The majority of Mormons (not all, but most) love weddings and babies. It’s not uncommon to hear a Mormon introduce him or herself and the family that they come from like this: “Hi, my name is _________, I’m from [Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Washington] and I’m the third of nine siblings”. In any given apartment around BYU campus, and maybe even some in the freshman dorms, you’ll find a refrigerator door strewn with wedding invitations. Minivans and Mormons tend to go together like bacon and eggs (or bacon and really anything for that matter).
Like I said, not all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are like this, but there is a heavy emphasis on family in our church. Why? Simply put, God is our Heavenly Father, we lived with Him as part of a great spiritual family before this life, and in our quest to learn, develop, and return to Him, families can be our greatest God-given tool. In it a child can learn principles of honesty, integrity, faith, and giving service to their community. Parents can go through the refining fire of child raising, teaching them about Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the purposes of life during this divinely tailored practicum that no seminar or book could ever give. Families are needed, are beautiful and a gift. I hope we always emphasize and protect them, no matter our beliefs or past circumstances.
So for Latter-Day Saints, having a happy family life is the ideal. For some, though, that ideal is seemingly impossible. For those people, this blog post is for you.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, my service as a missionary changed so many things about me, but one of them was my desire for a family. I had just spent the last two years feeling the most fulfillment and meaning I had ever felt in my life, and shortly after coming home God began burrowing deep in my heart a longing to feel that same feeling but in a family setting. I dreamed of a happy home with lots of kids and a Corgi named Butters. There was nothing I wanted more, and my time at BYU was a great place to continue to cultivate that desire. Dating is an integral part of the social culture there, and I did a lot of it. I did it because it was fun, it was a great opportunity to get to know a lot of people, but I mostly did it to find someone that in the future I could see myself starting a family with.
Things never turned out as I hoped they would, though. I met some incredible, incredible young women, some that I would have happily settled down with and married. Each time, though, after an extended time of dating they would abruptly end the relationship, saying they felt like it wasn’t right. The thing that would confuse me the most was that when I was struggling with accepting each failed attempt I had placed my hope in, they on the other hand felt really at peace. When I would tell a friend about these break-ups the person would say something like, “Well, maybe she just wasn’t mature enough” or “Maybe she just acted with poor judgment” or “Maybe she’s not the girl you thought she was”. I would nod in silence, but I knew better. These were some of the most mature, intelligent, spiritually in-tune women I had met. If they felt this way and if things needed to end, then they did, and it was for a reason.
When I graduated from BYU and was accepted to physical therapy school, I was ready to leave Provo. I’d had a lot of heartbreaks so I was excited to start fresh in Vegas. I tried to pursue and start a relationship with a variety of incredible women there as well, but this time I was the one ending things prematurely. As if to help me understand and feel empathy for what the girls I had dated at BYU might have felt, each girl in Vegas was great in so many ways but I just couldn’t continue dating them. Each time it would produce this nauseating anxiety that would steadily grow no matter what I did. Each time I would say to myself, “You’re just scared of being in a relationship right now while in grad school. Don’t let fear dictate your life! Go for it! Push through!” But the more I pushed, the more the anxiety pushed back. An all-encompassing darkness would permeate my life and only get worse to the point where for the sake of my health I had to walk away.
It got so bad that one time after asking out a girl I met at a devotional and feeling that emotional storm let loose within me again, I defeatedly got down on my knees and told Heavenly Father, “I can’t do it anymore. I’d love to date, I’d love to find someone and start a family and raise them unto thee, but I can’t do it now. I can’t date anymore.” Surprisingly after that, I felt immense peace. Weird. Wasn’t I supposed to be dating? OK, if dating isn’t the best thing for me to be doing right now, if I stop will I ever start again? Is this me giving up? These questions ate at me but I knew what I had felt, and every subsequent prayer confirmed it. I felt at peace with the decision to stop dating. I didn’t know why I was experiencing intense anxiety with dating when I had done it so much in the past without difficulty. I didn’t understand why the Lord couldn’t just heal me and give me a way of moving forward. All I knew was not dating felt like the best choice for now.
That didn’t make it any easier. This is by far the most heart-wrenchingly difficult experience I’ve gone through in my life up to this point. I can empathize to a small portion with a new couple who is asked incessantly by friends and family when they’re going to have a child when in reality they’ve been trying and they can’t. The other people have the absolute best intentions in mind with asking the question: they know how much happiness children bring to a couple, and they want it for them! They love the couple and want what is best for them! The couple wants a child as well, with all the life in their souls, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that at this moment in time, it isn’t happening, and to be reminded of that is painful. I continued to dream of an eternal companion and family life, but I just couldn’t go forward with it. Some things take time and patience. I had some health challenges I needed to attend to, all the while trusting that Heavenly Father knew my righteous desires and my abilities were not in sync, and He would set things right in their time.
Through this whole experience I’ve learned most the value of spiritual endurance. This has always been a thought I’ve had: what better way for God to shape and create the leaders of tomorrow than to breathe into them an intense good and righteous desire and then have them wait for it? Think of all the people that the Lord has trained by making them wait. The Israelites knew exactly what the promise land was going to be: a land of milk and honey. What they didn’t know was that they would wander 40 years around a barren desert before they could get there. Lehi and his family traveled in the desert for 8 years, suffering incredible difficulties, before they found their promised land. Joseph Smith was told at length about his role in translating the gold plates, but had to wait years before actually receiving them.
What about us? It’s easy to believe in something at the beginning of a journey, when hopes are high and experience is low, but will you still believe if your extensive efforts haven’t seemingly changed a single thing? Will you believe after being a year, or five, or ten years stuck in a spiritual wilderness? If your heart cries out in your extremities “It is vain to serve God: what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts?” (Malachi 3:14), will you stay with Him?
There was a time in Christ’s ministry when He had a pretty big following. At one point He had a crowd of about 5,000 that came out to hear Him. If you think about it, these people sacrificed to be there: they weren’t working, and not working meant not eating for the day. Yet their sacrifices were met with blessings: they were miraculously fed till full with bread and fish with baskets and baskets to spare.
Then the people came out a second time to be with the Savior, but this time He sensed that their motivations for being there were not the best. “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26). Basically they were there for the temporal blessings they received last time–they wanted another free meal– and not necessarily for Christ. “Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (vrs 34-35). They had come for the blessings, to get something physical, and instead they received an invitation to accept Him and a relationship with Him as the ultimate blessing from which they’d have no desires for anything more. But this isn’t what they wanted. They wanted to be blessed in the ways they had come for, so “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (vrs 66).
Then Jesus turns to his disciples, His closest friends, and asks the ultimate question: “Will ye also go away?” I imagine Peter, tears welling up in his eyes, heart brimming with love and devotion to the Savior, resolutely saying from the depths of his soul: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
In all reality, despite our struggles, where else could we go?
For those who struggle with being single or childless or divorced or with all the unideal situation of life, don’t walk away from your faith. To anyone who may feel they are coming up empty handed despite their consistent acts of devotion I would say: stay with Him. There is truly no better place to be. His love is available at the beginning, middle, and end of any faith journey. Although I struggle to understand my life, I have had undeniable experiences where He has reached out to me in very personal ways to let me know, “I’m here, everything is going to be fine”. A relationship with Christ is worth the effort, it is worth the sometimes heartbreaking struggle to cultivate as we let go of our pre-drawn plans and instead learn to put it all in His hands. I fully believe within Him, like He promises, there is no hunger or thirst. There is a sense of fullness and wholeness that can’t be found anywhere else.
So stay with Him. It’ll be worth it.