Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from A Single Voice: The Unexpected Life is No Less a Life by Kristen M. Oaks, wife of Elder Dallin H. Oaks.
I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the final days before the Savior returns to this earth to rule and reign. There could be no better and more eventful time in which to live. It is a time when all the great and terrible events foretold in the scriptures will come to pass. It is a time of great adventure, a time to be valiant, a time to rejoice, a time to testify, a time to join in the battle for goodness and right.
So much was taking place around me, and yet I was struggling just to get started-I was a single sister in the Lord’s army, and I was still seeking to find my place. On occasion my experience was similar to sitting around waiting to receive my uniform before I could enter the war.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has written of living our lives in these last days. His words rang especially true to me because I often waited in uncertainty about the direction my life would take, not realizing how much control I held over that direction and over my own personal happiness. “We must not be paralyzed just because [the Second Coming] and the events surrounding it are ahead of us somewhere. We cannot stop living life. Indeed, we should live life more fully than we have ever lived it. After all, this is the dispensation of the fulness of times.”1
Although, as Elder Holland suggests, we are living in the “greatest of all dispensations,” as a single woman I remember feeling many times that I was just marking time, waiting for my life to happen. I had to learn to make it happen. In my early twenties my life was not progressing confidently in the direction I had envisioned for myself. In fact, it seemed not to be progressing at all.
I did graduate from college. I did teach school. I did buy a car. But I was waiting for my life to happen. I was afraid to develop myself too much because somehow I mistakenly believed that I might make myself unattractive to a prospective husband. In reality, maintaining the status quo was making me unhappy. President James E. Faust cautioned single members, “Being single does not mean you have to put off being happy.”2
I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be content. I looked to examples in my life, to the scriptures, to literature, and to the words of the living prophets to help me. Looking at sisters around me, those who were happy and fulfilled, I began to notice that their happiness had nothing to do with their marital status. It is so important for singles to integrate themselves in a married community at church and with family to maintain an eternal and balanced perspective.
In her novel The Face of a Stranger, Anne Perry, herself a single, faithful Latter-day Saint woman, writes words that had significance to me. She writes of Hester, who is fast approaching age thirty, and the advice given her: “‘Do I detect a note of self-pity, Hester? . You will have to learn to conquer that.. Too many women waste their lives grieving because they do not have something other people tell them they should want. Nearly all married women will tell you it is a blessed state, and you are to be pitied for not being in it. That is arrant nonsense. Whether you are happy or not depends to some degree upon outward circumstances, but mostly it depends on how you choose to look at things yourself, whether you measure what you have or what you have not.'”
President Harold B. Lee gave similar advice: “Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you but on what happens inside of you; it is measured by the spirit with which you meet the problems of life.”
I realized that I had to go forward with my life. In my late twenties, I began a major identity check. My dreams of having a husband and family were not coming true and looked as if they would never come true. After a crushing breakup with a longtime high school boyfriend, I realized the identity I expected for myself as a stay-at-home mother was not going to be: no children and no one to support me financially, emotionally, or physically. This was an incredibly heart-wrenching time for me. It was heart-wrenching because I had not prepared for it or even anticipated it. This was not the life I had expected, and I had no plan of action to accommodate it.
Many can relate to this who have had their plan for life shattered by a divorce, by a death, by a disappointment, or by a major betrayal. We need a period of time to heal and to regroup. In my case, I was given help in the form of a dear friend, Donna Lee Bowen. She is a tenacious visionary and has great determination to get things done. She was merciless. She told me to get on with my life and make something of it. She saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, and she helped me have the courage to try new things.
The reality hit me that I had no real skills to support myself. My studies in English literature had fed my soul, but now I needed to feed my pocketbook. I attended graduate school to learn a skill so I could support myself, and then I just kept going to school because no one stopped me by marrying me.
More than that, I loved every minute of learning and discovered not only new ideas but also my own capabilities. Where I had felt shy and somewhat incapable, I now felt I could function. The fear that I could not support myself left me, and I became excited and even intoxicated with my occupation. I earned a master’s degree and ultimately a doctorate in education. The great blessings from all this experience were the things I learned that would help me so much as a mother.
I continued to pray and ask for direction from Heavenly Father. Spiritually, I am a late bloomer. Slowly, ever so slowly, spiritual things unfolded in my life and came to serve as the foundation of my life. I came to know revelation is real. At age twenty-six, I went on a mission and learned Japanese. I also learned a new depth of commitment to Heavenly Father. I learned to persist-by going door to door in monsoon weather, by eating chicken skin and seaweed, and by being told by people looking me directly in the face that no one was home.
The truths of the gospel became truer to me as I declared them to others. Truths do distill upon us, a drop at a time. To this day, whenever I walk down a busy street, I look at the people passing by, think how the gospel could bless their lives, and want to tell everyone of its truth. That mission laid the groundwork for my life.
Life was not perfect, but I was going forward. Work became a blessing to me. I moved from the classroom to consulting. Heavenly Father provided so many opportunities for me. The Lord kept directing me to opportunities where I could grow and contribute and find happiness. There were also many hours alone. At times I felt quite content and occupied; at other times I felt actual physical pain. In fact, at times the pain was debilitating. Being alone was not fun for me.
Everyone is different; we all have differing needs and desires. My great love is children. My sisters were generous in allowing me to take care of my nieces and nephews. I felt my time with them was more than just a travel opportunity or time to play. It was the “sacred, noble stewardship” Elder M. Russell Ballard described to teachers and leaders of children because “we are the ones… to encircle today’s children with love and the fire of faith and an understanding of who they are.”5
We prayed together, visited Temple Square, and had walks and talks. I attended their baptisms, Primary programs, and sacrament meeting talks. We also had sleepovers and went to plays, museums, carnivals, car washes, libraries, and bookstores. We cooked and we swam and we played. We did school projects together.
We visited Nauvoo, Illinois; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Park City, Utah. I was available for every school project and activity. Homework became my specialty; I fear I sometimes gave too much help. The Lord blessed me with a wonderful family, and I stayed close to them and had the privilege of nurturing them.
This time with the children in my family brought me great joy and contentment, and it also provided me with experience-experience that would later benefit me as a wife, a mother of six, and a grandmother of twenty-nine.
The more I devoted myself to the gospel, the richer my life became. I believe that is Heavenly Father’s plan. Service and activity in this Church enrich our lives. All those years of cooking for Young Women parties, planning Primary activities, and making Christmas wreaths at Relief Society Enrichment meetings began paying unexpected dividends. I learned domestic skills and, more important, the Lord put me in contact with noble Church members of varying ages.
The Church community provided me with experiences that would bless me for my future family life. It was like practicing in a flight simulator. I learned how to calm screaming babies, to instruct children, to interact with priesthood holders, to support the priesthood, to conduct meetings, to counsel, to cooperate, and to be part of a group-skills that are integral to family life.
Many times living a happy and contented life was a day-to-day challenge. Daily small acts of faith strengthened my relationship with Heavenly Father. I was more valiant some days than others, but I persisted because I so much desired His Spirit to be with me. I prayed and He answered. I read the scriptures and came to understand His doctrine. I attended the temple to serve and to receive revelation. I was protected by these small acts.
Just as Elder L. Tom Perry promised, “The discipline contained in daily obedience and clean living and wholesome lives builds an armor around you of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality.”6
By age fifty-two I lived alone, had my own condominium, had a terrific job working for a prestigious publishing house, and had just purchased a new SUV. My employment as a national and international educational consultant who trained teachers to teach reading was purposeful and rewarding. For me, teaching reading and doing missionary work are on a similar plane because they unlock a beautiful world of possibilities and understanding for those we teach.
This work also provided me with all the perks of travel-from free tickets to Marriott points. I worked hard, and when I played, a world of possibilities opened to me: Boston for a visit with a friend or Disneyworld with my nephews. I loved my Church callings. I was the Gospel Doctrine teacher in a home ward I dearly loved, surrounded by great friends and leaders. My parents were still living, and my sisters were my best friends. Life was good.
As the years went by, I began to believe less and less that I would marry in this life. I never doubted the Lord and my patriarchal blessing that I would have my husband and family but maybe not while I lived on this earth and on my timetable. I remember friends saying,
“If you just give up hope and turn it over to the Lord, it will happen.”
This caused me to wonder if I had given up enough hope. In fact, I trusted the Lord. I had complete faith that He knew who was best for me and that He also knew the time that was best for me. That trust helped me avoid much pain and anguish. Many older singles will identify with me when I say I accepted my situation, and it was fine with me. The Lord had blessed me with a full and happy single life. But I never gave up the desire to marry or the hope that it would happen.
I never had the goal to marry an Apostle. My goal was to draw close to Heavenly Father and make my life as meaningful and happy as I could. Because I value and believe in the plan of salvation, I wanted all the blessings associated with it. That included someday, in this life or the next, finding a companion that I loved and respected, a man I could trust and depend on, who would be loyal to me and active in the Church. I wanted to marry a man who loved the Lord more than he loved me, whose allegiance was to His eternal covenants. It would simply follow that such a man would be true to me and our future family.
I look back on small pivotal choices (though as I experienced them, they did not seem pivotal) that were to have great effect on my future marriage. Every one of these decisions was based on my adherence to gospel principles and my obedience to promptings of the Spirit. Over years of time and with repeated efforts, I learned to listen to the promptings of the still, small voice, and those promptings blessed my life.
A time came in my life at age fifty-two when I had to make a major life decision. As a consultant who traveled constantly, I earned a generous salary. I had many travel perks but few time perks. In fact, I often left late Sunday evening and returned home Friday night. My only social life occurred in this narrow weekend window of time. I spent my spare moments almost exclusively with my family and in church. Each weekend when I returned from assignments, I drove directly from the airport to pick up my nieces and nephews, and they stayed with me. Saturday I prepared my Gospel Doctrine lesson late into the night and taught it the next morning. Then on Sunday evening I would depart again for work.
It was a difficult time in my life because I wore “golden handcuffs.” Whenever I wished to quit my job, it became more lucrative. Most of my life, energy, and time were going to my employment. Concerned and feeling unable to change my life, I asked my bishop for a blessing. He blessed me. What he said was specific to me, and I do not advise you to do what I did unless you are likewise counseled in a blessing. I only advise you to be obedient to the promptings you feel for yourself.
In that blessing my bishop told me, “If you do not quit your job, you will have your blessings in the eternities but not in this life.” When I heard his words, I felt the truth of them. I had to stop traveling and find employment at home. For a single sister, giving up financial security is no easy thing. I had no new job to go to. I had to go on faith to resign from my job.
After this blessing I went home and prayed for guidance and strength. It was a very fearful and uncertain time for me. I believed the bishop’s words, but I had to believe them enough to act on them. “If you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10). If I had not had more than thirty adult years of trying to obey my priesthood leaders, to trust in their advice, and to believe that the counsel they offered was inspired, I would not have had enough personal strength to resign from my job. Anyone who supports herself and has house and car payments can understand. Anyone who has left longtime employment and security to serve the Lord can
Considering resigning from a career into which I had invested nearly twenty years was no small thing for me. I had seldom applied for employment; I had nearly always been approached by others. This time no one was calling with a job offer. I had the prospect of living off my savings while working for minimum wage. Looking back, I realize it was pivotal that I trusted in and acted
on the blessing given me. I decided I had to stop relying on “the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34) and on my own wisdom. I determined to do what the Lord had told me to do in the blessing. In January 2000 I began writing letters of resignation; I had a wastebasket full. I wrote and rewrote the letter to Human Resources multiple times. Finally I wrote a letter clear enough that no one could doubt my intention to resign. I gave notice and planned to leave on July 1, 2000.
It was not until six months later that I learned that my future husband, at the prodding of his eldest daughter, Sharmon, was to commence his search for a wife in that very month.
Friends and family questioned my actions. After I wrote my letter of resignation, I jokingly told friends, “I want to stay home and fold socks and clean the house.” One man at church said to me,
“Oh, Kristen, with all your skills, you want to do more than be a nanny!” He did not share my vision of a future husband and family, but his evaluation of my new job activities would prove partially accurate.
After I gave notice of my resignation, the company increased my workload and responsibilities. I have never traveled farther nor worked longer hours. I felt frail and began to worry about my health. When I returned home, I stayed up and studied into the early morning hours to prepare for my Gospel Doctrine class. Travel and work plus Church responsibilities began to seem almost overwhelming.
My workload became so heavy I questioned if I could do it all. I also knew that teaching the Sunday School class, especially preparing for it, was blessing my life and feeding my spirit. I remember exerting every bit of physical effort I had to keep teaching my class. I needed the Spirit more than I needed sleep. I would not give up my calling.
I persisted. Only later was I to learn why this calling was so pivotal to me, because through it one class member would eternally bless my association with my future husband (see chapter 5).
I felt tested, not only by circumstances but also by Heavenly Father. My demanding workload and dismal dating life were taking a toll, even though I had always had a strong conviction that everything would turn out well in the end. During that time in my life I remember flying in airplanes and weeping from tiredness. I would turn to my scriptures and find solace. It was a time to help me cement my faith. To complicate matters, at the end of June a competing corporation called to offer me my dream job, which would mean living in New York. I began to wonder which path to follow.
An Answered Prayer
I conferred with a close relative and shared my plans to resign my job. My aunties, hearing at a family luncheon that I was about to become unemployed, arranged an appointment in June with a
General Authority who had connections with the publishing business, the field I was just leaving.
This meeting with a General Authority was extremely unusual for me. My exposure to General Authorities had been minimal, and I liked it that way. I had the utmost respect for them. I revered them, but I also understood the line of priesthood jurisdiction and felt confident that my home teachers and my bishop were sufficient to bless my life.
Shortly after my meeting with this General Authority (I do not use his name lest my account brand him as a particularly effective matchmaker), Elder Oaks phoned him and asked if he knew someone he should get to know as part of his search for a wife. I was promptly lined up to meet him. Elder Oaks’s immediate phone call to me created a few daunting circumstances: he wanted to bring his daughter Sharmon to meet me before she left town the next day.
I did not tell him I had just had a permanent and needed to cover my head. We decided on a walk in Liberty Park. When I met my future husband and his daughter, I was wearing Levi’s and a baseball cap (to hide my curls) for our walk. Looking back, I would never have planned to meet an Apostle of the Lord and his daughter dressed so casually. But that baseball cap allowed me to just be myself.
Our initial meeting and the conversation that ensued seemed like that of three longtime friends. Elder Oaks told me that he had often taken walks with his wife, June, who had died two years earlier. I asked him to tell me about her. From the beginning we felt calm and relaxed with each other. Sharmon shared much about their family and her mother. We laughed and talked, and our courtship began.
Because Elder Oaks felt that in our dating we should not attend public events together, we began from that day to visit family members, eat with them, take walks, go on picnics, and have ice cream on backyard patios. These activities provided an in-depth opportunity to really learn about each other. It was very sweet, romantic, and low-key. I suggest that if you desire to really get to know someone, spend a good many dates in the company of that person’s siblings, parents, or children.
What distinguished my courtship with Elder Oaks was the total peace and assurance I felt that all would be well, whether we married or not. We developed a wonderful friendship, and I came to love his family. Now, much to my delight, they are my family as well.
Looking back on my single years, I am so very thankful for the time I had to learn the gospel, to live the gospel, and to make Heavenly Father my best friend. Time is a dear friend also-it mellows us and matures us. My wish for other singles is that they enjoy each and every day of their life.
Now that I am married, I do not feel that I have graduated to a higher plane. I do know that I feel more complete. I know that all we do in life contributes to our future happiness. When I look back on my single life, my only regrets are that I spent too much time worrying about my future and too little time in the kitchen. I would do anything to be able to make better dinner rolls.
Click here to buy a copy of the book A Single Voice: The Unexpected Life is No Less a Life by Kristen M. Oaks.