I wanted to post the text I used for a talk last week. The bishop asked me to talk on emotional self-reliance using Elder Packer’s address in the January, 2010 Ensign.
Earlier this month, Katherine sat down for our morning scripture study with her Book of Mormon and announced that she wanted to read by herself. Up until then, we had always told her the words, which she would then dutifully repeat. But this time, she opened her book and began to read by herself. At first we thought she was just making up words, but as we listened closely, we started to recognize the patterns and cadences of actual words, phrases, and sentences. Somehow, someway Katherine had taught herself to read.
Immediately, I felt a nearly overwhelming sense of joy as I realized how much of this world was suddenly available to her. Suddenly, she could accomplish the dreams and expectations we had for her. Suddenly, she could access the wealth of knowledge stored in literature. Suddenly, life around her was full of words and meaning that hadn’t existed just one day prior. Suddenly, Katherine’s world was truly alive.
And I think I saw a brief glimpse into how our Heavenly Father must have felt when the plan to come to Earth and receive bodies was made available to us. Much like reading in this world is a primary key to growth and success, so too is our mortal existence a key to our eternal growth and perfection. Reading means temporal opportunity. Living means spiritual opportunity.
And fortunately life is filled with mortality.
Abraham 3: 24-25 reads:
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.
From this we learn not only the manner of creation, but the nature of creation, namely that, as Lehi said, “we are that we might have joy” through the proving of our faith.
One of the ways in which we are tried is through emotional disorders, and it is in this vein that Bishop MacDonald has asked me to speak, particularly about ways in which we might strengthen ourselves and become self-reliant.
An old talk by President Packer was recently re-published in the January 2010 Ensign. That talk stated that, “Our bishops face increasing calls to counsel members with problems that have more to do with emotional needs than with the need for food or clothing or shelter.” This isn’t to say, of course, that we should not take wise and prudent advantage of our bishop. Rather, it is to say that much of what we burden him with could be handled in better ways, or, as President Packer put it, “in the Lord’s way.”
Before we can talk about dealing with emotional disorders in the Lord’s way, we must understand what those disorders are. We easily recognize mental illnesses in their varying forms as disorders, but do we also recognize in ourselves the spiritual emotional issues of Fear, Doubt, Indecision, and a Lack of Faith? Much like reading problems can inhibit our ability to grow in life, these issues can disrupt our progression spiritually. Where a reading problem might blur the words on the page, emotional issues can blunt the spirit, dull our faith, and tarnish our testimonies.
We must also recognize that while many of us will experience the pain of mental illness as either a victim or close relation to a victim, we will all experience Fear, Doubt, Indecision, and a Lack of Faith. Because of the universal nature of those issues, it is imperative that we learn to become emotionally self-reliant.
So the question now becomes why? Why would the Lord see it necessary to afflict us so?
Elder Pieper of the Seventy recently taught that:
[In our trials] is the moment when eternal destinies are forged in the quiet reaches of the heart and mind as we struggle to respond. We can choose to remember the spiritual witnesses and testimony we have received and rely on the Lord to help us through the challenge in a way consistent with His teachings and commandments. Or we can discount the sacred whisperings we have received from the Spirit and turn to our own or another’s wisdom for a solution. In the end, only those who choose to rely consistently and completely on their testimonies [of Jesus Christ and His Gospel] will be able to overcome all things in mortality and stand worthily before God at the last day.
In other words, we are the net result of the effects of our trials. Like steel, we are strengthened through the heating, folding, and pounding of life.
So how might we then become emotionally self-reliant in the Lord’s way? Elder Packer suggests several ideas from the Church’s Welfare Handbook to which I will add one more from Elder Pieper.
1—The Welfare Handbook reads:
We must earnestly teach and urge Church members to be self-sustaining to the full extent of their powers. No true Latter-day Saint will voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support.
In his talk, Elder Packer suggested that the Church is “developing an epidemic of counselitis, which drains spiritual strength from the Church much like the common cold drains strength from humanity.”
Again, this does NOT mean that we shouldn’t make wise and prudent use of our bishop. What it does mean is that each of us is, in the end, primarily responsible for our care within the range of abilities that the Lord has given us. There are certainly many situations where the support of outside sources such as bishops, counselors, and other professionals may indeed be warranted, but we should exercise care to see that that which is manageable by ourselves is managed by ourselves.
In short, one of the ways we can become self-reliant in dealing with emotional issues is to realize that we are each uniquely gifted and tasked with taking care of ourselves within the range of our abilities.
2—The Church’s Welfare Handbook also states the order in which we should seek support.
[Members] are to first look to themselves, then they are to call upon their own families, and then upon the Church in that order.
Additionally, President Spencer W. Kimball stated that:
The responsibility for each member’s spiritual, social, emotional, physical, or economic well-being rests first, upon himself, second, upon his family, and third, upon the Church. Members of the Church are commanded by the Lord to be self-reliant and independent to the extent of their ability.
As it states in Mosiah 18:9, our baptismal covenant includes that we be—
Willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.
And finally, in a specific charge to fathers, President Packer stated:
Fathers are responsible to preside over their families.
If my [family] needs counseling, bishop, it should be my responsibility first, and yours second.
If my [family] needs recreation, bishop, I should provide it first, and you second.
If my [family] needs correction, that should be my responsibility first, and yours second.
If I am failing as a father, help me first, and my children second.
Once more, none of these means that we should NOT rely on our bishop and seek his counsel and advice. What it does mean is that each of us, within the walls of our own home, has responsibilities to love and sustain one another, to lift the head hung low, strengthen the feeble knees, and bear consistent testimony of the Savior. What this means is that BEFORE we go to the bishop, we should first turn to our family. And of course, we should put a strong emphasis on the home and visiting teaching programs.
And again, while there are certainly situations that merit the immediate support of the bishop, there are many, many things that we could and should do for ourselves.
Elder Packer, at another time, said:
This Church relies on individual testimony. Each must earn his own testimony. It is then that you can stand and say, as I can say, that I know that God lives, that He is our Father, that we have a child-parent relationship with Him. I know that He is close, that we can go to Him and appeal, and then, if we will be obedient and listen and use every resource, we will have an answer to our prayers.
3—Finally, Elder Pieper suggests that:
Reliance on a personal testimony of the Savior and His gospel is essential in order to remain faithful during times of testing and crisis.
Aside from being an accurate assessment of the value of our testimonies, this statement includes two subtle elements.
First–Elder Pieper made this declaration in a way that emphasizes the pre-existent nature of our personal testimonies in relation to our success in dealing with trials, meaning that being able to rely on a personal testimony of the Savior during difficult times requires us to have the testimony before the trial, not during or even after. While our testimonies may and should be strengthened by our experiences, our success in navigating the stormy waters of life depends more on the as yet unproven faith we place in the Savior and His Gospel.
Second–Remaining faithful during trials and testimonies requires a personal testimony of the Savior. To put it in financial speak, you can only withdraw so much from a spiritual credit card before finding yourself spiritually bankrupt. We must make regular meaningful and significant deposits towards our personal testimonies, so we can stand without going into spiritual debt.
Surely the many trials we face in this life, be them emotional or otherwise, will be better handled from a foundation of Faith in the Savior and His Gospel.
As we exercise these three things—An understanding of our inherent responsibilities for ourselves, an understanding of our obligations to and the support that can be found in our families, and a personal testimony of the Savior—we will achieve two goals related to dealing with our emotional trials:
1—We will find ourselves not only strong enough to stand, but willing to stand with our faith placed squarely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and;
2—We will remove a significant burden from the shoulders of our beloved bishop, allowing him to not only fulfill his calling more fully but also allowing him to provide better care to the sheep of our fold that are truly lost.