Maureen J. Olson was born and raised in California and attended BYU as a Kimball Scholar. After receiving her M.A. in English, she taught Honors Intensive Writing at BYU for several years. She has served two missions, presently works as an RN, and enjoys writing, hiking and playing with her dogs. In her recent book entitled One Small Step: Giant Blessings Maureen shows that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is designed to spur growth. Unfortunately, the way we approach our callings can hinder growth in ourselves and others. Happily, the most powerful solution is often the simplest as you will read in the excerpt below. Visit her at www.theoneneedfulthing.org and https://www.facebook.com/mjolsonsimplethings/.
Five years ago I received a calling I didn’t want: ward singles coordinator. But I had a policy to do whatever the bishop asked, so I accepted the calling, got on my knees and started praying. A miracle followed, and I share it with you.
There was more than one reason for lots of prayer. I was called as the ward singles rep, and for many years, I had avoided everything to do with the singles. Many singles do.
In addition, I was handed a list of thirty-five people ranging in age from thirty-one to about ninety, and only three were active in our program let alone active in the Church.
To be obedient, I began to help organize and publicize the traditional activities, firesides, dinners, etc. with all the traditional results. People say that if you advertise better and have well-planned activities worth a person’s time, you will get better attendance. This brought us an extra attendee or two but most people still ignored us.
There is a stigma attached to being labeled “single,” and stigma is a powerful detractor. Even when I explained that we are not a dating organization, but a support organization, people would give me lists of wonderful support they already had. They did not need us.
The Solution—Three New Habits
Finally, after months of praying I had an idea for a new approach. At first it seemed like a last-ditch effort, but my bishop must have been desperate too. He said, “Go for it Sister Olson!”
Habit 1 – One Per Month
Every month I’d pray for one person to meet. Just one.
The first person came naturally; she was my newly widowed neighbor, Kathy, who was an avid gardener. I wanted to learn gardening, so we gardened together. I asked if we could invite other interested single folks to join us. She was more than willing and that became our first “Small Group”.
Each month I’d introduce myself to one more person on my list and ask if I could drop by to visit and get to know the person. I could sometimes wait months to meet someone, but almost every month one person was willing to visit.
Habit 2—Small Groups
When I met a new person and listened to his or her interests and skills, I’d get an idea for something they might like to share with others, in a small group of two to six people. We began to give people opportunities to share this way. The motivation was simply common interest and a person’s natural desire to share a passion or skill, so we avoided the traditional pressures that keep people away from singles programs and other church activities. No one felt pushed to make me, the rep, happy. The groups were too small for that. It was also easier to publicize for a small number of attendees: Kathy, who’d lived in the ward for years, often knew people with similar interests.
I noticed immediately that people in our small groups began to make friends. With the pressure gone, people could enjoy activities together that they already liked.
What we saw was miraculous. People who had never been active in the singles, even some who were dead-set against the singles, would suddenly show up at a fireside or dinner. Now each had a friend to come with and could enjoy the activity instead of feeling uncomfortable. “Fitting in” became a non-issue.
Most importantly, the friendships endured. Our network got bigger. Yes, people began to form a network of friendships one by one instead of feeling expected to like everybody all at once (an unrealistic expectation for any organization).
Habit 3—The Singles Committee
My singles committee naturally grew out of our new network. After I got to know someone better, I’d ask them to join the committee. They all said “No” at first, “absolutely no-can-do.” Kathy was the first one to tell me “no,” and she had good reasons. Most singles already had two or three other callings, were working during the day, taking care of kids, grand kids, and extended family at night and on the weekends. They were always gone etc., etc.
I would answer, “you’re right, you are overwhelmed, and that’s why I think you might like this calling. There’s only one thing you need to do, just one, and you can take as long as you want. You can take a year or even more. There’s no time limit.
“I’d like you to choose one person from my list. Just one. Then pray about that person and connect with him or her, somehow. Maybe it’s someone you already know. Then reconnect and find out if there’s a hobby, passion, or skill the person might enjoy sharing in a small group sometime.”
Not a single person refused this calling, and Kathy was the first to accept. We were meeting as a committee long before our overburdened bishop got around to making these callings formal. Most people began receiving inspiration right away. The calling was so doable!
Month by month, slowly, our singles committee grew. Flexibility was key. If anyone could not come to a meeting, there was no guilt at all. I’d connect with them another way or another month. I never thought “you’re just not committed” or “you just don’t want to serve.” I knew those things were not true, and they knew I knew.
No pressure. Just motivation. And were we ever motivated!
I still remember the excitement we felt at committee meetings. Each member had a vision for his or her calling because we felt the guidance of the Spirit. It didn’t matter how small the calling was. In fact, the tiny calling made it much more likely that members would jump right in and begin receiving inspiration. Everyone had success experiences to share, and the motivation those produced caused excitement to do more.
Even though we were so different we had a common mission. It was ours, not my mission; we owned it together.
It’s All About Relationships
What happened was a miracle, but also understandable: with traditional pressures gone and a small, well-focused purpose, the Spirit could energize all of us, not just me, the leader.
I didn’t want people to say, after I was gone, “we wish Maureen were still here. Maureen could just motivate everyone and get the best attendance we’ve ever had.” I wanted to create something sustainable: a network, friendships and bonds that would last. You can’t force something like that.
Recently, I talked to Grace (in her seventies) on the phone. She changed wards a while ago but mentioned that Steven (in his thirties) had called her recently and told her he missed her. She also keeps up with other friends made in our group.
What did I learn from this experience?
Think small. It made such an impact on my life that I’ve now written two books about it. If our Father in Heaven loves each person infinitely, then a focused, sustainable, one-to-one approach really is key.
Our presidents can inspire and organize, but people make friends.
Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy.
For small group ideas see her book, “One Small Step Giant Blessings.”