Relief Society Lesson 11: Provident Living

Lesson from Seraphine: I’m doing this lesson the same way I did it the last time around. I’ll share a number of my favorite quotes from the manual and post some questions and reflections. I’ve organized my thoughts according to the sections in the lesson manual. All the materials in quotations are from the lesson manual. Anything not in quotes is my own thoughts. I didn’t include additional outside quotes or scriptures because I didn’t have time, but feel free to share any favorite quotes or scriptures on the topic of prayer. And sorry I didn’t include page numbers—I used the on-line version of the lesson.

We are responsible for our own social, emotional, spiritual, physical, and economic well-being.

Question: Why is self-reliance important? Why is this a principle that is emphasized by church leaders? I’m also curious about how you think self-reliance should be balanced with service. We are constantly taught that we need to serve and “mourn with those that mourn,” but simultaneously, we are taught to be self-reliant? How do we balance these two commandments? What does it mean to follow both simultaneously?

One quote from the manual that I thought was an interesting preliminary answer to why self-reliance is important was the following: “No amount of philosophizing, excuses, or rationalizing will ever change the fundamental need for self-reliance. This is so because: ‘All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, … as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.’ (D&C 93:30.) The Lord declares that herein lies ‘the agency of man’ (see D&C 93:31), and with this agency comes the responsibility for self. With this agency we can rise to glory or fall to condemnation. May we individually and collectively be ever self-reliant. This is our heritage and our obligation.

Comment: I thought it was interesting how Spencer Kimball ties self-reliance to the principle of agency: that by practicing self-reliance, we can learn how to exercise our agency in valuable ways, and we can learn how to face and accept the consequences of our independent actions. Any additional thoughts?

One other quote I liked from this section: “We have placed considerable emphasis on personal and family preparedness. I hope that each member of the Church is responding appropriately to this direction. I also hope that we are understanding and accentuating the positive and not the negative. I like the way the Relief Society teaches personal and family preparedness as ‘provident living.’ This implies the husbanding [prudent managing] of our resources, the wise planning of financial matters, full provision for personal health, and adequate preparation for education and career development, giving appropriate attention to home [food] production and storage as well as the development of emotional resiliency.”

Comment: I like how Kimball noted that self-reliance includes much more than financial preparedness: that it is about taking care of our health and education and our emotional needs. I think that sometimes discussions on self-reliance get so focused on the issues of “no debt” and “you need food storage,” that we forget the other elements of self-reliance? So, do you think there are other aspects of self-reliance that get short shrift? What can we do as members of the church to further develop and emphasize the other aspects of self-reliance?

We have been counseled to participate in home food production and storage.

Comment and question: the next section in the manual is the section on needing to have a garden and food storage. Now, I think gardens are great. And I think food storage is a good thing to have. However, as a single adult who lives in an apartment with no yard and not a lot of storage space, I haven’t been very good about following either one of these directives. So, I’m wondering what some of the rest of you have done in circumstances like my own. Am I rationalizing my lack of obedience in this area? Are there things that I could be doing but aren’t?

We should work for what we receive.

I really was intrigued by the quote: “[w]ork is a spiritual necessity as well as an economic necessity.”

Question: How is work a spiritual principle? What spiritual ideals does it teach?
Another quote I really liked in this section: “Work brings happiness, self-esteem, and prosperity. It is the means of all accomplishment; it is the opposite of idleness. We are commanded to work. (See Gen. 3:19.) Attempts to obtain our temporal, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being by means of a dole violate the divine mandate that we should work for what we receive.”

Comment and question: Now, I will say that if I sit around and do nothing, I’m usually not too happy. But, on the other hand, I don’t necessarily find joy in a lot of the work I have to do (especially things like housework). I don’t really find joy in work for work’s sake (which it seems to me is what Kimball is emphasizing here). Have you experienced joy in work for work’s sake? How might each of us find a greater amount of happiness and self-esteem in work?

We can become economically self-reliant by saving, avoiding debt, and living within our means.

This section of the lesson is pretty self explanatory: live within your means and stay out of debt. Probably the idea that I thought was most important was that Kimball pointed out that we needed to learn how to distinguish between “needs” and “wants,” or, “As families and as a Church, we can and should provide that which is truly essential for our people, but we must be careful not to extend beyond that which is essential or for purposes which are not directly related to our families’ welfare and the basic mission of the Church.”

Question: How can we better distinguish what is essential from what we want? How have you managed to distinguish your needs from your wants? And what strategies have you found effective for not giving in to obtaining your wants (or trying to claim that your wants are needs)?

Preparedness is a way of life that brings its own rewards.

Question: How would you interpret the above statement? How can preparedness be a “way of life”? And what kinds of rewards does it bring?


  1. This will be a great lesson. Thanks for sharing. As for the disparity between self-reliance and bearing one another’s burdens, I’ve struggled with that a lot lately. I like to think I can take care of myself, financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, but in fact I can’t always do it all without help. And when I do get desperate enough to cry for help, I find that my helpers (son, friend, cousin, home teacher)are very willing, very helpful, and they do seem to find joy in doing that kind of “work.” In turn, I try to be available to help and support them, and pray for opportunities to serve.
    On another theme, some of the real joys of work for work’s sake is a boost to your self-esteem, distraction from worries, and the realization that the “practice” is leading towards “perfection.”
    I think we need to be careful not to let ourselves go to extremes in any of the areas of provident living. We can be thrifty without being miserly, helpful without being intrusive in other’s lives, hard-working without neglecting other priorites.

  2. Last week when I first read the title of this lesson I thought, “Oh no, not another lesson about food storage and avoiding debt.” So I was so pleased to read you comments about emphasizing the other aspects of self-reliance. This idea should spark some great conversation during our next lesson.

    Thank you!

  3. This was a great lesson! I think one big part of self-reliance that I need to remind myself of is that if I’m unhappy, it’s my responsibility to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. If my relationships become unfulfilling, there are lots of things I can do to address that and recharge them with caring and real feeling. I love the “demotivational” posters on My favorite one is “The one common feature of all your unsatisfying relationships is you.” It makes me laugh so much. It’s really true! I can make more effort, find ways to give loving service, and refill my heart with love for those around me.

    If my class at school is dull and boring, I can begin participating in class, breaking the ice and encouraging others to participate so that we end up with an interactive learning situation where all our minds are alive and engaged in the material. If my grocery store doesn’t carry a product I’d like to buy, I can talk to the manager and request that they carry it. This doesn’t always work, and stores make their own decisions about what products will make the most money for them, but if I don’t pipe up and give my suggestions then how can they know what I want? They have no chance without my help.

    If there is some unsafe practice or requirement or situation at work, it’s very much my responsibility to point it out, post warnings, get the practice changed, or if none of that works, to refuse to do it. There’s no need for anger or high feelings. Just quietly point out that it’s dangerous. It’s certainly in the company’s best interest that people not be hurt on the job. Do everything with a spirit of cooperation and helpfulness. If, in the end, the policy decision is outside your stewardship, then the choice of whether to do something unsafe yourself is squarely inside your stewardship. Politely inform your superiors that you won’t do it because it’s unsafe. Or suggest a method that will keep it safe.

    A minor example, when my brother was young and working at Wendy’s, his manager requested that he stand on the counter above the fry vats and clean the hood above. The places between the fry vats were slick with grease, and the vats were full of hot oil. This was a very unwise call by my brother’s boss, and he said no it was too dangerous and he wouldn’t do it. The boss accepted that. We need to teach all our kids the self reliance that tells them, “Don’t die for a minimum wage job!”

    A large example was in 1986 in what’s now Ukraine, a reactor operator at Chernobyl unit 4 knew perfectly well that it was unsafe to pull out more control rods to attempt to restart a chain reaction that was being dampened by Xenon. He knew that the plant would be uncontrollable in that state, but his boss who knew nothing about nuclear reactors ordered him to do it anyway. He thought “if I refuse I will lose my job”. So he did what his boss in ignorance insisted he do, and instead he lost his life. Of course, that was the worst disaster the nuclear industry has ever seen. (The boss also lost his life, along with some 30 firemen, and a number of other operators and technicians at the plant, and a large swath of prime farmland in Ukraine was rendered uninhabitable for the next 50,000 years.)

    Self reliance means more than not asking for help. It means taking responsibility for our happiness, our workplace, our family, our country, and our world.

  4. Provident living and a good strong work ethic is certainly a part of our heritage. I worry sometimes that it becomes easy to judge those in poverty, as if not having means, or perhaps the luck, or the skill to overcome it is some sort of moral failing. When it comes down to it we are all interconnected and depend on each other in so many different ways, that self-reliance certainly can’t mean not ever needing anything from anyone else. It seems to me to mean something more like being a wise steward of our earthly life and goods.

    Tatiana, your anecdotes are interesting and powerful, but I’m having trouble seeing how your examples having to do with self-reliance. They seem to me to be more about being willing and able to question authority rather than just blindly obeying (which is an important discussion in and of itself).

  5. Ah, they are about taking responsibility for your own safety, rather than relying on anyone else, any authority or system or laws, to keep you safe. Similarly we should take responsibility for our own education, and insist that schools and teachers give us what we need to learn, rather than trying to get as little as we can for our money. Also we should take responsibility for our own neighborhoods, for the environment, for the world as a whole, rather than wait for someone else to do something.

  6. Tatiana, I agree with your substance completely. I think I just have a semantic or definitional difference, namely I don’t think that personal responsibility and self-reliance are synonymous, particularly within a Mormon context.

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