This post is directed mostly at those in my age group who are trying to make life decisions such as whom to marry or what career to pursue, but it can also apply to those older and younger.
This rest of this post comes from a devotional speech entitled “On Becoming Adults in God’s Kingdom,” given at Brigham Young University-Idaho by Alan L. Wilkins. (You can read the whole address here if you wish) He says:
“Many of those with whom I have counseled feel “stuck” in a way similar to those in a video clip some of you may have seen.
Why don’t they start walking? Why don’t they see that this is an escalator not an elevator and that they have the power to do something to help themselves? As silly as this seems, I think many emerging adults have similar feelings. For example, young people in the Church get on an escalator of sorts when they enter Primary and Young Men/Young Women. Each year they move to the next class and work together with the help of teachers, advisers, and parents to earn progress awards. However, when they get to college the world opens up and the “escalator” stops moving them along in life. Now they have to make their own decisions and progress. What will I be when I grow up? Whom should I marry? How will I know if I’m making progress in life and in the gospel? These are questions that require individuals to develop their own identity and relationships and there isn’t a succession of graduated classes and progress awards to help you decide how you are doing. So many get “stuck” and feel helpless in ways similar to those on the escalator.
If you are an emerging adult in similar situations, you may not feel it is particularly helpful to have those of us who have selected a career and found a marriage partner to tell you to hurry up! Our well-intentioned advice could merely add to your stress and your anxiety.
Advice from a prophet-grandfather: Do your best today
Let me share with you the counsel I received when I was your age that was most helpful to me and what I tried to do with it. Because of who gave me the counsel and its foundation in sound doctrine, I believe it applies to you in your current situation. It came from my grandfather, Harold B. Lee, who was at the time serving as a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.
I was in my third year at BYU and was struggling with the decision about what to be when I grew up. I was also looking for an eternal companion.
Grandfather said, “I’m impressed that you worry too much about the future.” My heart sank. I was indeed worried about the future and the way we were starting out didn’t give me much hope for getting straight answers to my questions.
“Alan,” he asked me, “do you think I could have planned my career?” He said that if had known what he was headed for he might have been like Jonah and run from these assignments. He went on: “The only counsel that makes sense for me to give is this: Don’t live your life worrying about the future. You only have today. You can’t do anything about yesterday either except repent or feel good. So here is my counsel about finding a career: Get up each day and recapture your testimony. That is, do the things that bring the spirit into your life: repent, study the scriptures, and pray for guidance. As you feel the enlightenment of the Spirit, consider what you can do that day to follow the impressions you get. Have faith; the Lord will guide you step by step, ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little.’”3
Application to finding a career
As I pondered his counsel and tried to apply it, I began to realize he was telling me I shouldn’t just ask in prayer about an ultimate career and expect a final answer but that I should take action each day to explore and observe and try different options so that I had better information about what could make sense for me and so that I learned to be ready for new opportunities as they arose. Essentially I needed to actively study it out in my mind before asking the Lord.
I was also helped around this same period of time by the counsel of one of the Brethren in General Conference. I was seeking answers as I have said by praying for the right career to pursue and I decided to go to conference fasting and praying, hoping that I would learn something and feel something about that decision. Elder Hartman Rector of the Seventy spoke saying he had the impression that some in the audience were wondering about what career to pursue. Wow, thought I, the Lord answers prayers! But then he said: “I’m not sure that the Lord really cares what we choose as a vocation, whether we are a plumber or a librarian––so long as we keep the commandments of God.”5 The implication of his message for me was: Any worthy profession that you can do well enough to be able to support a family and have time to serve in the Church would be fine. Don’t waste your time trying to find the perfect profession. Find a good profession and do the best you can, keeping in perspective what is really important in life.
I can just hear my grandfather adding that if the Lord needs you to do something else as you are going after a career that fits these parameters, He can nudge you in a different direction, especially if you are getting up and recapturing your testimony every day.
Application to finding your eternal companion
I realized as I thought about grandfather’s counsel that I was too inclined in searching for a companion to ask for revelation about whether I should marry someone even before I knew her very well. My prayers in both finding a career and a spouse were too theoretical and too focused on finding my true calling in life or my perfect companion. I was hoping to have the lights on my future life’s path turned on way down the road to remove all uncertainty rather than doing what Nephi did as he returned for the third time to get the plates of brass from Laban and was “led by the spirit not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”6 Nephi was guided along the way while he was in motion and as he opened his heart and mind to the Lord to help him take the next steps. No wonder one of my grandfather’s favorite hymns was “Lead, Kindly Light:” “one step enough for me.”
How can I tell that I am making progress along the way?
So how can emerging adults have a sense of meaning and progress as they move through this life stage if you haven’t yet found a career or a spouse? Observers of emerging adults suggest that the predominant characteristics of this stage are feelings of uncertainty, tinkering with options, and hesitancy to make long-term commitments. One way my grandfather seemed to address the uncertainty he faced as he moved from one job or career to another was to do his best with each assignment. He wasn’t just tinkering but sought to learn all he could and work very hard. It was often his performance in one setting that led others to invite him into another career setting. Living fully in each day, then, was his best preparation for the future.
President Packer taught a similar lesson as he experienced his own uncertainties as a young pilot in the Air Force who was assigned for only brief periods to a variety of locations. He realized that he began to assume that he wouldn’t be in an assignment for very long so he didn’t fully unpack or settle in, didn’t try to make friends, and generally felt quite lonely and miserable. He decided that wherever he went he would settle down as if “for the duration.” He would make his quarters “homey” by unpacking and organizing his belongings, hanging pictures and decorating somehow. He would get to know others and make friends. It was the difference between misery and happiness for him.7
Neither President Lee nor President Packer saw themselves as just “passing through.” They invested their attention and best efforts in what they were doing at that time in their lives. We can apply these principles to our membership in the wards and stakes of the Church. Some emerging adults in the Church feel that they need to have a significant Church calling to feel they are needed and useful. I have heard some of them in young single adult wards complain there just aren’t enough callings to go around. Others become fairly cynical and give up on young single adult wards as places to serve and progress in the gospel. They dismiss the importance of this opportunity and say the young single adult ward is just “play church” much like “playing school” or “playing hospital” where children pretend to do grown-up things. Everyone is young and seems to be active, they say, and others don’t seem to have big problems so why worry and take it too seriously?
Yet others substitute having fun for making progress spiritually. They see the young single adult ward as a social scene “meet market” (m-e-e-t or m-e-a-t) where they can look for cute guys or girls and hang out together. They tended to ward-hop and try to avoid significant callings so that they can “shop around.”
None of these perspectives is particularly helpful or appropriate it seems to me. Let me share with you briefly what one of our dear friends taught Margaret and me about a better way to see our opportunities to settle down as if “for the duration” even if we won’t be in a particular ward for long and even without a formal calling.
In one ward we attended, we observed a couple, Sandy and Nancy, who seemed to know everyone in the ward and were involved in helping them though neither was involved in a calling in which they would be expect them to do so. When we asked Sandy about this he told us an interesting story. At the end of a year when he served as elders quorum president in a BYU ward, his bishop thanked him for his service and told him that he wanted to give others the opportunity to serve so he was recommending that the stake president release Sandy.
Furthermore, he explained, “I’m not going to give you a formal calling, Sandy. But I call you to be a Christian. I call you to notice those who sit alone in church and sit with and get to know them. I call you to walk with those who walk alone and find those who need help and pray for inspiration to see how you or others can help them.”
Sandy explained how awkward it felt initially to put himself forward in those ways. However, he related that this was the most meaningful year of Church service he had ever had. He met people he would never have known and found the Lord inspiring him to see needs he had been unaware of as an elders quorum president. He was involved in reactivating several people, doing missionary work as he helped others to change a flat tire, and giving blessings to others in the hospital. His life was full and more meaningful than ever. When they married, he and Nancy had committed they would continue to be Christians thereafter.
Brothers and sisters, we have all covenanted to be Christians. As President Eyring reminded us in the recent General Conference, Alma taught his people that baptism is a covenant to 1) be charitable (for example, “to bear one another’s burdens”); 2) “stand as witnesses of God at all times, in all things, and in all places that ye may be in…”; and 3) to endure to the end in doing these things.8
We don’t have to have a “significant” or even a formal calling in the Church to be of service and to live the gospel. Life is so much richer when we learn the great Christian paradox: only those who are willing to lose their lives in the service of the Savior will find themselves.9And paradoxically, those who forget themselves in these ways feel more fulfilled as emerging adults.
What I notice about these young adults is that as their eye becomes single to the glory of God through this service, they are filled with light.10 They become almost irresistible as future marriage partners and they grow in their experience and in their ability to receive God’s guidance in ways that make them much more employable as well.
My dear young friends, may God bless you as you find your paths to adulthood in God’s kingdom by putting away your fears for the future and living fully today! May you recapture your testimony each day so that the Lord can guide your steps and help you get “unstuck” on the escalators of your life. May you see what you can do today to find how you can contribute to the work of the world. May you develop wholesome friendships so the Lord can guide you in finding an eternal companion and in your work as fathers and mothers. And may you forget yourself in serving God and His children and thus find and become your best self is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”