The Gospel Doctrine lesson #13 manual objective is “to help class members better understand Zenos’s allegory of the olive trees and how it applies in our day.”
To discuss the realities of dating as a midsingle LDS woman.
This lesson focuses on the Hebrew prophet Zenos’ allegory of the olive trees as found in Jacob 5. In the allegory a Master (Christ) has an olive tree vineyard (the world) in which he labors with his servant (Prophets). The tame olive trees (Jews) have begun to decay and in hopes of saving the vineyard the Master begins grafting the branches (groups of people) from wild olive trees (Gentiles) to the tame olive trees. At first this is successful and the modified trees produce good fruit (individuals and their works). However, over time the vineyard becomes “corrupt” due to “loftiness.” This breaks the Master’s heart, “ it grieveth me that I should lose them.” After counseling together the servant and the Master discern that the roots are still good:
Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might…Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again…Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more…”
Together, the servant and the Master labor diligently trying various ways of grafting and pruning until eventually the wild and the tame become united, “…they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal…”
In following Nephi’s directive to liken the scriptures unto myself, I ask: How can the principles and insights of this allegory help me in this mortal existence? How does it relate to my lived experiences and that of my friends and family?
This month I turned 39. There are three things I’ve always known in the deepest regions of my soul: (1) I’m an artist; (2) Jesus is the Christ; and (3) I’m a mother. I’m divorced and childless. The fact that I am not a mother is at the root of much of my suffering.
Earlier this year, I did a wheel of life exercise to assess where I was at in the various aspects of my life. A somewhat balanced wheel of life looks something like this:
Mine looked like this:
Pac-man. Seeing my life represented in this way motivated me to reassess how I was viewing my love life, the actions I was currently taking and what I needed to change.
So, what is a 39 year old, faithful, covenant keeping, woman with a biological clock “that’s ticking like this” suppose to do?
For me, the answer is in this allegory.
The deepest desire of my heart is to partner with a faithful LDS man with whom I can build a life, family and community centered in the celestial principles of love, compassion and unity.
The first challenge is finding viable dating options. It is well documented that active LDS midsingle women greatly outnumber our male counterparts. When you deduct from that number men who are homosexual, have limited capacities, or proclaim inaction in response to the tyranny of too many great options (eye roll) that gap becomes a chasm.
Attempting to date LDS men through singles wards, set-ups, online dating, single conferences etc. has done little to produce good fruit (viable dating options). Instead, I see a decaying vineyard that has left me feeling discouraged and depressed. In response, I began to reconcile the possibility that I may never remarry and have children.
I leaned into the Father for comfort, Christ’s Atonement for healing, and the Spirit for guidance.
Looking at my pac-man wheel of life, I knew what need to be done. The answer was not abandoning those righteous desires but instead to take a different course of action altogether. Feeling spiritually encouraged, I expanded my dating pool to include non-members (wild branches). Rooted in my covenants and core values I now seek a righteous man with whom I am evenly yoked.
I’ve become the servant and Christ remains the Master. Together we labor mightly in my vineyard grafting branches through trial and error in hopes of finding the combination that yields good fruit.
And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.
Joy. Our theology teaches us that our Heavenly Parents want us to have joy now, in this mortal existence. There are countless scriptures commanding us to be of good cheer, to rejoice, to have joy. The process of also dating non-members has revitalized my love life and brought me much joy. Yes, it has its challenges but laboring in the vineyard strengthens my relationship with the Godhead and gives me hope. Hope! Hope nourishes the roots and I have faith that this process will yield good fruit.
A final note, I believe that we do a disservice to ourselves when we seek answers to hard questions solely within our own echo chamber. I have been greatly edified by individuals, practices and works not of our faith. I challenge us to put into practice the declarations of the 13th Articles of Faith and seek after those things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” and bring them back to the vineyard to be grafted that we as a culture, faith and community can be revitalized and produce the best fruit.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
In The Lord’s Time, Peka Holmes
Matt, my husband, is hesitant when I say there’s a church couple that wants to get together because he feels like he is a service project or they are going to question him about the church and that makes him feel so uncomfortable. He just wants to go and relax and enjoy and talk to people. But these friends totally make him feel comfortable. They get to know him for him and I think that’s wonderful because when he does bring up the questions about the church they don’t judge him or give him the missionary or the handbook answers. They give him something that’s personal and exactly how they feel and not something that will make him say, “Oh I think this is a great church! Maybe I will join it!”
An Instrument of Homecoming, Joanna Brooks
I was less active for 7 or 8 years. In the middle of that time I was trying to think of ways to still honor my Mormonism and figure out what was still important to me in the Church. I have pioneer heritage, and I’ve always thought of Pioneer Day–the day we celebrate the pioneers first entering the Salt Lake Valley–as a lovely Mormon cultural holiday. I decided that even though I wasn’t attending Church at the time that I was going to observe Pioneer Day, and I was going to hold a Mormon dinner.
Part of my idea doubtless comes from Passover. The Jewish people are brilliant at using food to help remember. They have worked it out over millennia: eat and tell your story. I needed something like that for me! So, Pioneer Day: eat and tell your story.
Passover is a spiritual, holy day and Pioneer Day is not a holy day but a cultural day, so I don’t try to make it heavy-handed. We don’t say a series of prayers or have a liturgy like you have for Passover, but we sit around a table and eat and tell stories about who we are. I make some form of Mormon dinner, usually camp and light-hearted. I’ll pull out a couple of Mormon cookbooks I have and cook things that will horrify my husband, various Jell-O dishes, and funeral potatoes (which, truth be told, I never ate growing up as a child but I really like them). My kids and I wear bonnets, and we tell stories about our ancestors who came across the plains.
I invite non-member friends mostly. They think it’s great. They’re all kind of pleased to witness a cultural experience. Some of them have not eaten Jell-O before. Most of the people I associate with day-to-day are not LDS, as is true of most of us who live outside the Utah corridor, and me probably more than most because I married outside of the faith and because I work outside of the home, so I have a lot of non-LDS contact every day. So I’m just excited to share it in a lighthearted way with people I’m close to, and they are excited to be a part of it.
Choosing God and Abundance, McArthur Krishna
I spent two years thinking that it made no sense. When I relied on my own understanding and logic, it didn’t make sense. His current situation was nothing I would have signed up for. But I prayed about it and knew I was on the right path. I would chicken out and bail on the path and then miracles would bring me back. The most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had was when I prayed about whether I should marry him. It’s the clearest answer I’ve ever received. Sheer overwhelming light that left me gasping.
Yet, this process and answer felt like a potentially very slippery slope. Dangerous, even. I needed to make sure I could really trust my relationship with God, because I was being told that I should marry someone who was 1) not the person that I was always told I should marry, and 2) under circumstances that seemed insane to an outside observer. It even felt insane to me!
I had some serious blessings along the way in friends and family. In fact, my congregation was incredibly supportive. It is one of the aspects that made this process easier. But then I was visiting a ward and I had one woman in the Church say to me: “That’s fine for you, but I could never settle for a nonmember.” I flinched and the conversation moved on. And then I thought, “Wait! That is not okay to let that perspective stand.”
So I circled back around and explained my philosophy: The goal of life is to become god-like, and the way we do that is by following God. And I absolutely followed God in choosing whom to marry. It was the craziest decision of my life, but it was clear that I did not settle. Following God’s path designed for me is not settling. This is true for me and everyone!