The gospel principles related to self-reliance are timeless. Further, developing our individual capacities to meet our own spiritual and temporal needs is as important today as it ever was. To discuss some aspects of the application of the teachings on self-reliance in the lives of members, the Ensign spoke with Keith McMullin. When this interview was conducted, Brother McMullin was managing director of the Church’s Welfare Services Department. On 27 December 1995, he was called as Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
Question: From your vantage point as managing director of Welfare Services, would you say that Church members are generally self-reliant?
Answer: While many persons over the age of forty live the principles of self-reliance in earnest, many in the younger generation seem to have grown up somewhat unacquainted with these concepts. Perhaps this is because many of them have never faced serious, hard times during their lives.
Many members live in cultures where it can be said that they live in a consumer age. When something wears out or breaks, many of us tend to throw the item away. When we want something we cannot afford, many of us tend to buy it on credit. A surprising number of young homemakers are not adequately skilled at cooking, sewing, gardening, and processing and storing food at home. Also, a surprising number of young breadwinners are not learning to save for the future and are allowing their family units to take on excessive debt. In a time of plenty, when one should consider laying up in store for potentially hard times, many of us consume everything we have—and more!
Yet while some of us fall into today’s economic pitfalls and seem to be putting aside many of the self-reliance standards that the Lord’s prophets have taught, conversely we have certain strengths as a people. Overall, we are well educated, we are healthy, and we are strong in family relationships. Our challenge is to use these blessings so we can better help others, so we can act rather than be acted upon, so we can place our trust and our dependence where they truly belong: with the Lord.
Q: How do persons improve their state of self-reliance?
A: We each have differing talents, resources, and circumstances. Our leaders encourage us to periodically take stock in six basic areas dealing with self-reliance: education and literacy, health, employment, home storage, resource management, and social, emotional, and spiritual strength. The welfare booklet Providing in the Lord’s Way: A Leader’s Guide to Welfare (1990, item no. 32296) outlines what we should achieve in these respective areas of our lives. Pick one or two areas that seem the most important for your particular situation. Set goals, yet allow yourself to progress in small steps. For instance, if food storage is your need, you could buy just one extra can of food each week. If saving is your need, you could start by saving a few dollars each pay period. If debt is your challenge, you could begin by progressively paying off one creditor, then another, without incurring additional debt. If physical exercise is your need, you could begin by exercising two or three times a week. If enhancing employment skills is your need, you could set aside a few hours a week to take a class that increases job-related skills. If spiritual strength is your need, you could start by studying the scriptures more diligently, praying more fervently, or serving more earnestly. If we keep up the effort, our momentum increases and we take steps in other areas where improvement may be needed as well.
In other words, far from being cause for alarm or extremism, Church leaders’ teachings regarding self-reliance encourage a way of life. We achieve it by applying fundamental principles of the gospel. But to establish ourselves as self-reliant, we don’t simply respond to occasional pricks of conscience. Rather, we adopt whole new attitudes and patterns of behavior for our lives. In the broad perspective, seeking to become or to remain self-reliant is a lifelong endeavor, yet the Lord will prosper our individual efforts as we keep working at it.
Q: What Church resources are available to help members achieve self-reliance?
A: Two main cornerstones of self-reliance are the scriptures and the counsel of the living prophets. When a person regularly reads the scriptures, often there settles upon him or her a spirit of urgency to move forward in living the gospel, including becoming self-reliant—and the scriptures also help teach how to go about that. For example, besides telling us that “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8), the scriptures also teach us to “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
Modern-day leaders have given specific, inspired guidance for our day about subjects ranging from home storage to debt. President Spencer W. Kimball was very clear about our duty to be self-reliant: “The responsibility for each person’s social, emotional, spiritual, physical, or economic well-being rests first upon himself, second upon his family, and third upon the Church if he is a faithful member thereof.
“No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 77–78).
From our work in Welfare Services, we see that members are able to be a great resource to one another by teaching priesthood and Relief Society lessons on self-reliance, by sharing their knowledge on related issues of self-reliance, and by setting an example on an individual basis. Church-sponsored self-reliance projects are often able to accomplish much in the lives of members. For example, one ward holds preparedness-training meetings on subjects ranging from cultivating a garden to surviving an earthquake. As a result, the number of families with a year’s supply has doubled.
In many areas, priesthood quorums and the Relief Society make available a variety of self-reliance resources, such as literacy programs, help with job placement and enhancement, and organized approaches to home storage, including the use of Church canneries for this purpose.
Members would also do well to seek out, as needed, self-reliance resources that may be available in their own communities, such as local educational opportunities, financial management help, and emergency medical training.
Q: How is our own self-reliance related to meeting the needs of others?
A: The prophets teach us that although the Lord never forsakes us, usually he does not do for us what we can reasonably do for ourselves. When we do need help, very often the help comes through other persons. Thus, the more self-reliant we become, the more able we are to build up God’s kingdom and to use the things the Lord blesses us with to help and serve others. Self-reliance is vital to our temporal and our spiritual well-being, and its fruits bring us full circle, for “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).