Intro: This is the seal of the Relief Society. Why do you think these shafts of wheat were used as symbols of the Relief Society?
The most long-lived of the society’s economic enterprises was the wheat storage program directed initially by [Emmeline B.] Wells in 1876, after Brigham Young suggested the Relief Society store wheat against a time of famine. In 1906 the Relief Society donated several railroad cars of wheat and flour to the victims of the San Francisco earthquake. The Relief Society continued to gather and store wheat until the close of World War I (1918), when the Relief Society sold 205,518 bushels of their storage wheat to the U.S. government at its request.
Clearly Mormon women have been intensely involved in meeting their own temporal needs and helping those around them since the early days of Relief Society. This has been a founding principle of the organization.
IF WE ARE WISE WITH OUR MEANS, WE WILL BE PREPARED FOR HARD TIMES
GAS gives this analogy:
We might learn a lesson from the ant. He harvests his supplies when they are available and stores them up against the day when it would not be possible to obtain them. The result is that his larder is usually well stocked. The grasshopper, a much larger insect, does not operate that way. He does not lay up anything in store for hard times, but depends upon providence to provide him what he needs, and the result is that most grasshoppers starve to death.
I fear that some human beings are like the grasshopper and do not take advantage of the opportunities that are theirs in a reasonable way. If they would take a lesson from the ant, they would lay up the food that they need and always have some on hand.
GAS recommends that we look to the ant as an example of prudence, hard work, and preparation. Food storage is one clear way we can do this, but there are certainly other things we can do. What other things do you and your families do to prepare for hard times, in case of emergencies? (have a certain amount of money automatically go into an emergency savings account every month, buy life/disability insurance, etc.)
Let’s consider this as women. Many mothers of young children are stay at home moms and don’t have jobs. If their husbands die, become sick or if it becomes necessary to divorce, these women are in a seriously vulnerable financial position, having been out of the work force for years, or never having entered into it at all. What advice do you have for young mothers about how to reduce that financial vulnerability during these years that they might not have jobs, if they become stay at home moms? (keep resumes up to date, stay in contact with colleagues and bosses, volunteer in order to have current references, take classes to keep up to date with their field, keep credentials renewed, etc.)
More generally, what should we teach our young women about being prepared to support themselves and their families? Marie Hafen, wife of General Authority Bruce Hafen, wrote this in the early 90s: “Career-oriented education is important because women typically experience so many different phases of life—and because they can’t always control when and what those phases will be. For example, at any given time, from 35 to 40 percent of the adult women in the Church are single, whether widowed, divorced, or not having married—with divorce being the greatest cause. The never married are the smallest group, since only 3 percent of LDS women never do marry. In addition, over 90 percent, including both married and single women, must work for some part of their adult lives. What these statistics boil down to is that a young woman who believes she will always have a husband who will fully support her, making it unnecessary for her to work, is living in a dream world. Husbands die, or they can be disabled by accidents or illness. Children grow up, missionaries need financial support, and most mothers live healthy, vigorous lives for many years after their children leave home.” See Marie Hafen, “Celebrating Womanhood,” The Belonging Heart by Bruce C. Hafen and Marie Hafen (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994).
THE LORD HAS DIRECTED US TO WORK FOR OUR OWN LIVELIHOOD
GAS writes: “I am satisfied that no people have ever lived upon the earth who, having failed to earn their livelihood by integrity and industry, have not gone to decay.
If our children grow up in idleness, we know that this is displeasing to the Lord.
How much better off we are when we are occupied with some reasonable work.
I thank God for work, for the joy that comes from doing things in the world. I am not indicating any particular kind of employment except that it be honorable.”
What are your feelings about this? Do you feel joy from doing things in the world, from working? Why or why not? And what can we do to change our attitudes if we don’t find joy in our work?
Do you have any specific ideas about how to raise children so that they don’t grow up in idleness?
NEITHER THE RICH NOR POOR SHOULD SET THEIR HEARTS UPON RICHES
GAS writes: “I hope we are not going to become bitter because some men and women are well-to-do. If we are well-to-do, I hope we are not going to be self-centered and unconscious of the needs of our Father’s other children. If we are better off than they are, we ought to be real brothers and sisters, not make-believe. Our desires should be to develop in this world such an organization that others, seeing our good works would be constrained to glorify the name of our Heavenly Father. …”
GAS mentions becoming bitter or jealous because others have more money than we do. What can we do to prevent jealousy from entering into our hearts? And what can we do to prevent ourselves from becoming self-centered and unconscious of the needs of our Father’s children? Have you had any experiences that have opened your hearts to others who are in need?
IF WE ARE GENEROUS WITH OUR MEANS THERE IS NO NEED FOR ANYONE TO GO WITHOUT
GAS writes: “Let us … look around us in our neighborhood—not leave it to the Bishop and the Relief Society, but let each of us be ministers of loving kindness to those who will need us so much. And whatever we do let us not make those who require assistance feel like paupers. Let us give what we give as though it belonged to them. God has loaned it to us. Sometimes we who have accumulated means [act] as though we think it belongs to us. Everything that we have, our food, our clothing, our shelter, our homes and our opportunities are all given to us as stewards in the Church and kingdom of our Heavenly Father, and if we will … impart of our substance even though it may be but the widow’s mite, we will obtain from him who lives on high the blessings we need in our day here upon the earth, and when the time comes for us to go hence we will find awaiting us the blessing of a loving Father who has appreciated the efforts we have put forth.
GAS writes of giving money generously. Sometimes I see documentaries or shows about the horrible poverty and suffering around the world and want to sell my stuff and give a bunch of money to these people. But then I rarely do, often because of my children. I want to save money for their college education, for great learning opportunities for them, etc. So I often feel divided between being generous with my excess wealth, and saving it for my children or for some future time of need. Do you feel these competing desires? How do you balance them?
Chieko Okazaki writes about giving as well, particularly from the perspective of those who might not have extra money to give. She says “Some of you may feel that you have little to give…. But all of us are rich in some ways. May I suggest some ways in which you are rich? First, you are rich in appreciation….Think of all the opportunities you have to express appreciation. You have parents. You may have a spouse. Perhaps you have children. You have colleagues. You have teachers…. You can be lavish in your gratitude. You can be prodigal in your appreciation. You can afford to!
The second quality with which you can be generous and prodigal is time. You have just as much time as the richest person on earth… And the gift of time is one of the most precious gifts you can give because it’s the least renewable of resources. ” Okazaki then quotes another writer, I.A.R. Wiley: “Generosity doesn’t require money. It requires imagination. It takes the ability to put yourself into the head of someone else, to recognize your spouse’s weariness, your friend’s anxieties, your grandson’s fears…. When you can feel their feelings, then you can also feel what would ease their burdens.” (From Being Enough, p. 91-94).
Conclusion: Find a New Testament story of Jesus generously reaching out to those who are most in need. Note that it’s not usually through money — often it’s through love, attention and healing. May we all do better and give those things generously. May we all work hard, spend and save wisely, and with an open and loving heart monetarily help those in need.