Whether or not you leave the ward with a ring on the fing, a YSA Ward is definitely (thankfully) not eternal. Even if you stay in the same place and never move, come 31, you're 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 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 are five things 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. And so I started to pray regularly, seeking confirmation of this in my life. 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. I remember a certain calling I received a few years ago specific to helping young single adults around the world. As I worked with the committee, I knew that was why I was living where I was living and why I was still single, even if I didn't necessarily want to be.
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. And even smaller things. A few weeks ago, I went with a sister to the temple for her first time back in 10 years. I felt it then, too. I felt that I needed to be where I was for that moment. As Mordecai proclaimed to Esther that she was brought "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14), seek out confirmation and recognize those times when the Lord is telling you that He has you where you are for a reason.
2. Seek out People to Serve
Sometimes it is difficult to desire going 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 FHE 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 2-4 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, of 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, whether a friend, someone who needs a pick-me-up, or someone who is less-active, inactive, or someone of another faith. By reaching outside, it will be easier to feel the #1 idea (knowing why God wants you where he wants you) more easily and frequently.
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 we should still seek for. 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 doubtless be a blessing to me anyway. So I volunteered several hours a week at the MTC and even served a six-month 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 you have so many others who are making or have recently made those same decisions. Take advantage of the experiences of others your age. Take advantage of their spiritual preparation and their spiritual experiences. Be engaged in the gospel and let that lead in your decisions. Be spiritually prepared. Be emotionally prepared.
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 heavens' sakes, don't ever give up. Say yes to dates, say yes to set-ups, be open to new ideas (ie. online dating, perhaps? #Tinder), 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. When the bishop gives the infamous "y'all should get married" talk, eat up every word he says. Study the doctrine of marriage. Pray for a testimony of marriage. Develop skills that will be helpful in marriage such as conflict resolution, budgeting, home repair, child development, etc. Speak to those whose marriages you admire and seek advice. Seek charity and forgiveness in your life. Strengthen your relationships with others so that you can strengthen yourself. What the Lord has promised, He will provide, even if it's not in our timing.
4. Magnify, Magnify, Magnify
My first calling in my current ward was service co-chair. It is still my calling three and a half years later. In that time, I have had other callings on top of that and currently also serve as communications director for the Utah Area Sports Committee (bet you didn't know that calling existed, right?) Well, you probably didn't know the Service Committee co-chair calling existed before coming to a YSA Ward either. 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. There are no Handbook instructions for me in either of my callings. With service, there is no expectation. I don't have a weekly FHE to plan. I don't have a "Sunday calling". Yes, I am responsible for stake service assignments (temple cleaning, Food Bank, serving at St. Vincent de Paul's, singing outside the conference center in between conference sessions, etc.), but in a family ward, that isn't a separate calling.
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 Christ and closer to each other. And I firmly believe that. Our ward has done incredible service projects. In addition to stake assignments, every Sunday 6-12 of our YSAs show up at a care center and sing hymns to the residents. Then we spend time visiting with them. Every Sunday. In the springtime, we provide cleanup projects. We have done service auctions and tied fleece blankets. We've put together letters for Veterans and missionaries. In the fall, we've raked leaves for people. Every November we put on a dinner and evening of dancing (with a live band!) for the senior singles (ages 70+) from the family stake. We visit homes of people in the stake and carol to them at Christmastime. We provide Christmas for about 10 families a year.
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 them 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. But 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.
Labels: family ward vs. YSA, Mormon YSA, older singles, YSA