Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when parents teach and exemplify the importance of self-reliance. It is a fact of life that children often follow in the footsteps of their parents. When parents model self-reliance, the children learn the steps to take care of themselves; on the other hand, when parents model dependence on other people, church or government, their children learn to expect handouts.
I had the great privilege of having parents who taught their children to work hard and to be independent. Much of their teachings came from what they learned in their childhoods and through the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mother was an active member of Church’s organization for women known as the Relief Society. This organization may be the oldest and largest organization for women in the world.
Welfare work is central to the work of Relief Society, and the purposes of the welfare program of the Church are “to help members become self-reliant, to care for the poor and needy among us, and to give service to others.” In this society we are taught the welfare principles and encouraged to become spiritually and temporally self-reliant in order to be able to help other people. As sisters in this great organization, we extend charity – or the pure love of Christ – to our neighbors all over the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been teaching self-reliance since 1936 when it formed the Welfare Committee to help individuals and families during the Great Depression. In striving to help people, the Church has learned much about the principles of self-reliance. The following instructions are found in the Church Handbook of Instruction: “The Savior has commanded the Church and its members to be self-reliant and independent….
“To become self-reliant, a person must work. Work is physical, mental, or spiritual effort. It is a basic source of happiness, self-worth, and prosperity. Through work, people accomplish many good things in their lives….
“As people become self-reliant, they are better prepared to endure adversities” and are “better able to care for others in need.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught “a few simple but very important principles” that “can help prepare us to become more self-reliant.” http://www.lds.org/ensign/2009/03/becoming-self-reliant-spiritually-and-physically?lang=eng
The first principle taught by Elder Ballard is that “every person must know that he or she is a child of God and is loved by Him. People need to realize that regardless of their circumstances, as desperate as those may be, they are entitled to the Light of Christ in their lives. From Moroni we learn, `The Spirit of Christ is given to every man’ (Moroni 7:16). The promise is that every son and daughter of God can find, through the Spirit, answers to the challenges in their lives, including how to become more self-reliant….
“We become more self-reliant in some ways as we recognize our dependence on Him from whom all good things come….
“At the root of self-reliance are the dignity and importance of seeing ourselves as children of God regardless of circumstance, culture, or location.”
The second principle taught by Elder Ballard is the “need to appraise our own lives. How well are we listening to the Spirit? Are we living according to the eternal truths and doctrines of the restored Church of Jesus Christ? Can we effectively appraise the needs of others by prompting of the Spirit?” He share the experience of Muhammad Yunus, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts to help the poor by organizing an unusual bank in Bangladesh. Mr. Yunus used his own funds to help the poor and then went to the banks for additional help but was refused. His strategy evolved: `Whatever the bankers did, I simply did the opposite.’ “The bankers would only lend to the rich. I would only lend to the poor. The bankers would only make large loans. I would only make very small loans. The bankers would only lend to men. I would only lend to women. The bankers would only lend if there was collateral. I would only lend without collateral. The bankers required extensive paperwork. I only made loans that even an illiterate could understand. The bankers required their clients to come to the bank. I took my bank to the village.”
Elder Ballard believes that Mr. Yunus was prompted by the Spirit. Even though the “banks expected a high rate of loan defaults,” Mr. Yunus “expected and experienced almost none.” His bank “has provided more than $4 billion in loans and is entirely self-sustaining.”
The third principle taught by Elder Ballard is the “need to remember that every man and every woman has the God-given right to choose what he or she will believe and do.” He quoted Benjamin Franklin: “We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we’ve selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.
“Those who believe there is one God who made all things and who governs the world by his Providence will make many choices different from those who do not Those who hold in reverence that being who gave them life and worship Him through adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving will make many choices different from those who do not. Those who believe in a future state in which all that is wrong here will be made right will make many choices different from those who do not. Those who subscribe to the morals of Jesus will make many choices different from those who do not.
“Since the foundation of all happiness is thinking rightly, and since correct action is dependent on correct opinion, we cannot be too careful in choosing the value system we allow to govern our thoughts and actions.
“And to know that God governs in the affairs of men, that he hears and answers prayers, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, is indeed, a powerful regulator of human conduct.”
I like this quote from Benjamin Franklin because it shows that he obviously knew what I have been taught. He knew as I know that each child of God has moral agency and the right to choose what we will do. We can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil; however, we cannot choose the consequences of our choices.
Elder Ballard’s fourth principle is the need to “master the ability to think straight.” The ability to “think straight” “may be more important in the future as the world continues to spiral downward and crumble into moral decay….
“Often in my ministry have I heard the sad tale of those who are struggling to become self-reliant but in fact are becoming more dependent upon others because of their inability to think straight and apply common sense in the decisions they make. Much of life’s misery centers in the lack of using common sense….
“Helping people to think straight and use common sense will, in my judgment, always be a very important step in helping them to reach economic self-reliance. It is part of teaching our children and others to walk in the ways of truth and soberness and to love and serve one another (see Mosiah 4:15). Part of thinking straight is listening – being able to listen to the promptings of the Spirit.”
The last of Elder Ballard’s principles is the need to “seek guidance from the Lord and trust in Him.” The Lord is “merciful and gracious” unto those who fear Him and “delights to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:5).
President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) also spoke about self-reliance: “Without self-reliance one cannot exercise these innate desires 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.”
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) taught the difference between the Lord’s way of helping people and the world’s way: “The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.
Heavenly Father wants each of His children to be self-reliant, and He send His Son, even Jesus Christ, to earth to help us be independent; however, both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know that there will always be those among us who need help and have commanded us to love and serve each other. We should seek to be self-reliant in order to care for ourselves and families and then be able to serve other people. When parents teach their children to be self-reliant, they strengthen their family, community, and nation.