Perhaps you are one of those fortunate people who, during the days of youth, befriended a loving family in addition to your own. That home away from home was important, not because there was anything wrong with your family, but because youths thrive on friends and mentors. A second family can be a second witness to the keys of happiness.
One of the foremost truths in human history is that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Moses 3:18). Until a happy marriage fixes that problem, we need good companions.
For example, one of the finest teenagers we know of — young Joseph Smith — longed for companionship. But in his midteens, the friendship of good families and law-abiding youths in the Palmyra area was withheld, because of the rumors surrounding his first vision.
In Joseph's words, "being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, … I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature." Those errors were not serious sins. Yet, they were "not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God" (Joseph Smith — History 1:28).
What was the problem? The nutrient God intended for every budding personality was sparse in Joseph's diet. He hungered for social experience, as we all do in those crucial years. But for this remarkable boy, there were few ways to satisfy that deep, normal longing of the soul.
In the Nauvoo community of the early 1840s, there were several places where young Latter-day Saints could find that nutrient. One of these was the home of an energetic couple who loved each other and loved having teenagers around. This affectionate pair were "given to hospitality," as Paul would say it (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, Romans 12:13). That is, they enjoyed opening their home to wholesome visitors.
The chemistry between this couple and their teenage guests led to something very important in this dispensation. It was yet another case of a seed being planted. The modest, unlikely little seed flourished. Its endless fruit now nourishes countless young people.
The seed was planted one evening in January 1843. The teenagers happened to mention a problem they had: The search for friendships and pastimes didn't always turn out very well from a spiritual point of view. They asked the beloved head of this home, Heber C. Kimball of the Twelve, if he had any suggestions.
Elder Kimball proposed a formal gathering of interested "young ladies and gentlemen." Meeting after meeting was held, and attendance swelled. Even when using the upstairs area of Joseph Smith's store, with winter raging outside, "this large room was filled to overflowing."
Their apostolic friend spoke to them in a "plain, simple, and affectionate manner, which goes directly to the heart."
The Prophet Joseph visited one of these meetings and honored Elder Kimball for the "glorious work he had undertaken." Joseph said this movement would be "the means of doing a great deal of good, and of benefiting his young friends more than they were aware of" (Times and Seasons, volume 4, number 10, 1 April 1843, pp. 154-157).
Today's "young ladies and gentlemen" have the same hunger Joseph had in his young years. The seed planted by a Nauvoo couple has grown into church organizations for young men and women — "the means of doing a great deal of good" for untold millions to come.
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.