Monday, November 19, 2012

Please Solve My Problems For Me

While I've had a relatively privileged life, I've also had times when I've had to worry about nutrition, food, paying the bills, providing for my children. I've had to worry about my physical safety, being attacked in my own home, my house and car being destroyed, my children being taken from me. Not as much as some, doubtlessly, but enough to know what fear feels like, what poverty feels like, what it is like to be helpless.

With this in mind, I find it amazing how people automatically ask me why I didn't go to the state for assistance in my times of need. Or if I discuss how lonely it was with someone, they assume all I need is to find another husband.

I do it, too. Often when people come to me with their problems, I first think of all the solutions provided by other people or institutions they should turn to. Next, I think of what I might do. Third, to my shame, I often think of reasons why I can't do it. Then I go back to #1. It's awful.

People often say we should "fake it 'til we make it," or "keep a smile on our face," when we are mourning or find ourselves in a bad mood. But what this ignores is that it is the BAD things in life that draw us together. Shared hardship, compassion, is what binds one heart to another. I could have gone to the government when I needed food. But it was my bishop who offered. It was the Church who helped me bridge the few months I needed to get back on my feet. And it is the Church I see doing real good. Not the State. Perhaps because the Church is personal, face-to-face.

How often do people who support government welfare programs engage in real, face-to-face charity? Anyone with some extra money can donate to an institution to do it for them, but how many are personally out there, looking for ways to exercise charity? Not just GIVING of MONEY, but heart-to-heart love, the kind that creates bonds?

To me, tithing and fast offering donations have little to do with charity. They are impersonal. They are about fulfilling my obligations to God, and what happens to them is not my problem. But while they are good for other reasons, they don't show the "pure love of Christ" that I have been so earnestly seeking over the last few years (and which seems so elusive to me.) Paying tithing doesn't help me open my eyes up to others in pain. Fast offerings don't help me crack the bubble of self-containment that I so rigidly construct so as to not allow others to see my vulnerability. Neither captures the essence of the ministry of Christ.

We love to demand that "the Church" or "the government" do MORE, more to solve the problems we see, whether those problems are our own, or those of others. But I see very little self-reflection; what can I do to serve those who are in my sphere of influence, how can I allow someone close to me to help? We have some very serious global problems. But we also have some very serious local problems that we aren't even noticing. And I think that until we can see ourselves as the solution, we have no hope of truly effecting change.

All too often, we see what we want to see. We feel we have done all we can when we drop a few dollars into a charity, or when we agitate for change in others. But I don't think that is really it. It isn't personal enough.

The Good Samaritan didn't travel on to the inn, then pay someone to go back and retrieve the man in the ditch, or petition the government to increase security on the roads, or exhort the Church to do more about healing those who had been attacked. He personally lifted the man's broken and bruised body, personally treated his wounds, and only then turned the care over to another.

Don't get me wrong, speaking up about ills in the world is not a bad thing, educating people on how they can help is vital. But demanding that others don't do enough to meet them saps us of our own capacity to serve, and completely misses the point. How much more powerful is to share our own personal experiences of tragedy, and plead for others to help? If I see a need, how much more does it serve God to take responsibility for helping that person, rather than assume someone else should do it?

You can't legislate charity. You can't bully institutions into "doing more" in order to absolve yourself of the need. I would like to see more people tell of little acts of kindness, of how they have been helped to solve their own problems, of how they have reached out to help someone else bear their burdens. I would like to hear about how they see a need in their community, and turn to their bishop or Relief Society president to help THEM meet that need, rather than just tell already overworked leadership to take care of it.

A former Relief Society President once explained to me how many people call her up and say "so and so needs help, do something about it." Very few say, "so and so needs help, I've done this and that, but can't do it all myself, do you know of any one who can help me do this?" The first resource we should access to solve the world's problems is our own. If we see a problem, WE should do all we can to help, not complain about how others are too blind to see the same problem. If they are ignorant for not seeing it, what does that make you, who sees the problem, and does nothing constructive to help but try to bully others?

I don't think that's what Mormon described when he urged us to seek charity. The "pure love of Christ" is personal ministry, perhaps through, but not merely institutional organization.


  1. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it from a government program.

  2. Savvy, no, I completely agree. I have a personal problem knowing when the line is between "need" and "want." But I'd rather err on the side of caution. And I think it is important to think about how you can help yourself, and not just expect someone else to always be there to bail you out.

  3. Good post, SR. The Gospel is a Gospel of doing, providing personal charity on a one-to-one basis. Anybody can talk about how other people should pay to help. Not everybody can go help a person in need and provide true charity. And that is the point.

  4. Thank you, Geoff. That is precisely my point. I've been questioning myself a great deal lately, wanting to develop a more attuned sense of charity. It is proving to be a greater goal than I even thought it would be.

  5. The most depressing aspect of this to me is that, to some, your stance is CONTROVERSIAL, whereas I can't think of it as anything as common sense, almost too obvious to have to explain to people.

  6. I agree with Nathan—it's so sad that something as intrinsic to humanity as this is controversial. Shouldn't this be an unquestioned good?

  7. Great thoughts, SilverRain. I think you are right to emphasize how essential personal ministry is. There is more to charity than just mechanically alleviating pain. That doesn't mean that fast offerings or other donations meant to help the suffering in a more impersonal way aren't valid and valuable. But giving a donation doesn't excuse us from having to minister directly to the needs of our family, neighbors, and those in pain with whom we come into contact.

    I find it interesting that priesthood blessings of health or comfort and instruction usually involve physical touch (anointing with oil and/or laying on of hands). It is personal and intimate. It requires physical presence and interaction. Often it requires one to leave the comfort of their own home to go to the suffering. Perhaps it is meant as a pattern and a check against drifting away from personal ministry.

  8. I guess it depends on who you know and where you live, but a lot of folks I know who "support government welfare" also engage in real charity, person to person and through worthwhile organizations. We all give what we can. Sometimes I have more time than money, sometimes the opposite.

    And I think it is important that we not judge others for their choices of how to serve. When a good friend had cancer surgery, I paid for a cleaning service for a month, because I knew that she would be more comfortable with a professional stranger than with me doing it. I was roundly criticized by others for being "above" doing that work.

    As for those who have problems with the Obamacare mandate of coverage as government intrusion, I find it interesting that the church has a mandate that all full-time missionaries have health insurance. If it isn't available otherwise, it can be purchased through a group plan at a reasonable rate, and pre-existing conditions are covered. The church is a major beneficiary of Obamacare, since now our young missionaries can often stay on the parents' plan. I look to the church as a model for my support of Obamacare.

    But of course personal responsibility is important above all. Of course the problem with "telling" of little acts of kindness is that we do not want to boast.

  9. Thank you, J Max. My underlying thought in this post was to emphasize the importance of personal ministry, and to not let government or church programs replace our own sense of love for our fellowman. We so often focus on the alms part of charity, that we miss the core motivation.

    Naismith, thank you for your comment. Your last sentence is a good point. I'm distinctly uncomfortable sharing ways I have helped someone.

    Do you think that there is a difference between a private institutions such as the Church supporting a mandated health care plan for anyone donating their service to them, and the government mandating a health care plan for all citizens?

    1. No big difference. Both are large organizations with the purchasing power to operate a plan that spreads risk.

      Certainly the church has marked the path and led the way when it comes to health care. Every pamphlet and web page on self-reliance encourages the purchase of appropriate health insurance.

      To go around without health insurance is a form of gambling. One is betting that they will not have an accident or illness.

      I appreciate that we should not expect others to pay for our needs, but that is exactly what is happening now in every hospital emergency room in the country. Rather than having access to preventive care, people go to the ER with advanced stage disease that is much more expensive to treat. And those of us who attempt to go to the ER with true emergencies will pay much, much more to compensate for those who gambled and lost, who cannot or will not pay their own bills.

    2. The fundamental difference in my opinion is that of responsibility. Missionaries obviously are not Church employees, but to me it is a quasi employee/employer relationship. I think the Church assumes responsibility for the care of its missionaries. It's been a while since I was a missionary, but I believe that when I was required to see a doctor for a minor procedure, the bill was sent to the mission office, and the Church took care of it. Perhaps medical expenses are handled differently now.

      I am not aware that the Church has made any specific announcement that the general membership should have medical insurance, although this would definitely fall under the general category of being prepared.

      To my knowledge, the US government, on the other hand, traditionally has not assumed the same kind of responsibility medically for all of its citizens. There obviously has been a big shift recently, and I admit it that healthcare in general is a big problem with no easy solution. I disagree though that the Church's position with insurance for missionaries can be viewed the same as the government's position with insurance for all citizens.

    3. The church hasn't made a general statement lately about health insurance because ours is now an international church, with more members outside of the US than in, and thus most members living in countries with universal health care (not necessarily government run, but everyone covered). However, many of the English language documents in the Provident Living site stress the importance of health coverage, and a January 2010 Ensign article by Stanley G. Ellis talks about the importance of health coverage, and cites apostolic counsel to have coverage.

      My young missionaries were covered by our family coverage until my daughter turned 22. For senior missionaries, they have to purchase health coverage if they do not have it already. Senior missionaries are responsible for the cost of the policy, but the church makes a group plan available at a competitive rate.

      Tje US government has assumed responsibility medically for all citizens over age 65.

      And I do think that the government and the church are similar in that they are large enough to have the purchasing power to make a group plan available at a reasonable cost. It isn't free, and people are responsible for their own bills.

  10. I enjoyed this post and the comments.

    It occurred to me, as SR indicated, that we may have the tendency to write a check and think that we have done enough. I think "real" charity involves giving of our self and trying to offer what we believe is needed and not what is most convenient or easy for us to give.

    Also, I think the focus is often on the more obvious physical/temporal needs and that the emotional and spiritual needs that are less obvious can be easily overlooked.

    While considering how to share some other ideas, I came across this talk from President Benson:

    I believe we often do not approach giving or receiving assistance in the Lord's way, but I am grateful for a Church that teaches these principles.

  11. Thank you, Jim!

    It is strange to me that people would turn around and point fingers at institutions for not filling a need they see. That is why I tried to draw the analogy to the thought process that goes through my mind in the microcosm: when someone comes to me with needs.

    But it is more real when I see someone in need, to think about what I can do. Not to blame others for not making sure there wouldn't be a problem to see in the first place.

  12. I definitely agree that individuals shouldn't rely on organizations to take care of the needy. Unfortunately, like you're really saying here, most don't -- which is, in part, why we need organizations, even legislation, now.

    Although the government isn't the best choice, it's the only choice in the present tense (at least the needy are getting something). Individuals and other organizations which could be more efficient and do a better job aren't -- or often attach arbitrary strings or inaccurate judgments.

    Until individuals and more fit organizations do a better job providing for the impoverished, the government unfortunately needs to step in.

    I think a lot of people (I'm not implying anyone specifically here) who see an ideal forget that it takes time to create, that temporary, non-ideal patches need to be put in place while we work toward something better.

    So my retort to those who bemoan [x] or [y] (and I think it's similar to what you're saying here) is: then create something better. If it's truly better, [x] & [y] won't be needed and will be shut down.

  13. Tis true, we do need people to be more self-involved. However, at one time it really was only churches that ever took care of the poor and the needy. Often that is still the case. My church has drives for canned goods and the like often. I admire the LDS church for running its own pantry.

  14. Clawpan, you make a very good point. I don't think that we should rid the government of welfare programs entirely, though there is no doubt in my mind that more of a broken thing isn't going to help fix the problems. But it's a chicken-or-egg question. Would people do more if they didn't rely on others to do it? What if the government programs advertised for charitable giving, creating a social pressure rather than forcibly taking the money?

    The problem with the patches (and I don't disagree with you on that point, either) is that people patch it and then move on, thinking it's fixed.

    That is exactly what I'm saying. Stop whining about how the Church and the Government aren't doing a good enough job providing for the poor, and direct your charitable giving to a place that DOES conduct business how you want. It's not even the primary or only goal for either institution to eradicate poverty. I don't even think it's possible for either to do certain types of good, because both have a lot more red tape than individuals do. You need both, doubtlessly, institutional organization and individual initiative. I just get tired of people claiming that the Church should give all their money to feed the poor, completely ignoring the realities of such a proposition, that the government needs more programs (as if that is going to really solve the problems,) and most of all that taxation and/or tithes somehow suffice for fulfilling the Savior's exhortation to feed His sheep.

    Savvy, I agree completely. I don't want churches to stop doing charitable work, far from it. But I do want people to stop sitting in judgment about how the work they do isn't enough, all while enjoying their own Big Macs and retirement savings.

  15. "Would people do more if they didn't rely on others to do it?"

    While there are those who just expect to be taken care of and won't take care of themselves until you drop kick them out of the house, the vast majority don't know how to take care of themselves and wouldn't survive by being cut off.

    That is, the most significant issue with reliance: Low-income households can be chaotic due to factors such as job uncertainty, poor parenting skills, and everyday stresses being compounded by lack of resources. These unstable conditions are significantly correlated with delayed and poor cognitive development. Educational resources – such as private education, and independent, targeted tutoring – which would benefit cognitive development are expensive and inaccessible to the poor. Teachers in poor communities tend to be from low-income households, themselves, and could not afford quality training and lack the skills to address the developmental needs created by poverty.

    Limited cognitive ability leads to limited job, parenting, budgeting, and basic life management skills. Children raised in these conditions often grow up to raise their children in the same conditions, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

    So these people who are stuck in this cycle don't know how to be self reliant and don't have access to the resources to teach them.

    Of course, the programs in place now don't do anything to solve this problem -- especially the government programs. But they at least provide essentials for the time being while others do what they can (I'm personally preparing a business plan for an organization which will develop educational software targeted at alleviating poverty, breaking the cycle).

    "What if the government programs advertised for charitable giving, creating a social pressure rather than forcibly taking the money?"

    Unfortunately people generally don't give (this is from experience both running a non-profit, including doing market research for such, and working with people dependent on government aid) unless there's something in it for them.

    There are a lot of non-profits out there which are doing their best to raise funds to take care of the needy; however, they're insufficient because people just don't give. There are some who do, but the majority don't.

    I also abhor the idea of forcing people to do something. But, unfortunately, there are times when it's needed. While working with those who are dependent on government aid, I've seen how their families, churches, and other social circles respond to these people's needs; I've seen how much support companies organized specifically to meet their needs get... and, unfortunately, right now I've found that the government needs to force people to give.

    Social pressure may be another route; however, that would require some significant campaigning -- and I think it would ultimately be even less efficient.

    "The problem with the patches (and I don't disagree with you on that point, either) is that people patch it and then move on, thinking it's fixed."

    I definitely agree. And I think this is an example of why a general education of what's truly needed is important.

  16. I'm coming to this very late, but it's the same general issue, imo, as people who complain that the missionaries should do nothing but service, since they see that as somehow more Christlike than preaching the Gospel. I am really glad that the full-time missionaries are serving more now than when I was on my mission, but if there is a lack of service happening, it's at the member level.

    If WE served more, and served more unconditionally, the missionaries wouldn't have to do it in order for the Church to be seen in a better light. People would be drawn to the Zion we as members would be creating, and the missionaries wouldn't have time to serve. They would be too busy teaching the Gospel.


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