthy couples will obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom, each man and each woman sealed in an eternal relationship must be individually worthy of that blessing” (Ensign, June 1989, p. 76).
I wish to reaffirm what has been said by so many prophets. No righteous person will be denied any blessings which come from God. President Spencer W. Kimball said this most eloquently: “I am aware of some … who seemingly have not been successful in total fulfillment. Some have been on missions; some have completed their education. And yet they have passed the period of their greatest opportunity for marriage. The time has passed, and while still attractive and desirable and efficient, they find themselves alone.
“To [the large group of young men and women in this category] we say this: You are making a great contribution to the world as you serve your families and the Church. … You must remember that the Lord loves you and the Church loves you. … We have no control over the heartbeats or the affections of men [or women], but pray that you may find fulfillment. And in the meantime, we promise you that insofar as eternity is concerned, no soul will be deprived of rich and high and eternal blessings for anything which that person could not help, that the Lord never fails in his promises, and that every righteous person will receive eventually all to which the person is entitled and which he or she has not forfeited through any fault of his or her own” (Ensign, Oct. 1979, p. 5).
Among those who have been single for a time are former Presidents of the Church, members of the General Authorities, and so many thousands of the adult members of the Church. President Howard W. Hunter was a remarkable individual in many ways. For more than a decade, he lovingly cared for his invalid wife, Claire. For many years thereafter, President Hunter was single. However, he was always pleasant, cheerful, and engaging, dwelling upon his blessings and the good things he had, even while enduring great physical suffering. As a leader of the Church, he exemplified focusing on what we have rather than on what we do not have.
Some among us are divorced. To those in this circumstance, we express concern and love. During the more than two decades that I practiced law, I observed at close range that divorce is a personal tragedy for all concerned. In my experience, I do not recall a single person who was fully prepared to handle the problems of divorce. It produces feelings of guilt and inadequacy and, all too often, extreme bitterness.
One outstanding friend reminded me that there are no handbooks for divorced people. “Having recently gone through a divorce,” she said, “it has been my experience that I received good advice from my priesthood leaders, but the regular run-of-the-mill advice was very poor. … The reason why most of the advice given divorced people is not good is because it has the wrong motivation: It is generally motivated by the desire to punish or get even or destroy, rather than the simple Christian duty of being helpful and working things out.”
I would hope that we are all sufficiently Christian to separate the people in the wreck from the wreck itself, particularly the children who are the innocent victims. We all need home teachers and visiting teachers who can see problems and offer help. We need concerned Relief Society presidents. We need bishops who are interested in all of the members of their flocks, especially those with concerns.
In answering the question, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:36–39). Consequently, the most important ingredients of life are love and service. Those who are single can keep these commandments as fully as those who are married. It is selfless service that is important.
In some ways, those who are unmarried may have more time to devote to Church callings. Less involved in family responsibilities, they can prayerfully select ways to serve that fit their personal circumstances. They can attend the temple, become interested in family history, go on missions, and offer humanitarian and compassionate service.
Now to you single brethren. I say to you single brethren, do not take too much counsel from your fears. Marriage is in large measure an act of faith—faith in yourself, faith in your eternal companion, and faith in God. While the sublime happiness I have known in marriage is not guaranteed, if you marry, you will more likely be happier, live longer, be healthier, live better, and make more money!
The answer lies in finding out what God expects of each of us in our circumstances—single, widowed, divorced, husband, wife, father, or mother. Let us not grope blindly for fulfillment without the vision of who we are and what we can become.
Thank you for the goodness of your lives. I appreciate your devotion in keeping the commandments of God. Your souls are precious in the sight of our Heavenly Father. I pray that you may be sustained in your heartaches and suffering, in your challenges and disappointments.
I bear solemn testimony of the divinity of the holy work in which we are
engaged. There is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind and heart that Joseph Smith saw God the Eternal Father and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I bless you that you may have an awareness of the divinity within you as a child of God. I bless you that you may have the vision to enhance your joy and fulfillment in the opportunities, great and small, that await you.
I promise you that if you are faithful and true, you will receive the great promise of the Savior—peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come.