June 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: Strengthening Families Through Temporal Self-Reliance

June sees the end of spring in the northern hemisphere and the end of autumn in the southern hemisphere, so it is no surprise to see this month’s message with a focus on temporal self-reliance, perhaps in hinting of spring planting and autumn storage. In my usual style, I have to flip the message upside down and all around in order for it to work for me. I have also edited parts that didn’t work for me, but you can view the entire message here. Because temporal self-reliance is such a broad topic, I have put this into three sections. In visiting/teaching different sisters, I would be prayerful and just focus on one part, so the message doesn’t become a monstrously long, detailed and painful compilation of “should do this and act this way” advice, which I think often happens when discussing self-reliance (i.e. you “should” plan for retirement,  you “should” do food storage, you “should” be prepared for emergencies, should, should should…). In the spirit of avoiding the “should”: 

Part I: I am starting with what I think is the most important part of the message:

In Relief Society, we are taught self-reliance principles and skills. Sisters can learn about budgeting, debt relief, employment qualifications, the scriptures and the gospel, teaching others to read and learn, technology, physical health, fitness, addiction prevention and recovery, social and emotional health, preventing illness, gardening, food production and storage, emergency preparedness, and many other things that will help us become self-reliant.

Provident living isn’t just about food storage, living on a budget and making quilts. It is about creating a healthy and secure home environment. I am pleased that this list is inclusive of “social and emotional health” as well as “addiction prevention and recovery”. Provident living typically has major emphases on budgeting, food storage and emergency preparedness. While these things are important, if someone is dealing with depression, neglect, marital problems, addiction or other personal issues, it may be counter-productive and insensitive to recommend they become your partner to make up 72 hour kits at the next Relief Society meeting. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “a pioneer is not a woman who makes her own soap. She is one who takes her burdens and walks toward the future. With vision and with courage, she makes the desert bloom.” As a visiting teacher, I would ask myself how I can help my sisters to make their own deserts bloom.

Consider two of the scriptural references with this message:

John 13:34–35: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Doctrine and Covenants 44:6 Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. Amen.

Often relief can come just from listening. Are you assigned to visit teaching someone who is older than you, or an elderly sister who may not be in an active food storage situation any more? Then ask her to share with you something about her food storage experiences; ask her to share and teach you. In the formal message,  there is a section describing the experience after the death of Julie Beck’s mother in law. It detailed what this woman left behind which proved she had lead a provident life. It reminded me of Quentin Cook’s story of the purse last conference, which you may be inspired to discuss, but I do not think it is appropriate for most sisters as … well, my purse for one, falls very short and I don’t like the thought of being judged by what is in my purse or what I leave behind after death. However, if the sisters you teach are willing to share, let them. Don’t pry. Just listen.

Are you teaching a younger sister new to provident living? Ask her what her concerns are with provident living, or ask her what her mother does for provident living, to see if she wants to do the same, or has better ideas.

Do you suspect one of your teachees is dealing with depression or other issues? Ask her to share with you what makes her happy, what food she likes most (food-storage wise or not) or ask what it is that helps her to stay balanced in her life. A part of your task in being visiting teachers is to provide relief so your sisters can make their personal deserts bloom. Just listening to sisters may offer balance and relief so they can see the blooms in the desert. Your responsibility, primarily and always, is to listen. Since food storage, emergency preparedness, and budgeting is such a mainstay in Mormon culture, it is imperative to remember that emotional health is an essential factor in constructing strong temporal health. So… listen. Ask them where they are from, if you haven’t before. Ask what they think of pioneer women. Ask them what they think of nature vs. nurture debate. Ask them their favourie colour. Offer them a nurturing ear. You need not offer answers, just listen. It will be worth it.

Part II: This is the history section, which is nice, but short and limited. I have added to it, and included references at the end of the post.

Relief Society sisters have always participated in the work of saving souls temporally and spiritually. Each week as the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo met, sisters reported on people in need. Donations of money, goods, talents, and time were dispersed to relieve the needy. This foundational work of relieving suffering has continued to be the work of Relief Society through the generations.

The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo began in 1842 with an eye to assist church members in need though a rudimentary visiting teaching program. But with the death of Joseph Smith Jr., and the exodus to the west, formal meetings ceased in 1846. In travel to and upon arrival in Utah, different groups of women gathered to began relief work of their own accord, not in association with the earlier group. These groups were not officially associated with the church, but became reputed enough that in 1851, a Female Council of Heath was established in Utah by the women of these groups. In 1854, Matilda Dudley established an “Indian Relief Society” to supply clothes to native women and children. A few months later, Brigham Young enlarged this idea and invited all women in the church to be active in supporting their native neighbours. (Often Young is given the re-organization credit, but I think Dudley and other women deserve attention for being brilliantly foresighted).  In following Young’s direction, some women were formally set apart as nurses and teachers, but the relief society was not yet re-born.

This period of re-development was interrupted again in 1858. The saints were forced to flee the Salk Lake valley as the Utah War commenced. Families were forced to leave behind stores of wheat and other items that were sequestered by the squatting Johnston’s Army. Thirty thousand saints were displaced and became reliant on other church members outside of the Salt Lake valley for survival. Though they lost their food storage, because other church members had lived providently, no one faced starvation. It was finally in 1867 that the Relief Society formally reorganized under Young and a general presidency was established with Eliza R. Snow as president. With such a difficult and rocky start, and in seeing the challenges of the early sisters, it is easy to see why temporal self-reliance is a mainstay in the Relief Society program. Smart women know that we are responsible in providing for ourselves, our families and even others in times of crisis.

But how is this applicable today?

President Brigham Young (1801–77) counselled sisters to assist those in need and to learn skills that would allow them to take care of themselves. He said, “Learn to sustain yourselves; lay up grain and flour, and save it against a day of scarcity.” Under the direction of the priesthood, Relief Society continues to teach self-reliance, to safeguard the family, and to encourage personal righteousness and acts of charity, the pure love of Christ.

Food storage. Yikes! In an age that is rife with food issues, the challenge of teaching and encouraging food storage is very difficult. As I overheard a dietician say once, “people hate being told what they should and should not eat. They get really angry!” With this in mind, rather than doling out impersonal food storage lists or the rote recitation of “we all need lots of wheat” even though very few of us have wheat grinders or know how to use them, I would encourage you to write down what you eat for two weeks. This is not for counting calories, but to see what everyone in your family eats, including meals out, over-the counter vitamins and medications. The purpose is to become very familiar with personal eating habits, and to create your own food storage requirements list. From there, you can shop sales and build a real, personal storage at your own pace.

Part III: I am a fan of focusing on the basics, and encouraging women to develop themselves personally, even in emergency preparedness. With that in mind:

How can I help my sisters and their families improve in temporal self-reliance?

How can I improve my own temporal self-reliance?

These are very personal questions. Unless you know the sisters you visit teach very well, I would not ask them to actually answer these questions, but to consider them on their own and in their own time. The tricky part is in knowing how to direct people to focus on what they would need in emergency. So here’s my suggestion with a story:

When I was newly married, my husband and I lived in a very fire-prone area. In fire season (also called summer), we were advised to put together a fire box. A fire box was a box that could be stored at home, but you could grab and put in the car if you needed to evacuate. At first, I put the typical Mormon things in my fire box: a spare set of scriptures, bottled water and some cans of food. I then added our wedding album. And first aid stuff. Spare clothes. Sleeping bags went beside it. In realising there were other items such as refrigerated medication that I couldn’t keep in the box, I began making a list of other, non-box necessary items. Then I included more things. Prescription information. Phone numbers. Insurance information. Passports. The entire exercise slowly came together over the entire summer as more items of importance came to mind and were added to the list. It included a number of non-typical “72 hour kit” items, and that is okay by me, because what I gathered was important and needful for me and my family. No stock list could ever detail that for me. And while I no longer live in a fire zone, my list remains (and grows! very recently a beloved friend shared that a thermos could be used to store medications that generally need to be refrigerated! Thank you, you-know-who!!).

So, in visiting teaching, I would suggest to start a list of items you would need in case of an evacuation emergency. The purpose of the list is so that rather than panicking and trying to think of what you might need or want, you can stick to a list you created over time and with thought, so in the emergency, you can be focused on collecting these important things and remain calm.

When we are self-reliant, we use our blessings and resources to prepare for and avoid problems. Self-reliance, however, is enhanced as we pray for the courage to meet with faith the challenges that will surely come. Self-reliance also enables us to keep our covenant to care for others.

How does this care for others? In the case of the displaced families during the Utah War, they were reliant on the stores of others for survival. Likewise, in my experience in the recent Queensland floods, a member family came and stayed with us for a time. The lost their entire food storage in the flood, but we had enough food storage to provide for them, even when supply roads were closed and shops could not be restocked. We were able to give them rest, and I loved being a part of that. The point is, when we have a store of necessary items, we are in a position to help our neighbours, even if it is just a cup of sugar once in a blue moon. Certainly we do not prepare food storage, retirement funds, improve our mental and physical health or do household budgets based on what our neighbours need, but in being well prepared in these areas, we protect ourselves and our families… and are in a position to serve others. In this, we are prepared and able to serve the Lord.

I think that is why temporal self-reliance is the focus for this month. It is to remind us to be prepared, be in a healthly and safe state wherein we can serve each other. This month, your responsibility may be to listen. It may be to remind sisters why we do food storage. It may be to encourage others to develop their homes so they can serve when the time is right. Because temporal self-reliance encompasses all of those things and more. So feel free to explore and be inspired to help your sisters in ways wherein they can make thier deserts bloom.      

References for this post:

Richard L. Jensen, “Forgotten Relief Societies, 1844-67,” Dialogue, vol. 16, no. 1 (Spring 1983):105-125

Jill Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992), 75-77, 80.

“Female Relief Society,” Deseret News, 22 April 1868

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Ensign, June 1978, p 55.

Do you have any food storage advice, emergency preparedness recommendations or open-ended conversation/listening tips?


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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15 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Wow, Spunky! I just love reading your thoughts on these messages. They make me see the messages in a whole new light — you have a gift for seeing the depth in them, and for extending the thoughts in fruitful new directions.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, Caroline! I really like the inclusion of social and emotional health, it is a powerful reminder that physical preparation isn’t the only focus in temporal survival.

  2. michelle says:

    This was a nice post. I just want to point out one thing, though — I don’t think that the fact that you may not know how to use a wheat grinder is a reason not to store wheat, etc. Remember that there is a difference between three-month supply (what you eat on a regular basis) and a year’s supply (what is there to sustain life if need be). The ‘telling people what to store’ part of things is only because people *know* what will last for a looong time, what can provide key nutrients to sustain life, and what gives you bang for the buck in doing that (staples in bulk are typically pretty inexpensive…if you store them in times of plenty). This isn’t about food preferences; it’s about survival foods.

    Anyway, I absolutely agree that self-reliance is about much more than food storage. But I do think there continue to be misunderstandings about food storage that can keep people from including that as part of their big picture.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks for your comment, michelle. I agree, food storage is about survival. With that in mind, I have visit-taught and been in so many branches/wards (in my many moves) that I have found gluten-intolerance to be a very, very common issue (as well as other food allergies/intolerances/illnesses, but gluten seems the most common devil). A year’s supply of wheat would long outlive a person with celiac disease if it were the staple product stored, if only because it would cause the celiac to die faster from malnutrition. Same would go for serving long-life peanut butter to a child with a peanut allergy or eggs to a child with an egg allergy.

      So that is why I chose to place emphasis on personal collections rather than on stock lists, because we all have different nutritional, dietary and medical needs. Food storage is about survival for everyone, not just survival of the fittest. If you chose to focus on this aspect of the message, I suggest you ask the sisters you visit teach if they have any food allergies before you tell them what you think they should store, if only so you can understand what different things they need in “their big picture”.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I love that quote by LTU. You know, I wasn’t really excited to do this VT lesson until I read your ideas, Spunky. Thanks so much!

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, Emily! The temporal health/food storage reminder messages are hard to dole out– that is why I really liked the inclusion of social and emotional health and focused on the practical introduction and application of this in pioneer history.

  4. michelle says:

    “I suggest you ask the sisters you visit teach if they have any food allergies before you tell them what you think they should store, if only so you can understand what different things they need in “their big picture”.”

    I totally understand your point, and I think it is a wise thing to consider. Rice and oats can be decent grains for a lot of people with celiac. Just so you know, I would never try to force anything on someone. But that to me is different than the line of thinking of “I don’t know how to use wheat” or “I don’t have a wheat grinder” (an example you used in your post) which I don’t think is a legitimate reason not to store wheat.

    BTW, I really like the spirit of visiting teaching that you capture in this post. And I hope I didn’t take away from that by my comment.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks again Michelle, I hope you keep commenting and coming back- your perspective is very much appreicated. I agree with you on rice and some oats. I would add corn meal, polenta, corn flour, beezan (chick pea) flour and coconut flours. One of my last Vtees was celiac, and oats were off the list because where we are, they are processed in an area that also processed wheat and may have been unsafe. Because she had a large family and some of her children were gluten-intolerant, I stored some food on hand for her- in case I needed to bring a dinner by. I loved being ready, prepared and able to bring something to her that she knew she could eat (I think it meant an extra lot to her as well when I dropped off a meal she could eat). I also have worked with diabetics, who as a rule, don’t store many grains because that doesn’t suit their diet- especially if obtaining insulin were to be a problem (hence, coconut flour).

      To be honest, I usually ask for the harder to VT sisters, so maybe a part of them being resistant to VTing/RS is because these sisters have food issues? I don’t know. But I hope you keep up your good work in visiting teaching (and come back here and comment often!)

      • michelle says:

        “I would add corn meal, polenta, corn flour, beezan (chick pea) flour and coconut flours.”

        I would caution people from doing this for long-term storage, though, because those things don’t last for as long as the other stuff. If you use it, great, but don’t plan on these things lasting for the 20-30 years that other staples can. In fact, some foods can’t be stored in oxygen-free environments because of their moisture content — could be a health hazard — or fat content (shortens shelf life considerably). Lots to think about!

        I love how you are thinking about ways to help individuals in all of this. You’ve got me thinking about how to talk with my cute newlywed sister who lives in a tiny little apartment about it all. 😉

        I think your example of having things on hand to be able to serve is another argument for even gluten-intolerant people to have a little wheat on hand. 😉 We never know how our storage may be used. Of course, our first priority is to care for our own household, but I always end up wondering if I will ever find myself using what I have stored to help others, too. I won’t plan my whole storage around that possibility, but I do think about it occasionally.

      • spunky says:

        Well, I don’t store wheat and we did just fine with all of those other flours for the crisis here, even with the extra family staying with us. I personally don’t advise people with allergies to store food that they are allergic to, simply because that is like storing rat poison in the food supply. I encourage sisters to make choices based on their individual family needs.

  5. jes says:

    It seems food storage is often taught in terms of preparing for an apocalypse and then it’s completely overwhelming and people give up before they’ve even started. If you narrow it down to defining what a family thinks the most likely risk is, then they can think in terms of that risk and plan accordingly. A family who thinks a job loss is much more likely than a natural disaster, would store food and supplies differently than someone who thinks their most vulnerable point is a big storm that would cause short-term disruption in the food supply. If you think the infrastructure is likely to collapse long term, then that would require something else. All the scenarios could happen, but if someone doesn’t think they will, then they’re not invested in preparing for it. Or if they decide they’re worried about all of it, it’s too much to think about storing a supply of regular food, plus have super 72-hour kits ready in hiking bags, plus have a year’s supply of food they never eat in case everything around you collapses, plus have 2 weeks of water and purifying tablets to last forever, plus have wood to heat their home, plus …..

    • michelle says:

      This was something that overwhelmed me as an emergency prep person in my ward. There are so many different scenarios to consider. However, I do think the Church’s basic principles can cut across many of these things. Have water on hand. Have a shorter-term supply of food (then add long-term). Have a financial reserve. These are some great starting points that could buffer against a lot of different types of emergencies right out the chute, don’t you think?

  6. RuthAnn M says:

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments. I have recently re-activated and just this month got a calling as a visiting teacher. It’s been a few years and your blog article helped me make the leap.

  7. Lesta says:

    I appreciate your comments on the June VT message. I love the quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and have made something to put on my fridge with that quote on it.
    Thank you!
    KC, MO area

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