My visiting teacher is the Queen of Food Storage. Perhaps this is a title I'm not actually authorized to bestow, but I've never known anybody like her. (Do not close the window right now: this is not, I repeat, is NOT a food storage post.) The Queen also homeschools her two children. Her oldest, a girl, is a week older than Jedi, but she is on at least a fifth grade level in all of her subjects. Her four year-old is reading fluently. While she was over here one day, we got to talking about things that might keep you from the store for a few months--unemployment, natural disasters, THE QUARANTINE FROM AVIAN BIRD FLU, you know, pleasant, spiritual, visiting teaching stuff. She said, "We'll need to do everything from home," and she made a list of several thing including, "teaching our children." Very interesting. I realized, on that day, that among all of her other reasons for homeschooling, self-reliance is near the top of the list. I had never heard this viewpoint before.
I have a sister I've been assigned to visit for a year. She is active and takes callings. She has several close friends, a few of which she has been quite instrumental in re-activating. She has been a stay-at-home mom for her entire adult life, even when times have been very hard. She and her husband pay cash for everything and live simply. She will not let us visit. Ever. The few days she has said, "Just drop by," she isn't home. When we drop by notes or goodies, she will sometimes acknowledge them, but very rarely thanks us. At first I thought she hated me, but as I've persisted to know her through other avenues, I've come to see that for her, at least in part, agreeing to visiting teaching visits is somehow acting less than self-reliant.
Some years ago, Suburban Hippie and I sat next to each other in Sunday School while our teacher took us through King Benjamin's excellent sermon about caring for the poor in the Book of Mosiah. He makes it plain that it matters not why a person is in need, it is up to us to meet that need. SH and I were amazed as the discussion in the class deteriorated into the reasons why it is bad to give to the homeless. Most of the people volunteering comments were individuals for whom I have immense respect.
Nearly a year ago, The Queen was asked to teach a fifth Sunday lesson about food storage. A man in our congregation talked about food storage as a missionary work tool, citing a conversation he had with a neighbor as he moved into his house. The neighbor was amazed at the amount of canned food this ward member had stored in his garage. At some point the neighbor asked what would happen during a crises when word got out that this member had a garage full of food. He replied, "That is why I keep a loaded shotgun." There was some very nervous laughter in our Sunday School class at that point--and other laughter that was not so nervous, which made me even more nervous.
Years ago, Plantboy served as a financial clerk under a new (and extremely compassionate) bishop. He had done his work for several weeks without ever saying anything to me about what he did, when he came home looking quite sick one day. When I asked him what the matter was, he told me that he had written out a check to pay a bill on a satellite dish. Plantboy and I didn't even have cable--it was too expensive. It was very hard for me to write the fast offering check the next month: after all, why should I be paying for someone else's folly? I felt I was being punished instead of blessed for being self-reliant.
So why all the anecdotes? As I look around, I've begun to realize that for all of the handbooks and talks given on the subject, self-reliance is an idea that means different things to different people. Does it mean you don't have any credit card debt? Does it mean that you have the credit card debt, but that you pay your bill each month? Does it mean that you have monthly limit on the Visa you use for "extras" and that your dad pays it every month? Does it mean that you are trying really hard to get back on your feet and feel okay about the bishop occassionally paying your bill out of fast offering funds?
In the March Ensign there are some excellent articles on self-reliance. I especially enjoyed Elder Ballard's talk. There is much to learn, and always a long way to go with this ideal.
The following quote, appeared both in Elder Ballard's talk as well as the gospel classic talk from Elder Marion G. Romney, "Without self-reliance one cannot exercise the innate desire to serve. How can we give if there is nothing there? Food for the hungry cannot come from empty shelves. Money to assist the needy cannot come from an empty purse. Support and understanding cannot come from the emotionally starved. Teaching cannot come from the unlearned. And most important of all, spiritual guidance cannot come from the spiritually weak."
It was this quote, and a few others, that got me to thinking that if we are not extremely careful, our desire for self-reliance can undermine the unity we should feel toward our family, ward members and neighbors. I think it can also undermine our understanding of the atonement.
I think we can give, even when our own reserves (of whatever) are low. Have we not often been taught and seen evidenced in our own lives that when you are feeling down, the best thing to do is find someone else to cheer up? I think of the poor families that fed my husband and I on our missions and the joy it brought them to share what little they had. Sometimes those who are enduring the greatest emotional turmoil are best equipped to listen and understand others with similar issues. Who has not had periods of extreme spiritual weakness when we must go to others and the Savior in complete submissiveness and ask for help? It can be argued that these are the times of greatest growth.
Perhaps we must all come to a place where we can reconcile The Parable of the Ten Virgins with that of the Widow's Mite. In the first, the five wise virgins were instructed not to share, because if they did then nobody would have enough, not even those who had worked hard for what they had. In the second, the widow was praised for giving up the very last mite that she had instead of feeding herself. Would I go hungry myself to make sure my children had enough to eat? For sure. But what about another ward member? A neighbor? That is where I'm not as sure.
I'll close these ramblings with King Benjamin, "For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another."
Isn't he saying that no matter how hard we try, we will never actually be self-reliant because we will always be indebted to God? Indeed, thinking we can do it all on our own makes us guilty of pride and aligns us with Satan's easy, pre-mortal dismissal of a savior.
So what do you think? How do you reconcile the idea of self-reliance with the idea of unity? In a Church where both important concepts are preached with regularity, what do you define as "self-reliance?"