Sunday, September 25, 2011

Support System

Life is tough, whichever hill you're over or merely approaching the summit of. It is tough regardless of your state or non-state of marital bliss. Is it sometimes tough to be a single in a church that stresses family? You bet. According to my married friends, it's sometimes tough to be married in a church that stresses family. I think the only real reason the inactivity rate of singles in the church is so much higher than the inactivity rate of the married people is the lack of a support system. That, to me is the sad thing about that inactivity rate. Singles feel the isolation more acutely but the stresses are there for everyone, because Satan doesn't want any of us to succeed.

I have a number of friends who believe that the singles "wouldn't leave the church in droves" if only the church would "fix the program". After much debate, we have had to agree to disagree. Me, I don't think the program is broken. That's not to say things couldn't be improved. There's always room for improvement. But as far as the singles receiving extra-special attention? I don't think so. When I first joined the church, the two singles groups were referred to as "Special Interest" and "Young Special Interest". One of those improvements the Church made was renaming the groups to "Single Adults" and "Young Single Adults". I found the new terms more accurate in their mere simplicity: I am single, and I am an adult. Ta da! I do indeed think I'm special. We all are. Being labelled as such didn't make me feel happier, more welcome, or even more special. But I didn't take umbrage at the old moniker, either.

It has been suggested the Church should help singles find suitable mates. I daresay they could do a better job of it than I. But frankly, it's not their job. It's mine. As much as I obviously stink at it, I want the right to make my own decisions -- riddled with mistakes -- regarding my Eternal Companion. I don't want the Cosmic Hotdog Vendor pointing her out to me (if you understand this reference, you watch too many TV commercials.)

Actually, the Church does help singles find suitable mates. It's one of the best kept secrets in the Church. There's no dedicated "Courtship 101" Sunday School class for it. You won't find a manual in the meetinghouse library, on the same shelf with "Primary 1 (Sunbeam Class)", "Gospel Essentials", and "New Testament Teacher's Manual". But there is "how to" instruction available. When you ask people what qualities they are looking for in a spouse, the majority of those answers are going to be character traits which are taught in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And we're unlikely to recognize those traits in another if we're not actively developing those traits within ourselves.

It is at this point I am usually interrupted with questions such as, "So! What you are telling me is I can't find my eternal companion and all those other singles can't find theirs because we're somehow unworthy?" I've never fully understood the leap between the statement and the conclusion. And since I have been single longer than most those who think I think that, I'd obviously be including myself in that category.

But it does beg the question, "Why do people go inactive?" Whether we're asking about the singles inactivity rate or the inactivity rate in general, I think the answer is the same: People lose sight of who they are. They either begin to think too much of themselves or they start thinking too little of themselves. Satan doesn't particularly care how he drags us down, but knowing our weaknesses, he'll exploit them. For some that will be through feelings of superiority through intellectualism, materialism, smokin' good looks. For others it will be just the opposite; he will cause them to focus on where they fall short, on where and how they don't measure up: they aren't smart enough, aren't beautiful enough, aren't spiritual enough. On the one hand, too much, on the other, not enough. And sometimes Satan will throw in addictions, both physical and behavioral, to exaggerate those false self perceptions. And so.... people leave. In droves.

Whether we think too much or too little of ourselves, the crux of the matter is this: we have placed ourselves at the center. Our focus has shifted from the Savior and others to ourselves. I didn't get what I needed. The bishop wasn't there for me. My home teacher wasn't there for me. My girlfriend wasn't there for me. My mother/father/sister/brother wasn't there for me. I didn't get what I needed. I am at the center. I am broken, and they broke me, and they need to fix it.

Now, it is true we have to take care of ourselves in order to effectively serve others. We cannot charge another's batteries if our own have been entirely depleted. I'm familiar with this: I believe I "have to" drop everything and go help someone in need. Sometimes that's true; sometimes the situation truly is that urgent. Most of the time, it really can wait until I complete whatever I'm in the middle of. But if I lose that balance I might become resentful, because I have no time to myself, and it's all their fault... and I'm at the center again.

People leave the Church because their needs aren't met, and they come to feel isolated and unworthy and distrustful of their selves as well as of others. Not because the program wasn't there, or because another person who should've been more cognizant of their needs wasn't. Those are convenient scapegoats. But regardless of who or what fell short, the most often overlooked factor is this: We are in control of our own lives.

Sounds simple doesn't it? And if you've ever been at the end of your rope (and if you're old than say, eight, you have been!) you understand that truth on an intellectual level but emotionally you're hurting so much that you just feel stuck and feel like you cannot handle it alone.

Then stop trying to! Really. Whether you're trying to pull your own ox or someone else's ox out of the mire, admit that the ox is there and it's too heavy and too stuck for you to handle alone, swallow your dadgum  pride and ask for help! I wonder if people think that since on Judgement Day we have to stand alone in front of out Savior to account for our lives, that we might as well start practicing now and do every single thing alone every single day until then? We are not supposed to go it alone, but we are continually astonished at how hard it is when we try to.

In the Church there has been a great focus of late on the topic of "Rescue". How do we go about fixing what's broken in the Singles program? We rescue them. One at a time, the same way they were lost. By helping them to remember for themselves who they are and why they matter: They are Children of God. We bring them back by being their friends, by serving them, by teaching them, by loving them individually. And if we find ourselves among the lost, we accept the offered help with gratitude and (warning: scary word approaching!) trust.

We become actively engaged in our own lives and in the lives of others. We build a support system.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

M.O.T.H.S.

M.O.T.H.S. began as a tongue-in-cheek joke with a couple of my friends, my response to a frustration over a (very) few individuals' over-zealousness over the age limitations for the "Middle Singles" group. Officially, the Church has two singles groups: "Young Single Adults", ages 18-30, and "Single Adults", ages 31 and up (or as I joked before I turned 31, "31 to dead". Unofficially, there are groups for ages 31-45, dubbed "Middle Singles", with the idea of there being a place for easy transition between the two groups and to have "more energetic" activities. One of the ideas behind this "middle" group was to ensure that people would not feel too out of place graduating from a youngster to a full-fledged adult, or feel uncomfortable going to a dance at 31 and having to deal with the unwanted attentions of someone 20, 30, 40 years older. The thinking was no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or excluded. Unfortunately, that very thing happened, just on the other end of the spectrum. Although it didn't happen to me, I do know others who were excluded by having their age questioned at the door (as if yesterday you were young enough to hang with the crowd, but today you're just an old fart.) And then I heard of a couple of situations where friends were excluded for reasons that had more to do with popularity than age.

Now people are people and are going to do silly, thoughtless, and mean things to one another. But I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, so I didn't participate in any "middle" activity, and found myself being almost as stubbornly opposed to the idea as those who irked me in the first place. Okay, scratch the "almost". I was downright disdainful of it for awhile. I didn't like that about myself, but before I corrected my attitude, the rigidity began to relax on its own. And then... I "aged out" and it became a moot point. Once again I could joke about the age factor: at 46, I was officially "old".

I contemplated starting my own group for the older generation. Decided I didn't want to be in charge, It took a year to come up with the "MOTHS" acronym, and another year before I decided to create a Facebook page dedicated to Mormon, Over-the-Hill Singles.

But then I started thinking. Thinking can be a dangerous thing. But occasionally I delight in living dangerously. I know single people in the Church get discouraged. An unfortunate many leave the Church behind, although I think it is seldom solely over the challenges of being single in a church that stresses marriage and family. There are as many sets of circumstances as there are single members. The commonalities they share with one another are the same ones they share with the married members: They are beloved children of their Heavenly Father. They have needs, fears, frustrations, and ofttimes overwhelming challenges. And they have hopes, dreams, triumphs, and incredible talents and abilities and opportunities to serve and love. When people learn to think outside the box, they see that the only exclusions or things that separate us are the ones we create for ourselves or for others.

So, if we're all pretty much the same, can we learn to see those things we have in common and use them to encourage, uplift and strengthen one another? Can we learn to use our differences to gain perspective and insight -- and use those things to encourage, uplift and strengthen one another? Can we build one another up rather than shunning and shaming people into deeper isolation and inactivity?

What I would like to do with this blog -- with the help of others I'll ask to assist me in this project -- is to write about being single in a family-oriented church and about keeping faith strong and active. I want to focus on the positive aspects and the triumphs. Not the failures. We beat ourselves up enough over those.I don't have any experience being divorced or being a single parent, so those are the sorts of things I'll ask my friends to write about.  My hope is that this blog will give positive voices to the writers and hope and support for the reader. Please contact me with your ideas.