No Blessing: A plea to LDS leaders regarding single members in the Church

Single
“Single” by Anderson Honeydew/Wikimedia Commons

First, a caveat: I don’t mean to come off as whiny or overdramatic in this entry. I know this is a first-world problem. I know life could be so much worse than it actually is for me and those in my relationship category. However, those other, ‘worse’ problems are not mine/ours. I can only speak for what I know, and this is the biggest cross I’ve been called to bear to this point in my life. Despairing your future, no matter what circumstances bring on such feelings, is a terrible situation in which to find oneself. That having been said, read on…

I read a spot-on post over at Wheat & Tares a few weeks ago. One of the points made in that entry is something I’ve been thinking about ever since…something I feel has such truth to it, but which I’ve never really thought of in this way:

“My wife recently told me that she feels like there are two classes of people in the church: one class for whom the program works (couples happily married with children), and another class for whom the program has not worked (singles, gays, infertile couples, divorcees). Members in the first class dominate leadership positions and it from them that we hear the gospel preached. These leaders are sensitive to the fact that many have not been blessed with family and children and they take great pains to remind us that “no blessing will be withheld from us” in the next life if we are faithful. Unfortunately this phrase is cold comfort to many struggling to find their place in a family-idoli[z]ing church. Human nature craves validation and fulfilment now, not after death.”

Oh Lord how I hate the “no blessing will be denied/withheld/whatever” statement! I doubt any freethinking single LDS woman (or man) likes it or feels particularly comforted by such a thought. Human nature craves validation and fulfillment now, not after death. Why is this such a hard concept for our leaders to grasp? Truthfully, the only people who can find this concept comforting are those who do not have to face up to it every day (i.e. those who are married and probably have been for at least a decade or four). When you are 33 years old, as I am, and have a good shot at at least another 50 years on earth (my grandma is 101—the genes are there), the expectation that you are going to endure alone each day of all of those years and somehow still find a way to maintain a faith in God sufficient to spend the life after this in His presence is, well, daunting to put it mildly. I love Bonnie Oscarson, but when she used “no blessing” in her talk in General Women’s Meeting back in March, I wanted to reach through the TV and shake not her hand but her whole body. Have they ever stopped to think about the real-life implications of what they’re saying? I have my doubts, and to that end, I guess I am here to try and provide a wake-up call and some firsthand advice to Church leaders regarding how to approach and treat the single members in their wards, stakes, and the Church generally, whichever level of stewardship applies.

It does not matter whether the “no blessing will be denied” statement, or any other like it, is doctrinally accurate or not. What matters is the tone-deafness it shows to those to whom it is directed. Though this knowledge may cause to blanch the leaders using this promise so freely, it needs to be stated that when they say it, the adversary greatly enjoys whispering in singles’ ears that they should just quit the Church because the people in charge have no understanding of their situation. This phrase does far more harm than good, and for that reason should be banished from the Mormon talk-writing manual (Ha! What if such a thing existed!). What should replace it, though, if the speaker really wants to address the plight of LDS singles?

Again I return to the human need for validation and fulfillment now and not in the next life. There is nothing wrong, in my mind, with admitting that what is happening is unfair by earthly standards. I would welcome someone in authority speaking in a non-patronizing way about their admiration for those who keep at it in spite of the loneliness and despair that dogs them so much of the time. Tell the singles that they are not fools for not giving up, because that would be a direct refutation of one of the most powerful thoughts that’s been used, at least against me, in this aspect of existence. Flying solo in a Church so oriented toward marriage and family is not for the faint of heart or testimony. Focus on this – on support through the trial here and now, not trying to focus the person/people on an unknown eternity. Though thinking of eternity is effective and appropriate in many situations, this is not one of them. Level with us, please. The widespread nature of this circumstance in this day and age deserves candor and validation of reality, not far-off, easy-for-you-to-say talk of the next life. If it seems like a long time to wait for something to you, I can promise you it’s much more so to we who live it 24/7.

Mormons come up pathetically short a lot of the time where our treatment of other Church members is concerned. We would much rather our starting point be to enumerate flaws and shortcomings than show compassion for that person’s struggles. It seems that we fear that if we validate the other person, that’s going to lull them into carnal security and they won’t be interested in doing anything to fix or help their situation. FALSE. How quite a few leaders deal with single members is a case study in this attitude. Largely due to the fact that the ones leading the pack are the ones for whom the ‘formula’ has worked, leaders blame singles for being either lazy, careless types who are too comfortable with their present circumstances to seek to change them (usually toward the men), or so picky about the type of mate they want that they exclude just about any eligible candidate (usually toward the women, though often toward the men as well). I question whether they really do their homework to understand demographic challenges for women or the daunting life that typically follows LDS marriage for men. For proof of the popularity of these ideas, witness the tongue-lashings the single men of the Church have received in General Conference talks—particularly in Priesthood Session–over the past several years.

I am not denying it is the man’s responsibility to actively seek out their future spouse. That is a definite truth, but at the same time, I will also tell you that just about all the single sisters I know smile and roll their eyes a bit at these talks, knowing that they might work for a little while after Conference is over…that maybe they might get a look or two from a guy that they otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed…but in the long run, things are not going to change. The men, I venture to say, will not start really listening to or acting on these talks unless and until those giving them show a true understanding of the situation from the single male LDS perspective and not falling back on the presumptions made through the lens of decades of marriage and successfully following the culturally-prescribed path for men in the Church. Yes, you and so many single women in the Church would love for the guys to step up and get married, but saying so in blunt terms risks further alienation of these brethren. Please consider what is being taken on when an LDS man marries, and approach it from that perspective – validating the concerns but not surrendering to them – when writing for or speaking to this audience.

It is time to scrap the old ideal and the judgment that comes upon those who do not fit its expectations, whether by choice or not. In its place needs to be an understanding and an acceptance of the fact that demographics and societal norms are moving toward later-in-age marriage — if marriage comes at all — and that blaming and chastising those on the front lines of this shift happens at peril of losing those on the receiving end of that blame or chastisement. Until the day comes when it is common that those in charge have personal experience with remaining single into their 30s or beyond, those currently in charge who have no experience with such a reality need to either bite their tongues and say nothing or, if they do broach the subject, let compassion lead the way. Well-intended words can have dangerously deleterious effects. Please seek understanding of single members – speak with them personally first and try to understand as best you can where they are coming from. That saying about honey drawing more flies (souls?) than vinegar has a special kind of truth in this vein, so above all, proceed with charity. “No blessing” is no blessing, but there are plenty of ways in which you can be if you go about this the right way.

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