A good friend of mine was tasked with teaching the teenage girls at church a lesson on the importance of marriage. Like me, she is in her mid 30's and never been married. She called and asked me to share my thoughts with her. It made me pause to consider what I might say if given a similar responsibility.
In the course of our conversation, she told me a teenage girl said to a friend of hers recently, "Just shoot me if I'm not married by the time I'm 30." It was startling to hear it said so starkly, but not all that surprising. Though I probably never voiced it in quite that way, the teenage Katie thought life couldn't possibly hold any meaning post 30 without a husband and children. I wouldn't even allow myself to consider the possibility of being alone.
When I was in my early twenties, I wasn't too concerned about being unmarried. I was a huge romantic. I constantly dreamed of the day I would fall in love; however, I knew many people in my faith married young, and I thought it wouldn't be too long before I joined the ranks when the right person came along. But as time passed and I entered my thirties, I noticed more and more of my non-LDS high school friends getting married and having children. The rest of the world caught up and I didn't. Some of my friends even finished having all their children. Their oldest kids started middle school.
Panic made it's way in to my every day life. I realized I would never be a young mom. If I ever got to have kids, I'd be an old mom. And I couldn't change that- it was too late. I started noticing that my body isn't what it used to be- sitting on the floor for long periods of time is a little harder. My back and neck need constant attention. I started to wonder if I could I physically handle the demands of motherhood if the opportunity ever presented itself. My niece and nephews started growing up and I realized I could never provide them cousins their age. Each of these realizations chipped away at the dreams I had for my future. I had no choice but to create a new reality. And I realized I didn't want to live a life tainted by anxiety for my future.
So what would I say to a group of teenage girls about how to prepare for marriage?
1) Give it over to God
I had to lay all the fear, anxiety, pride,
anger, sadness, and hopelessness surrounding my future at the
feet of the Savior. I decided to trust that if I lived a good life, He would not allow me to miss an opportunity. That didn't mean that I would magically get exactly what I wanted. But I gave myself permission to stop worrying about it, because I knew He would take care of me in the long run. It took me a very, very long time to be ready to do this, and it was a conscious choice to which I committed. Now, any time a worry about dating or marriage enters my mind, I say back to it, "Sorry, but I gave that over to God. I can't worry about that anymore." This doesn't mean I've given up hope; rather, I've given up fear. I am attempting to accept the timing of the Lord and submit my will to Him. I wish I did this when I was a young woman instead of 20 years later.
2) Attend the temple regularly
When talking with my friend, I realized how important the temple is to me as a single woman. When I go to the temple, I help bring families together forever. Even though I don't yet have a family of my own, I participate in work that allows husbands and wives and their children to have what I hope for someday. That is so valuable to me. I don't have to sit on the sidelines and watch. I get to be part of it. In the temple, I can more clearly see my life from an eternal perspective. I know that this life isn't the beginning and end of my opportunities. I feel God's love for me and know He is aware of me. He knows so much more than I do- that comforts me greatly- and he's promised me blessings beyond comprehension. If I learn to truly trust Him wholeheartedly, peace will permanently replace worry. My trust in Him increases as I attend the temple.
3) Remember who you are
I fell into the trap many times of thinking those who married were more worthy of it than I was, more mature, better prepared, etc. This caused me a lot of anguish. I realized over time that this was a gross misconception on my part. As a single woman, I am blessed with countless opportunities that many people will never have. Does that make me more worthy of those blessings? Absolutely not. We are all children of God navigating awkwardly through earth life, trying to make it back to Him. We will all face challenges and be pushed to our limits. Marriage isn't a final destination for people who have it all figured out. None of us have it figured out. When I remember that I am a beloved daughter of God with divine potential, comparisons are completely irrelevant.
I write this as though I have been implementing these things for years. In all honesty, I came to the majority of these realizations in the past couple weeks. But I feel relief from many burdens I've been carrying around. And that makes me hope that maybe, at almost 34, I'm starting to get the right idea.