I rely on myself

Just two hours shy of two weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk in church for about 18–20 minutes on the topic of Spiritual and Temporal Self Reliance as concluding speaker the morning of .

This talk preparation has given me great anxiety that I might speak the message that God has impressed so strongly in me of self-reliance. Throughout these two weeks, my head has been swirling with what I might speak and I feel this topic leaping in the pit of my stomach. My heart has become very deliberate in its rhythm. My feet have been pacing the hallways of my house. My hands have been writing, and searching through conference talks and the LDS scriptures.

I have spent most of my growing up and most of my ad-ult years in this small suburban area of south-east Texas. I frequently meet people who knew me as a child or who know my parents or whose parents or even grandparents I have known since childhood. Most recently I met a man in the Boy Scouts shop who remembered my parents and my brothers from their youth in scouts. I had been out of scouting for many years until receiving my calling this year in scouts and primary. Feelings of community are comforting especially in times of uncertainty. I cherish those moments of connection. I must admit though, that reliable support and friendship is not a guarantee of this life. Contact with even some best friends of my youth has waned and many friendships largely have become fading memories.

As a means of pondering and of writing, I like to turn phrases around like equations that need rearranging. In this exercise, some alternate titles for my talk include:

  1. Becoming independent
  2. Why should I ask for help, when I have myself on the job?
  3. See a need, fill a need.
  4. I will stop blaming and get to work because my future depends on it.
  5. Rely on myself.

Even as Adam and Eve had to leave the garden of Eden, I have been commanded that I leave my parents and cleave to my spouse.

The church teaches that my parental bond and family relationships can be eternal, but within that context my providing a home for children is in fact a finite responsibility, though it has many ways of repeating itself. God wants my children to provide for themselves one day, and each to raise their own family.

My fellow engineer at work promises his two daughters all the time, that when they turn 18, they will lose their room and all monetary support, so they must find and pay for their own place and for college. He does not tell them to do their schoolwork, but he will help them when asked. I admire his commitment to teach them self-reliance so plainly.

In preparation for this talk, I am glad to have had recent practice teaching lessons of self-reliance in family night, in my calling as primary teacher and as scout leader.

One recent and memorable family night, I drew a picture of Pac-man as an analogy of healthy living. We discussed how Pac-man suffered if he was in the wrong place, accepted bad influences from his friends, was hungry, needed the bathroom, did not exercise, did not keep love in his heart, or did not think kind thoughts. If any one such thing was wrong, it could make him miserable at least until the need was addressed. And leaving one need neglected might steal away the benefits of maintaining every other need.

Neglecting my body and spirit may ruin my peace and easily jeopardizes the peace of family and friends too.

Just as my body and spirit creates my needs, it can help fulfill them. I can use the thoughts of my brain, the desires of my heart, the power of my hands, the fuel in my tummy, and the motion of my legs to bring about a needed change.

What I can do to rely on myself

I asked my family what I should say in my talk. Here are some answers I got back.

Julie said that I showed self-reliance for plumbing repair in our house. Before owning a house, I had virtually no experience installing and maintaining pipes. Having responsibility had a way of teaching me to rely on myself. Living in a house with old rusting pipes, and improperly installed gas pipes gave me the motivation to learn how to repair them.

I asked my son Colby, who is preparing to go to Kindergarten next year; I asked him how can you rely on yourself? He was feeling angry and said, No, I don't.

Colby makes a valid point. Children, especially little children, rely heavily on their parents for their needs. Before I learn to walk, I first learn to stand. Before Colby learned to crawl, he first learned to hold his head up. Being able to hold his head up, Colby could be enrolled in basic training for crawling, which is cutely called tummy time. That's where he lays on his stomach for short periods of time, and it's names like tummy time that help moms everywhere escape titles like drill sergeant with a smile.

Don't be fooled.

It was easy for me to see from my son's expression that he was engaged in strength training as he lay in the prone position, which is what any self-respecting dad might call it.

I remember my son Thomas learning to stand and then walk along the furniture and I saw how happy it made him. Thomas gained some walking ability before mastering the crawl.

While in college I remember tending my niece and teaching her that she could run without good balance, as long as she held onto my fingers. My little niece and I would run together around their little apartment. She laughed and was so happy for her new-found mobility. Later, my brother did some clever experimenting as dads sometimes do. He found that he just needed to put a baby carrot in each of her little hands, and then my niece could walk on her own. She was confident in the feeling of holding on, but now having had practice, she didn't need the extra help balancing.

Thomas who is now in first grade, reflected to me that I should tell of ways or things [I] can do to rely on [myself]. Thomas said about his own needs when [I] need to go somewhere, [I] need to go quickly and on time. That's what [I] need to rely on, like for going to school. I then asked Thomas what happens if you are late? He said, [I] miss things.

What do I need? My body is a gift of self-reliance

Like most people, I have needs, and so inevitably I must trust or rely every day, whether I acknowledge it or not. I fail miserably to set a perfect example of self-reliance. I have no doubt in my making a worthy attempt each day, but find an immeasurable failing of it each week. To that extent I want instead to speak of how I am starting on the path to self-reliance by gaining a better understanding of my needs.

My body is a gift of self-reliance. If I could bottle up all my needs into a word, I would simply call it health. After all, if I don't have my health, what do I have really? Perhaps two words is better — healthy living. Perhaps a website is best — ProvidentLiving.org

My needs are like questions begging for an answer, which is why self-reliance involves so much doing, and why a lack of self-reliance often involves so much noise, mainly hollering and complaining but also speeches, sales pitches, ads, and infomercials.

I have framed my needs in the form of 5 or 6 questions. With these questions I have assigned body parts to remember them by.

My feet take me everywhere wheels don't, but the question is, where do I belong?

Be it at home, at work, at school, at church, on a street, in the city, or at a playground, my location can protect me, help me, or put me in danger. My location often shows where I place my trust. To rely on myself, I must always know where I belong.

An awareness of surroundings, a willingness to move, run or hide can afford me great protection. But what if one foot fails me? Clearly, I shall hope for some help, but why would I only just hope, when I might hop my way into better circumstances.

Sometimes, both my feet shall fail me. I have at the toughest times despaired at the feeling that while my legs and feet are strong enough to run, I just cannot run far enough to carry me to a better place. When I feel desperation of circumstance that even my two feet can't fix, what can be done? My circumstance whether good or bad is a circle around where I stand.

I am reminded of two missionaries, who walked long distances just to reach the next house while sharing the gospel. While tracting, they were on the Lord's errand and where they belong. Yet without warning while approaching on a dirt path to the last house on the street, a pack of dogs (no less than 8) came barrelling down upon them. One missionary about leapt in a turn to run, but in that moment was seized upon his arm by his companion. His companion's relative large stature, strength, and quickness had stopped him from running even a full step. This companion had made the odd and dangerous choice to stand his ground in the face of almost certain injury and conflict. It would seem he wished to be torn from his limbs. The first missionary, however, did clearly appreciate those limbs, so he pressed himself against his companion's back in ducking fashion. The dogs now within feet of confrontation, the strongly stubborn companion raised his arm out towards the pack with his hand in a fist. The dogs became calm and slowed their pace to join the missionaries onward to the door of their owners. So I have witnessed in exercising of faith that a willingness to stand firm, and to be still can be more powerful than any plan of escape.

To rely on myself is to know where I belong. When I said this, Thomas told me, I think that everyone should do this, to know where they belong, like how I said to be on time.

I am reminded of attending church and attending the temple. More often than I can say, I wish or want to spend my time elsewhere, but even those times I find comfort when attending because I know I am where I belong. Once again, whether it be standing, walking or running, I just ask myself, are my feet taking me where I belong?

Next question.

My hands and my tongue remind me to ask, am I clean, but no less to ask, who are my friends?

Work is important in becoming self-reliant. Thomas told me, When we have work that's not finished, finish it quickly and not distracted. My hands are busy all day in my work and my relationships. If I may, I will continue the Pac-man analogy.

Does Mr. Pac-man choose to be friends with his dear cousin, Ms. Pac-man? She certainly is worthy of all emulation, and no doubt self-reliant. Or maybe Pac-man seeks only for online gamer friends who care more about winning, hi scores and achievements?

My sons insisted I expound on this video game analogy with the following facts. Mario is a good sport. Batman relies on doing good by protecting and helping people. Superman relies on himself when save good people from fire, because of his breath and because he can fly. Wreck-it Ralph relies on wrecking the buildings.

In turn, I'll add that while there is much to admire in these characters, it's far better for me to rely on myself, because destructive friends can only create destructive relationships, super friends cannot sustain me forever, and video game successes cannot match the value of work. The best heroics of my life are in living the gospel every hour of every day in tasks both great and small, both public and private.

Do my friends keep their language clean, or pollute it with swearing and corrupt communication? Words can help me choose my friends or create my enemies. Do my hands and tongue incite conflict and violence? Or do I care to keep them clean and cultivate good relationships with them? Do my friends have clean hands and a tongue that will not lie?

I am reminded of a young man very short in stature, who was taught the gospel at the age of 18. He relied on personal revelation from God to know the Book of Mormon is true, so he was baptized in witness of the truth being taught by the words and the hands of missionaries his own age. He committed to serve a mission, and on that mission, he served and taught in Louisiana, baptizing so many people that it prompted a general authority to give him a letter declaring that not one in a thousand missionaries have ever had the success he experienced. He relied on his tongue to teach as God wanted and his hands to administer the gospel and reach out in fellowship to many lost brothers and sisters.

After his return he found and married his eternal companion, who was similarly short in stature, and they began to raise a family in Salt Lake City. As it happens, their oldest daughter of five children fell into influence of bad friendships. Knowing their daughter didn't belong amidst these influences, they moved to a small branch in Wisconsin where he was called as ward mission leader, which is where I met them and where he shared his story. What a cute little family, but make no mistake! Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have nothing on this faithful Latter-Day Saint family.

Next question:

What nourishes me and makes me healthy and strong?

My stomach reminds me to eat healthy. My belly reminds me to exercise. Recently, I have been studying exercise and diets. I've looked at programs that tell me how to slim down, how to bulk up, how to eat healthy, and even how to eat when camping. While great diversity abounds some basic facts are found in most programs. I know that taking care of my body is an essential aspect of my spiritual life.

Next question.

What do I desire and what is in my heart?

Desire can drag me down or lift me up, like any other need. If I deny the seed of faith and trust in God from growing in my heart, it shall likely be replaced with worldly desires and with fear. Fear, addiction and sin can suffocate righteous desires eventually causing feelings of desperation and helplessness. Worldly desires can enslave my soul and traps me if I don't repent.

As my son Thomas reminded me, when I make a mistake, I learn from my mistake. And now I know I shouldn't do that anymore.

Gospel principles of faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance, free me from the devil's snares, and help me to rely on myself spiritually. I can find spiritual nourishment by repentance. Making and keeping sacred covenants with God will make me confident and independent. I can rely on myself, in fact I can strengthen my family and friends by keeping the commandments with firm dedication.

Final question.

How do I learn and what fills my mind each day?

What a time in which I live, where the most powerful advertising company in the world seems to be able to answer all my questions instantly.

A time, where my smartphone or tablet can tell me to turn left or right, give me unlimited access to my acquaintances around the world, and even tether me like a leash to my employer or other contacts who would respect, love, or enslave me and my time. Are smartphones so important that I would even think to use them at peril of bodily harm to self and others?

A time, where social networking websites catalog my conversations and activity for view of the public. Such websites at their best can be a wonderful tool, but at their worst can poison my life. Not unlike the choice of immodesty, these websites could shame and embarrass me or glorify my vanity by robbing my self-respect, my privacy and my safety.

A time, where I can spend days learning recipes of success that only work in the wonderful and ugly world of Minecraft. I can think of a much more beautiful world that has available the lessons of industry, thrift and hard work, and it can provide much more satisfaction for my time spent. This world. I will come back to the real world.

I don't want anyone to think I am saying to stop googling and gaming, to throw out smartphones, and delete social networking accounts. We can be in the world, yet not of the world. But if my technologies shall replace worshipping the one true God, then yes I hope to throw them out.

I cannot trust the internet or even the finest college to teach me. Only the truth can teach me, and guide me in paths of safety. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can save me from sin, cleanse me and strengthen my desires to do good as I honor eternal gospel covenants.