Editor's note: A version of the following article was first published on the author's blog, lizstitt.blogspot.com.
Whether or not one leaves with a ring on the finger, a Mormon young single adult ward is definitely not eternal — thankfully. Even if someone stays in the same place and never moves, come 31 years of age, he or she is outta there. Although it's a temporary period, it can be, and should be, a time for growth.
When I moved into my current YSA ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several years ago, the bishop said to jump in with both feet, hit the ground running and be involved in the ward. As I have followed that counsel, the following five things are what I have learned that have made my YSA ward experience more fun, bearable and meaningful.
1. Know why God wants you where he wants you
In the "Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third," Joseph Smith taught that one of the things necessary for rational and intelligent beings to exercise faith in God is to have an "actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will."
Let me tell you, I understand the struggle between knowing God's will and pursuing God's will. Sometimes I think, "Wait a second. So you want me to be here hanging out with a bunch of 20-somethings playing goofball instead of raising children? Really? How can that even be true?"
So as I studied this concept several years ago, I decided that I needed to know for sure that what I was doing and where I was going and how I was living my life were actually in accordance with God's will.
I started to pray regularly, seeking confirmation. This doesn't mean that there is only one exact and unchangeable "right" path in life. Many times, I have come to a crossroads in decision-making and felt that either way would lead me down a good path. So then I pray for inspiration to help me move forward in faith.
As I am on that path, if I feel lost or unsure whether I'm still really doing something good with my life, I seek that confirmation again. And then I work to recognize the answer. I have not received the answer when I've been on my knees, but when I have been engaged in his work.
The Lord's plan for me has been manifest in so many ways. I have found opportunities to share the gospel that were available to me because I was single and in a similar situation to those I've talked to.
2. Seek out people to serve
Sometimes it is difficult to want to go to ward activities. There are way more activities going on than there is even time to go to them. YSA wards have an average of eleventy-hundred activities per week (rough calculation) and that's not even counting the different activities and parties people post on the ward and stake Facebook pages.
As an aging YSA, sometimes I have gone to family home evening and thought, "Oh nice, here I am, 28 years old, playing charades in the church gym when my married friends are at home doing FHE with their kids actually helping 'bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man'."
But I finally stopped thinking of activities and FHE and anything, really, as being about me. I don't go to FHE just because I enjoy water kickball. Yes, I do enjoy having fun and being with others, but as a YSA, I feel like I'm in a unique position to reach out to others.
So reach out. For every activity you go to, invite someone else to come along.
3. Be anxiously engaged and use this time to prepare
Don't be so anxious to get engaged that you forget to be anxiously engaged. Marriage is definitely something for which we should seek. It is part of God's plan. It is what we want (or should want), but we should be anxiously engaged in all aspects of the gospel as we prepare for that blessed arrangement.
As a young woman, I really wanted to serve a mission. As the time drew closer, I was anxious to know if that was what I should do and how I would know it. I was given the counsel to prepare as if I were going to serve a mission. If I did, I would enter much better prepared. If I did not, it would undoubtedly be a blessing to me anyway. So I volunteered several hours a week at the Missionary Training Center and even served a six-month LDS Church service mission there. I studied "Preach My Gospel." I took a missionary preparation class. I shared the gospel with friends. When the time came, and I knew it was right, I did, indeed, serve a mission. And how grateful I was for that preparation.
I feel the same way about spiritual preparation for any event in life. Whether preparing for a mission, preparing to enter the temple, preparing for marriage or preparing for any life-changing decision, now is the time to prepare.
The YSA ward is such a unique place to prepare because its members have so many others who are making or have recently made those same decisions. Take advantage of the experiences of others of the same age.
A quick note about being anxiously engaged in marriage preparation (even if you don't want to hear it): Be patient in your pursuit, but for heaven's sakes, don't ever give up. Say yes to dates, say yes to set-ups, be open to new ideas (online dating, perhaps?), and don't get discouraged if you're not going on dates. Let your YSA ward be a place for you to make connections and meet people. And keep preparing.
4. Magnify, magnify, magnify
My first calling in my current ward was service co-chairwoman. It is still my calling three-and-a-half years later. In that time, I have had other callings on top of that, always working in non-traditional callings.
You probably didn't know the service committee co-chair calling existed before coming to a YSA ward, nor did you know of the committees for Break the Fast, Mix and Mingle, new members, friendshipping or birthdays. The fact is, there are so many people and so few organizations in a singles ward that we have to work with what we've got.
It would be very easy to only do what I'm assigned. But in a previous calling I had, I was exhorted very strongly to focus on service among the YSAs because that would bring them closer to Jesus Christ and closer to each other. And I firmly believe that.
Choose to magnify your calling. YSAs are in the perfect situation to meet the needs of so many people in so many different ways. As our YSA ward has served alongside the family stake in our area, it has also helped remind me that this isn't an "us" (as singles) and "them" (as families) church. We are all members of the same church, working together to bless others' lives.
5. Rejoice in the success of others
The Apostle Paul counseled the members of the church to be one. To help one another. To love, and be kindly affectioned. To show mercy and cheerfulness. One of his counsels touches me deeply.
"Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).
I find it easy to weep with those that weep, but sometimes I find it difficult to rejoice with them that rejoice. We all have a twinge of jealousy within us when someone else gets something that we wanted and maybe even feel like we deserved. And it is hard to be the one who is ever faithful, ever true in your YSA ward while others seem to have everything going right in their lives.
comments on this story
Be happy for those who are experiencing success in their lives. Don't be jealous of any success or envious of any accomplishment. Whether friends have advanced in their careers, are getting into a great educational program, or (the hardest one) getting married, rejoice. Show your happiness. Live that happiness.
Happiness comes not only when we are happy with our own lives, but also when we are genuinely happy with others' lives. Because that's when we become one.
Elizabeth Stitt is a Brigham Young University journalism graduate and University of Utah professional MBA graduate. She blogs at lizstitt.blogspot.com