PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE
Objective: The single woman will realize there are many ways in which she can grow and help others to grow through healthy, loving Christlike relationships with others.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (June 13:34, 35.)
Interaction is essential to our eternal progression. Our Heavenly Father has placed us on earth among our brothers and sisters so that we can experience the growth and joy of giving of ourselves to one another. Through our families, our church organization, our work, and the routine of our daily existence, we meet thousands of people during our lives. We may experience only a brief encounter, or we may establish a commitment and relationship that will last through the eternities. But in each interaction, whether brief or long-lasting, we have the opportunity to influence and be influenced, to move ourselves and our brothers and sisters a step closer to our Father in heaven.
Our kind and wise Heavenly Father gives us families, associates, teachers, neighbors – a whole network of people with whom it is our responsibility to interact in a loving, Christlike way. Through healthy interdependencies, we can grow and develop and thus prepare to return to live with him. Suppose for a moment that by some mysterious means a person were able to live his life in solitude. There are, to be sure, a number of Christlike qualities he could probably develop as an isolated being; he could develop self-mastery, he could spend a great deal of time in prayer and study. But the other half of his spiritual self could wither and die. How could he develop such Christlike qualities as compassion, forgiveness, charity, and tolerance? These characteristics are essential to a state of perfection, and we can test and strengthen them as we interact with others. To become like Christ, we need other people. Our social interaction is a rich, fulfilling, and meaningful test of our service to the Lord.
Who are some of the people with whom Christ interacted, either briefly or over a longer period of time?
(Briefly – people to whom he preached, individuals for whom he performed miracles. A longer time – family, disciples, friends. Though we know of times when he felt the need to be alone, he spent his mission moving among people and helping them to understand his gospel.
Give each sister a piece of paper and a pencil. On each paper there should be three headings: “Interaction,” “Ways in Which I Can Give,”“Ways in Which Others Can Give to Me.”)
In this series of lessons we have been exploring the question of interdependence. We have discussed the importance of loving and serving our Father in heaven and our brothers and sisters, and the importance of accepting the love and help they can offer to us. It would be valuable if today we could look specifically at some of the ways in which each of us interacts in our daily lives. On the paper you have before you, list as many examples as you can of the interactions you my experience during the course of a typical month. (Do not include interactions with your immediate family, since these are too extensive and complex to consider in the short amount of time we have today.) Then in the second column, list ways in which you contribute to this relationship; and in the third column, list the ways in which others give to you in this relationship. Though there may be some relationships in which you feel that you only give or only receive, on close consideration, most relationships turnout to be potentially interdependent ones. One contact each month, for example, would be with the Relief Society visiting teachers. Under “Ways in Which I Can Give,” you might list “Welcoming them sincerely,” “Accepting their concern graciously,” “Communicating my needs honestly.” Under “Ways in Which Others Give to Me” you might list “Bringing a valuable message,” “Communicating cheerfulness,”“Watching over my well-being.” You may have contact with people in your church calling, in your neighborhood, in your employment, in clubs or school classes; you may be meeting clerks, relatives, tradespeople, government personnel. Make your list now. (Allow seven to ten minutes.)
1. Now that you have thought about these interactions, would someone be willing to share one contact with whom you feel you could give more than you do now?
2. Would someone be willing to share one contact with whom you feel that you might improve the way in which you accept what they give you?
Sometimes we fail to realize the power we have for good or for ill over someone else’s life, in even the most minor social contacts. After one sister had considered the various ways in which she interacted with others, she made an interesting discovery. She realized that some of her most frequent social contacts were not face-to-face – they were by telephone. She felt that she was constantly plagued by telephone solicitors asking her to buy anything from magazine subscriptions to home repairs. She considered these calls an invasion of her privacy. She worked at a laboratory and often worked the night shift and slept during the day. When these calls came, she found it difficult to respond in a loving, Christlike way; in fact, she was often angry and abrupt with the salespeople. As she thought about what she gave in these interactions, she realized that she was gaining nothing by being impatient. She realized, too, that she was probably bringing a note of discouragement and unhappiness into the life of each person she treated this way. From that time on, she made it a practice to curb her impulses and reply courteously.
What can you do to ensure that momentary associations are as pleasant as lasting ones?
Perhaps making this list on giving will help us focus on our social relationships. Each time we deal with another human being, whether momentary or lasting, we have an opportunity to show that we are truly the daughters of our Father in heaven. We can give the best we have and be prepared to grow through what we receive in each relationship.
BENEFITS OF HEALTHY RELATIONSIHPS
Sometimes being single makes a woman feel that she should not expect to have rich and rewarding interactions with people. This is unfortunate. A single woman should realize that her spirituality, personality, her sense of humor, her ability to like people would be part of her, married or single. The ability to form meaningful interdependent relationships is not a trait woman suddenly acquires when she marries, loses when she loses her mate, or never has if she does not marry. We are all social beings, and we can have richer lives through association with other people.
What are the benefits of healthy interdependencies between the single woman and others? How does the single woman establish healthy interdependencies?
How does a single woman benefit from healthy interdependencies? How do others benefit from such association with her? What are the results of such relationships?
(The sisters could try to make two lists – one of benefits for the single woman and one of benefits for those with whom she associates. From the single woman’s point of view, the list might include: having someone to count on in time of need, overcoming loneliness, feeling useful to someone. As the sisters try to divide their lists, they may discover that many of the items could easily go on both lists. The benefits are often the same for both parties, with each being equally enriched. They both learn to love more fully. They develop a meaningful friendship. They grow in sensitivity to the needs of others.
There are other mutual benefits that should be mentioned if the discussion does not bring them out. Establishing relationships with a widening circle of people brings a wider variety of enriching experience. This happens in a multitude of ways. To illustrate the possibilities, the sisters could think of some favorite recipes they would not have were it not for an acquaintance they have made. Ask them to think of good books, music, or movies they might never have enjoyed, or vacation spots they might never have visited. Many of life’s choice experiences come either directly or indirectly because of the associations we have with other people. Can you think of any more?)
Other benefits that come from healthy interdependencies are feelings of self-worth. We feel happy with ourselves if we contribute to and receive from a good association with others. Developing good relationships means that we construct our own self-image from information we perceive from a number of sources. if we get positive responses to ourselves from a lot of people, we are likely to have a good opinion of ourselves. If, on the other hand, we interact with few people, one negative response may destroy our self-image and lead us into self-defeating despair. We can scarcely live happily and productively if we lack self-confidence and self-esteem.
A young single woman in the Midwest lived in constant agony over her single state. She had dated a few boys, but none of them was interested enough to call her for a second date. Consequently, she decided that she was undesirable to all men and thus could never be at ease with them. At the same time she looked hopefully at every man as a possible mate and could not establish normal friendly relationships with them. Her self-esteem continued to plunge until she no longer felt comfortable in seeking new friendships with anyone, or even in calling friends she had known for years. She began to spend most of her nonworking hours at home alone in front of a television set. This girl had many fine qualities that would have made her a good companion to any number of people, but she shut herself off (thinking no one could really like her) and lived day after day in bitter loneliness. Good associations with a variety of people could have made her feel valued and worthwhile and increased her chances of finding an eternal companion.
There is still another benefit that results from healthy interdependencies with other people. Such associations make us feel closer to the Lord.
Why is this so? Why do we feel closer to the Lord if we have good associations with his children?
(We should remember that the Lord has said that when we serve his children, we are serving him. (See Mosiah 2:17; 1 John 4:20.) Serving him brings us closer to him. As was mentioned in an earlier lesson, he intended for us to live and grow together.)
We may also want to remember that often the benefits of interdependent relationships come as by-products of those associations. For example, we don’t often gain a feeling of self-worth by deciding one day that we will actively seek such a feeling. Like so many of our blessings, these blessings come as a result of doing right things. We can actively seek to do right things. We can actively take steps to establish healthy interdependencies (and note, we always stress the inter).
Interviews with single women in the Church have revealed that many fo them experience disheartening loneliness. They need love and feel they do not have anyone close to them with whom they can share experiences. One young mother of three, recently divorced, said she would give anything just to find some friends with whom to go hiking or to a movie. She fears people in the Church might feel she is not a worthy companion, or they are so wrapped up in their own concerns that they would resent her intruding into their lives.
How do we acquire healthy relationships?
Sometimes single women hesitate as they think of trying to establish new associations. They look with envy on married women who seem to have all the close associations they need. Although the married woman does have some built-in relationships – husband, children, and in-laws – these relationships with other people are much more numerous. Almost no husband or wife could or should meet all the needs of his or her mate. Think of married women you know. There is scarcely one of them who does not have a multitude of associations or belong to many groups, from the neighborhood to the Sunday School class and Relief Society. Simply because one avenue of interdependent relationships is not currently open, the single woman should not assume that all avenues are closed. The single woman has nearly as many opportunities for association as the married woman. It is up to her to take advantage of them and even to create them. The Lord has given us the key for establishing healthy relationships, but he requires that we use it. That key is love. We must reach out to other people, we must offer them something of ourselves, we must rid our own hearts of apathy or even dislike. Someone has said, “If you want to love someone, do something for him.” That principle really works. For example, a single sister living next door to a young couple had never really made the effort to get acquainted with the young husband and wife, but had simply “allowed their association to be limited to rather awkward ”hellos”when a meeting could not be avoided. This single woman had a lovely garden of chrysanthemums, and when the time came to separate the clumps and replant them, she decided to make the move. She went boldly next door and asked the young wife if she would like some chrysanthemums for her garden. When she overcame her fears of rejection and reached out in genuine friendliness, the ice was broken and the groundwork was laid for a meaningful friendship.
CHANGING OUR HEARTS
Many of us accept the principle of loving one another but find that this principle is very difficult to apply in particular cases. One sister tells this story about a new ward assignment:
I was thrilled when I was asked to teach the eleven-year-olds in Sunday School. I had a reputation for being very good with children and had always enjoyed work in Primary and with the younger Sunday School groups. But my anticipation turned to anger and disappointment after my first Sunday. The cause of my frustration was a blue-eyed live wire named Kevin. Now I had heard about Kevin from various sources, but nothing had prepared me for what I encountered. Believe me, I had no idea that one boy could so effectively ruin the spirit of a class. He demanded everyone’s attention, he was constantly yelling something or jumping out of his chair to run around – usually both at once – and he made it impossible for me to give any part of my carefully prepared lesson. Needless to say, everything about that boy bothered me: his laugh, the sound of his voice, even his clothes. Whenever his name came into my mind, or whenever I saw another little boy who looked anything like him, I felt great resentment for this child who was destroying all my efforts to be a good teacher.
But a couple of things kept haunting me. One was the realization that at one point I was actually considering praying that Kevin’s family would move out of the ward. I knew that was wrong, no matter how desperate I felt. And another was something I had known for a long time – it’s usually the least lovable people who need love the most.
The plain truth was, I did not love Kevin at all. I could see nothing lovable about him. But I began to ask myself, “Suppose I did love Kevin. How would I be acting toward him then? Someone has to love him. What if I were that someone?” I began, as best I could, to play the role of someone who loved Kevin. A loving person, I told myself, would smile when Kevin came into the classroom. A loving person would put her arm around him after church. A loving person would ask him about his family and interests. A loving person might even bake little treats and bring to him.
I began to change my behavior and to include a new item in my prayers. Instead of praying “Please make Kevin’s family move away”or “Please make Kevin behave,” I asked my Heavenly Father to soften my heart and let my feelings suit my loving actions. After only a few weeks, things began to change. I started to think of Kevin as a person rather than as just a problem and I stopped wishing he would disappear. Kevin isn’t perfect now, but his behavior is much better. And most important, I am more comfortable in my own mind. I am no longer carrying around a grudge against one of my Heavenly Father’s children. I know that our Father in heaven answers prayers. I could have pretended year in and year out that I loved Kevin and still not really learned to feel that way. But when the Lord saw my efforts and heard my prayers, he blessed me beyond anything I had dared to hope.
As this sister found, there are times when circumstances seem to push our emotional capacities beyond all conceivable limits. A rebellious child, for example, may seem to demand patience that is impossible, or we may suffer an injustice that may exceed anything we feel we can forgive, or a spiteful neighbor may require what seems to be super-human tolerance, or we cannot find it within ourselves to overcome feelings of shyness and reach out to another person. We feel that we are driven just too far – the Lord could not possibly expect us to respond with anything but resentment or withdrawal. In such cases, interdependence seems impossible – completely beyond our reach.
But some women, like the sister in the story, have found that when they felt they could not endure any more – when within themselves there was not sufficient strength and self-control to act in a Christlike way – the Lord blessed their efforts and added to their capabilities. As they prayed to the Lord and acknowledged their weaknesses and limitations, and as the Lord saw that they were making every effort to reach out to others in a Christlike manner, he blessed them with love and understanding far beyond their own natural abilities.
When a relationship with another person seems hopeless and unsatisfactory, when there seems to be no chance for loving interdependence, the Lord can answer our prayers. He can change our hearts and give us patience and understanding we did not know we had. Is there a sister who can tell of an answer to prayers that helped her to act in a Christlike way as she interacted with another person?
As Jesus met with his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion, he told them what it was that would set them apart from other people – the characteristic that would identify them as his followers. It was not a special uniform or badge of office, a particular church calling, wealth, or that they lived in any particular part of the world. Men would recognize them as his disciples, he said, if they have “love one to another.” (John 13:35.) As we try to extend love and understanding to our brothers and sisters, try to make each interaction a positive and uplifting experience, the Lord will add his blessings to our own righteous desires.
From her list of interactions, each woman will select one way in which she can be a better giver or a better receiver in this relationship and will work toward a better interaction in the way she has chosen.