Lesson 38: “In Mine Own Way”
no assigned scripture
Purpose: to help class members understand the principles of spiritual and temporal welfare and commit themselves to greater self-reliance and service to the poor and needy.
[1. Developing spiritual self-reliance.
2. Developing temporal self-reliance.
3. Caring for the needy.]
In 1855, a group of Latter-day Saints was called to fill a mission among the Shoshone Indians. The settlement of Fort Supply, near Fort Bridger in present-day Wyoming, was organized that spring, and over the next year about two dozen families broke ground to raise crops, built homes and barns, and attempted to make friends with the Indians. It wasn’t easy to be both homesteaders and missionaries at the same time – either job could have taken their full time and energy – but they had begun to make progress. Their crop for 1856 was smaller than they had anticipated, so they calculated very carefully what it would take to survive that winter and live long enough the following year for another crop to mature. One of their calculations involved fodder for their horses and cattle – the animals that were essential to the success of that next crop. When they discovered that they didn’t have enough fodder to feed all their animals during the winter, some were sent back to the Salt Lake Valley. Only the people and animals who could live on their stored supplies stayed at Fort Supply to continue their work for another year.
Let me read to you an excerpt from their company journal:
On Tuesday Evening, November 11, we had a good time. The teachers of Ft. Supply took it upon themselves to act as a committee to get up a feast … About 70 persons assembled at 4 PM. Although we were in our poverty because of the failure of corps, etc., we truly had a sumptuous feast – one that would have done honor to any of the old cities of the world. …
While we were seated at the table, the news came that the last companies of handcarts were perishing in the snows on Sweetwater, and that the teams sent from the Valley had turned back before meeting them.
What should the settlement at Fort Supply have done, under the circumstances? What questions do you think they must have asked themselves before they decided what to do?
President Bullock called for volunteers to go and save that perishing people. Every man present was ready to start with ALL his team and seemed anxious to do all in their power to help them. It was proposed that we out of our scanty supply, send them some feed to save their starving teams.
And then the journal lists the names of five men who offered a total of 1800 pounds of fodder from their own “scanty supply.” Think about that for a moment – if they sent their own fodder to save the animals pulling the wagons that accompanied the handcarts, what would that mean to the settlement at Fort Supply?
Enough of our men stayed to keep the fort, and Bro. Bullock with the rest, and what horses and oxen were able to go, started on Wednesday the 12th with all the speed possible – and as they went, stopped all the Valley teams and turned them back to help that company before the return to the Valley. Those men said the reason they turned back was because they could hear nothing form the last handcart company, and supposed they had gone back to the States or made their winter quarters in the buffalo country.
But they were very much blamed for letting the devil put any such thoughts into their heads. When the word of the Lord comes for men to do anything, they ought not to turn back for a little snow or the fear of losing their horses, or any other foolish notion. If the trials are great or the circumstances unfavorable, go ahead and trust in the Lord that called you, for he never tells men to do anything except he gives them strength to do it if they are faithful.
Our horse trains helped the handcart companies, and the ox teams went back to help an ox train that were destitute.
(Shoshone Mission Journal, 1855 May-1857 Oct. CHL; text standardized for ease of reading aloud in class)
This is probably a new account for most of you, not as familiar as the usual story of Brigham Young standing up in October Conference and dispatching rescuers from the Salt Lake Valley. What strikes you as interesting or important about this part of the story?
We know what this action meant to the members of the Martin and Willey handcart companies. What did it mean to the pioneer families living at Fort Supply?
Was this a temporal rescue? a spiritual rescue? Did they do a good thing? or a foolish thing?
What questions do you suppose the families at Fort Supply asked themselves before they went out, or on the trail?
This story is probably easiest to understand in terms of rescue and charity and doing good to one’s neighbor. Our lesson today, though, is supposed to be about self-reliance – spiritual and temporal self-reliance. What does this story have to say about self-reliance? [Prompt, if necessary: They didn’t wait to be told what to do but relied on themselves, their physical strength, and their faith. What, though, about their obligation to themselves and their families in the coming year? How did their spiritual self-reliance enable them to perform in a temporal sense? What questions did they *not* ask about the duty of the handcart pioneers to care for themselves – be temporally self-reliant?]
What does it mean to be self-reliant in any sense, temporal or spiritual? Can – or should – anyone ever be totally, completely self-reliant?
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?
Then, if we are all beggars, in what sense do the prophets want us to be self-reliant?
What does it mean to be self-reliant in spiritual things?
How about self-reliance in emotional ways?
If you need to become more self-reliant in a spiritual way, or you need to help a family member or friend develop more spiritual self-reliance, what are some practical suggestions to help?
Last month’s Visiting Teaching message was about self-reliance, and I hope you had as good a discussion as my visiting teachers and I had. That message mentioned five principles that can guide us toward greater self-reliance. They are:
1. Learn to love work and avoid idleness.
2. Acquire a spirit of self-sacrifice.
3. Accept personal responsibility for spiritual strength, health, education, employment, finances, food, and other life-sustaining necessities.
4. Pray for faith and courage to meet challenges.
5. Strengthen others who need assistance.
[Write these in abbreviated form on the board as they are mentioned, and discuss. If needed to prompt discussion, refer back to the Fort Supply story for illustrations.]
Are these principles geared toward spiritual self-reliance? temporal self-reliance? both? In what ways?
Can you be “idle,” even if you work and don’t need to call on others for either temporal or spiritual assistance? How is idleness different from recreation or rest or other activities that aren’t strictly work?
I’m intrigued by the inclusion of the last principle: Strengthen others who need assistance. In what ways doles helping others who are less self-reliant strengthen our own self-reliance, either temporal or spiritual?
Doctrine and Covenants 104:13-18
13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
16 but it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
18 therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
What are some principles of the Lord’s “own way” of providing for his saints?
What are our responsibilities when we have “enough and to spare”?
What are our responsibilities when we must accept help?
Unless our calling is bishop, or Relief Society president, or member of the Committee on the Disposition of the Tithes, what do our responsibilities NOT include?
Is the Lord’s “way” limited to the formal channels of tithes and offerings and organized service projects?
As we’ve seen both in the illustration of the Fort Supply settlers and in our discussion, temporal self-reliance and spiritual self-reliance – and emotional, social, educational, and other forms of self-reliance – are all tied up together, each influencing the others: It’s our spiritual maturity that impels us to be charitable in a temporal sense; and when our temporal needs go unmet for too long, it can become harder and harder for us to be sensitive to matters of the spirit.
This past week, I have been reading files of letters that reached the First Presidency in the years just after the end of World War II. One group of letters came from Latter-day Saints in the Russian-occupied zone of East Germany and Poland. Every letter – 100% of them – tells of hunger and poverty and comes with a complaint: Why isn’t the Church doing anything to help them? The Quakers are there with their aid, the Baptists are there, but the Mormons are nowhere to be found. What is wrong with the Mormons of the United States that they aren’t doing anything to help their suffering brothers and sisters? The Saints in that part of Europe had no idea that the Church was there, at the border, with tons of supplies, doing everything they could to cut through the red tape and get permission from the Russian military government to let them take the supplies in – the Saints in Poland and East Germany didn’t know that, and only knew that they hadn’t seen any aid come in. Another file of letters came from Latter-day Saints in the American-, French- and English-occupied zones of West Germany. Those Saints had begun to receive the food that was being shipped in as fast as possible. Every letter in that group – 100% of them – is filled with faith and gratitude. Yet at that point, they hadn’t received very much – some of the letters tell of receiving one can of milk, two cans of pork and beans, and a pound or two of cracked wheat, food that wouldn’t last long or do very much to save anyone’s child from starvation. But the letters are uniformly cheerful and filled with the spirit.
The difference came not, I think, because Germans in the West were more spiritual or that Germans in the East were demanding and lacking in the gifts of the spirit. The only difference between the two, I think, was that a few cans of food assured the Saints in the West that they had not been forgotten, that more help was coming, and that they were part of Zion where the Lord’s people loved and took care of each other – while in the East, the Saints had not yet received any evidence of that caring. It was the belonging, the brother- and sisterhood, as much as the pork and beans, that made the difference.
The temporal and the spiritual are connected in ways that we often don’t see, especially when we’re doing well enough to be both spiritually and temporally self-reliant. But when life gets out of balance – when we aren’t able to support ourselves in one way or the other, or when we extend help to someone else who, for the time being, isn’t sufficiently self-reliant, it may do us good to remember how interconnected our needs are.
It wasn’t just that the Saints of Fort Supply packed up their wagons with food for the stranded pioneers and fodder for their animals, as urgently as those things were needed. The Saints of Fort Supply also had the spiritual strength to realize that the Lord would help them do what was necessary:
If the trials are great or the circumstances unfavorable, go ahead and trust in the Lord that called you [the Fort Supply chronicler wrote], for he never tells men to do anything except he gives them strength to do it if they are faithful.