Ministering Angels

"They neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those what are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Self-Image and Being Single

By Melinda

A couple of years ago, I took a ride on an emotional roller coaster. The theme park was the Mormon church, and I was given the ticket for free because I was single. The married folk got to work really hard to get a ticket through the tunnel of love and stairway to heaven.

I'd been so good my whole life, and I had never pictured life without marriage. After all, a woman's role as wife and mother is the most Godlike thing she can do in mortality. God wants us all to be more like him. Of course I would get married.

Then I didn't.

God is perfect, and the Church is true, so if I'm single, then it must be my fault. Had I done something wrong? Was I a terrible person who shouldn't inflict herself on a spouse and pass on distorted genes to children? My friend who slept around as a teenager ended up with a temple marriage. Did I have a hidden flaw that made me less worthy of such a blessing than her? Why wouldn't God tell me what my flaw was so I could repent?

Yeah, I got weird. Talking to Mormons didn't really help, because priesthood leaders and everyone else who meant well insisted that God loved me anyway, I hadn't failed at anything, and the Church needed me anyway. Whatever. You can't spend 30 years teaching me one thing, then conveniently change "what women should do with their lives" just to make me feel better. Eventually, I got weird enough about being single that my mom suggested I talk to a therapist. I pointed out that all of my self-image problems were directly related to the disconnect between my religious beliefs and my single status, and the therapist would probably try to cure me by getting me to give up my religion. That flummoxed mom and she didn't suggest therapy anymore.

An anonymous commenter (under Singles Panic Syndrome) mentioned that s/he has several single friends who are in therapy to help them cope with severe doubts about their self-worth, doubts that are connected to being single in a married church. Self-image problems created by being single are related to the idea that obedience brings blessings. Because temple marriage is the greatest blessing in this life or the life to come, it would follow that one must be extremely righteous to merit such a blessing. When it doesn't happen, it's easy to wonder whether you're more wicked than you thought you were, or if you're simply dirt and God doesn't trust you with a spouse and kids.

Being single or married is not related to righteousness. It's more of a social miracle than a religious miracle. I don't understand. If marriage is so important for our spiritual growth, why doesn't God help more? If the family is under attack, why do so many singles who would love to be spouses and parents remain single? That's like going to war and leaving the volunteers at home to do paperwork rather than putting them on the front lines. I don't know the answers.

I'm not weird about being single anymore, but I can't point to the reason I quit thinking that being single was related to my righteousness. That idea just gradually faded out. For better or worse, it took a lot of other ideas with it as I quit trying to "earn" the blessing of temple marriage.

Elder Richard G. Scott spoke in General Conference in April, 2001 about living the Ideal Life. Of course, the Ideal Life involves a spouse and kids, who are all active in the Church. He said that if you can't live the Ideal Life, live as close to it as you can.

I had a list of requirements for the Ideal Life, compiled over a lifetime of listening to talks and observing Mormon culture, that I tried to live as well as I could. The Ideal Mormon Woman, besides having a husband and kids, also does her visiting teaching, never turns down a calling, gets up by 8:00 a.m. even on weekends, listens to all eight hours of General Conference and attends Women's Conference the weekend before, wears nylons to Church, stays through all of sacrament meeting even when the talks are lame, publicly bears her testimony regularly, gives eloquent prayers, goes to enrichment meeting, doesn't have sexual urges while single, reads scriptures daily, has a spiritual experience every time she prays, dresses like a sister missionary, goes to the temple often, never wants to wear a tanktop, doesn't let polygamy bother her, shops at Deseret Book, knows the names of the RS General Presidency, and so on and so forth.

I don't strive to be Ideal anymore. Now when I do those things on the Ideal list, it's because I want to, rather than because I think God is going to eventually capitulate and agree that I am now righteous enough to get married. I was probably more righteous, as the Mormon Church measures righteousness, back before I came to terms with being single. But giving up the idea that I was going to receive all of the priesthood ordinances in mortality took some of my drive to live the Ideal Life with it. I'm relying on the grace of God instead of my own anxious efforts. Oh well. I'll take imperfection over depression any day.



at 6/27/2005 12:19 AM Anonymous Dallas Robbins said...

You seem to have come a long way. It's great that you have "come to terms" with whatever you needed to. I have seen singles with self worth problems, that get married, and continue their self worth problems. The same issue stays around, just different scenery.

I know what it is like to put expectations on yourself. I have learned that this Ideal Life simply doesn't exist in reality. I came to realize it was somewhat based on envy, a sin of distortion, where my perception was chronically skewed by myself. I have slowly overcome my envy, and realized that my mental constructions said more about myself than anything that is real in the world. But we're all here to learn and grow.

Good luck in your journey.

at 6/27/2005 9:14 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Melinda.

For me, it took a lot of soul-searching to acknowledge what it was about being an LDS single that depleted my self-image. It's probably different for each of us, but for me it had to do with the anguish of unanswered prayers, the stigma of being single in a married/family church, the unsatisfied/unsatisfiable sexual appetite, and the culture and doctrine that seemed to favor marrieds--however and for whatever reason they married.

1. The unanswered prayers (and unrealized blessings, including unfulfilled priesthood/patriarchal blessings) was a biggie. There were several times over the span of two decades that I received specific verbal counsel and promises that I would get married within x amount of time. When the requisite period passed, still without a spouse, I was distraught: there must be something I was doing horribly wrong. This led to obsessive praying , fasting, temple attendance, etc. Very unhealthy and completely out of balance.

2. There is considerable stigma in the church towards singles, as little as others may want to admit it. There was a frightening post on FMH a few days ago where a childless wife talked to a never-married sister in her ward and discovered this sister had never been invited to anyone's house for a social event, dinner, etc., and that she was being gossiped about as a "crazy lesbian"--(I know her personally, and she's not gay!). This scene is played over and over again in the Church. Certainly, it's because some people don't know how to treat singles, especially given the families-are-forever and avoid-the-appearance-of-evil culture. As a single person in a family ward, it's hard to talk to a (married) man of any age. Many don't want to ("yikes! is she coming on to me?") and their wives' eyes shoot daggers (even if you are just asking them about the Sunday School lesson. No, honey, we're not trying to steal your husband). It's a lonely road, so of course it's going to impact emotional and mental health.

3. Humans need touch to thrive. There are singles I know who live alone, and, wanting to date other LDS singles, rarely date at all, or have few friends otherwise. They go weeks without affection from anyone but family (and that's if their parents or siblings are nearby)--much less touch of a more intimate kind. This is a significant problem.

4. It seems (and is) so easy for certain people to meet and marry a spouse. I've known couples to become engaged and marry within a few dates. It's certainly less envy than it is incredulity. Some people are happy with very little. Other more complex, usually better educated people seek more, and I don't think that's wrong at all.

One thing that helped me significantly was to take cues from single friends *outside* the Church and to see what they did to fulfill and enrich their lives. I studied Catholic nuns, talked to other people who wilfully had remained single to pursue vocations and avocations that demanded their singleness. I talked to single friends who wanted to marry someday but who had made goals and sacrifices that rendered marriage less attainable.

I'm not sure I have any answers, but such were my strategies.

at 6/27/2005 9:17 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. Forgot to select a screen name and log in. I'll do that next time. I promise.

P.S. I'm the only Anonymous who's posted here so far since this blog's inception, if that helps...

at 6/27/2005 11:33 AM Anonymous Barb said...

Isn't it great what is on the other side of all that "weirdness." I think doing a little "soul searching" is a good thing. Marriage always involves two agencies coming together. Then there are some men that may not know a good woman if a brick fell and hit them on the head. Now, as far as myself, I think men would be very wise to avoid me. There is not enough closet space in any house for all of my baggage. I do have single male friends in the Church and I cherish their friendships although most of them I only know from the internet. I think it is good to have friends of both genders. A couple of my single male friends plan to never marry in this life so that creates a special bond. My friend and I exchanged e-cards for Valentine's Day. He does not actually know my full name or address so that really is the most we can do. We know we are just friends but it is nice to special to someone in that way. I am not overly needy in that regards. Some years, my only valentines card has been from my cat.

at 6/27/2005 12:12 PM Anonymous Tiffany (formerly Anon) said...

I think the point is to live through the single "weirdness"--study it, embrace it, envelop it. Singleness is not an illness or something to be cured, or even rectified. It's a stage of life. Everyone is single; some for a considerable portion of their llives. And everyone is alone sometimes.

Friends outside of the Church report that there is no shame in being single. Singlenss, to them, just means that they haven't searched for or met the individual with whom they'd like to spend the rest of their lives.

It's self-defeating to think there's some kind of checklist and that marriage is a chore yhou're neglecting to do. Any one of us could have married before now. An ad in the paper here, a "yes" to creepy Mr. Propose-on-the-first-date there--even Hitler was married. married is not a prize for the most deserving, nor is it some elusive holy grail.

It's a choice, but one that comes with considerable risks. People who get married early and with little life experience simply are willing to take more risks. Those who wait or never marry might have less opportunity, but they also value different things than the people who marry their first boyfriend at age 18.

Here are some things I did to break myself out of the "sorrowful-self-image-because-I-was-single" mode:

1. I attended other church's services in addition to LDS meetings. I was spiritually uplifted without having to view near-makeout sessions in front of me (back-scratching, earlobe-nibbling, etc.) or hear people gush about how grateful they were to be blessed with a family. It was deeply spiritual and very uplifting.

2. I started dating non-LDS men as well as accepting dates from any LDS men who asked. Dating boosted my social capital, enhanced my personal skills, and you gotta love those endorphins!

3. I befriended single maen and women who were in varying age brackets--yound coeds, older singles who had spent decades without a partner, elderly women who had waited for a Priesthood holder but had never married. Our conversations all provided interesting feedback and I was able to more realistically decide what I wanted out of life. Sometimes in a Church setting people will gush and get emotional over "how grateful" they are to be single and "how wonderful" everyone and everything is. But in the privacy of their own homes, or over a cup of hot chocolate at the local diner, you get to hear of Sister Nevermarried's aching and regrets over not having married or had children. Surprisingly, even a near-angelic temple worker friend in her 70s expressed bitterness to me over her choice not to marry outside of the temple, now knowing that someone could seal her to the guy she could have married after death. That concept was not stressed to her when she was younger and considering marrying a non-member. Church teachings on willful (sp?) part-member marriage were much different than they are today, and my friend was sure that she was headed for a lower kingdom if she dated or married outside of the church. She spent many decades alone and sad, on a teacher's salary, and is now resentful of it.

I decided I wanted to take responsibility for every action I took in my life. I wasn't going to blame the Church, the Lord, etc. for the events of my life, even if it meant that I would live a different life than the one I'd imagined for myself.

Reaching the goal of temple marriage with 3.5 kids and a picket fence is simply not attainable for the bulk of us. Even those who do have a temple marriage sometimes divorce. The percentage of those with the "fairy tale" life some of us crave is surprisingly slim.

at 6/27/2005 1:12 PM Blogger Jason King said...

Melinda, I feel for you. You write very well and you make it easy to see your point of view.

You know, the funny thing about ideals and statistics is that they are not real. Yup, the process used to create the mean is artificial. Ask yourself this, when was the last time that you met a family with 2.3 kids? If that is the average, then you should find many families that has 2.3 kids, right? Such is not the case. The family that has 2.3 kids does not exist. So, what reality is the statistic describing? It is describing a reality that doe s not exist! There are no families with 2.3 kids!!!

My point is this, individuals matter, you matter. There is no 'ideal' person, only individual persons.

Trying to compare your life to an ideal is not a healthy thing to do because you never get past the psuedo-reality created by artificial averages.

I don't mean to sound preachy, but I feel so damn upset at the church sometimes for not embracing the very people who need the church the most; the down-trodden of society, those with no hope, the social outliers. It seems sometimes that unless you are perfect, the church doesn't want you, and this is horribly, horribly backwards.

So, keep up the good fight Melinda! To thine own self be true.

at 6/27/2005 1:32 PM Anonymous Barb said...

I, a social outcast, have been embraced at Church. My Bishop has spent many hours counseling me. My Stake President also had a nice session with me where he showed much concern for my welfare. Now do not get me wrong. I am not as humble as my circumstances would dictate. Yet, I realize my stigma as I cannot function on my own. I have a mental illness, which has been lickened as the leppers of our day. I have always been very welcomed and received much comfort. If you were to witness some of my bizarre behavior, you would think that I would be a person to keep away. She does not fit the mold of what a member should be like. I realize that there is ignorance that keeps some people from being fully made to feel as part of the flock. I like to think that enligtenment is ever increasing.

at 6/27/2005 2:48 PM Blogger Sarita said...

I have been forced to turn to the church for counsel, reassurment and the like that I might have recieved elswhere were I married. I hear ya Melinda. For some reason I have been a mess lately. Fine really, but weeping over nothing. I was at my sister's house on Saturday and she saw that I was upset and despite my assurance that nothing was really wrong, gave me a big sisterly hug. That did it for me. Sometimes that's all you need, but don't know where to find it. Glad to say that I am tear free going on 4 days now.

at 6/27/2005 3:16 PM Blogger Chris said...

I've never been comfortable with the general "obedience brings blessings" concept. Granted, obedience to a specific commandment will usually bring a specific blessing, but I don't think that this applies generally.

I am cool with "obedience brings happiness" on a general level. While life isn't perfect for the obedient, they usually seem to end up pretty happy.

Great blog btw...

at 6/27/2005 6:01 PM Blogger fMhLisa said...

This is the greatest new Blog EVER!

at 6/27/2005 6:43 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Excellent post Melinda, and I think Tiffany is auditioning to be added as a regular poster. Great insights.

at 6/27/2005 8:23 PM Blogger Heather O. said...

There are lots of ideals in the church that never get lived up too, or just never happen. If you think being single is bad (and, well, yeah, being single in this church really sucks), just wait until you get married and can't have kids. That sucks, too. Then what happens if you get divorced? That REALLY sucks, and the outcast factor on that one is huge.

The questions to God about why things are not ideal are difficult to cope with, especially when there are no answers, or at least no answers that don't want to make you hurl on the shoes of whatever Pollyanna told you something stupid. But I know that God does not want His children to be unhappy, and that He knows of our frustrations and longings and silent prayers of desperation. That doesn't change the reality of a certain situation, but it does make it more bearable.

at 6/27/2005 9:28 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Divorced and childless people have at least the memory or pleasure of being chosen and loved, and in the LDS faith have the added blessing of all of their Priesthood ordinances. The absence of these is part of the singles' angst. Most divorced LDS people also have children and extended family to keep them company.

Also harrowing is the possibility of one's dying a virgin just to satisfy a demanding God and Church. Biologically this is unreasonable; the plight of the single Latter-day Saint is only a half-step up from that of the faithful homosexual saint.

So, no, it's not quite like some of the other struggles every other adult endures. But struggle we all must, and our faith should carry us through...

at 6/28/2005 5:47 AM Blogger Machu Picchu said...

Cool new blog. I linked to it on mine.

Having just crossed the magical menace-to-society line, I really appreciate the content and the voices here. I think I need touch, counsel, and a healthy dose of non-LDS socializing just to get by. And even my mostly out-of-school, mostly over 25 NE'ern Singles ward is too 'obedience means you'll get the perfect mate' and 'if you have enough faith'. Obedience is tough, and part of my understanding of the gospel is that we're supposed to obey not expecting anything in return.

Like the prodigal son who would be made as one of his father's servants. Living his whole life and expecting no inheritance. I think the people too readily chalk up their good fortune to their obedience (is a move that I believe is unforgivably self-flattering). And that, on the other hand, leaders perhaps with good intentions or perhaps not, in attempt to keep everyone from sinning or leaving promise emphasize the same blessings-obedience connection. For me, it's not the gospel, and the root of a lot of heartache, on the one hand, and pride, on the other. Not to mention the prejudice it has for the divorced, unwed, childless, etc. After all the contrapositive, No blessings = no obedience, is the immediate and rational conclusion of those who believe obedience = blessings.

Surely blessings come, but perhaps in a more internal or eternal sense than the watered-down blessings (coincidence and good fortune) we hear about in thankimonies.

Point is, cool blog.

at 6/28/2005 11:57 AM Anonymous alamojag said...

I was one of those "late" marriages, and wondered why. Even though I read the counsel that there wasn't a "The One" for everybody, it was hard for me to find "A One." Then we met, married, and began to have a series of miscarriages. Both our patriarchal blessings talk about having children our children grow up around us, but that dream died with her total hysterectomy last year. We skip church on Mother's Day and Father's Day, and most Primary programs. I thought I was doing okay, though until sitting in Sacrament Meeting last Sunday. One of the new deacons looks just like my nephews--he could be one of mine. And my heart just broke, knowing I'd never feel the pride of taking the sacrament the first time from my son the new deacon.

There is some advantage to having and teaching the "ideal," but for some of us who can't have it, that Ideal just mocks us. There is some comfort in the perspective the Gospel gives us about blessings in the life to come, but there are days when it just seems too far away.

at 6/28/2005 2:27 PM Blogger Melinda said...

Good discussion here. Tiffany, I'm glad you finally gave us a name. Your comments are very insightful, and I'm tempted to just copy them entirely and put them up as a guest post.

Barb - I appreciate your honesty. I read some of your comments and it's like a glimpse right into your heart. God bless you in your struggles.

Heather O. and alamojag rightly point out that marriage doesn't mean the Ideal Life is going to happen. The Ideal Life is a whole series of happy accidents - the social miracle of marriage, the biological miracle of fertility. And as other commenters mentioned, no one actually lives the Ideal Life in total. We have so many ways we can reach others and understand their pain and their hope, because none of us are at that imaginary level of "Ideal."

at 7/07/2005 6:47 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mind being single. I mind the stigma that goes along with being single.


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