Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Service and Self Reliance

This post is really going to be more of a rant than anything, so I apologize in advance.

I am the Relief Society President in my ward. We are an extremely poor ward, as we are living in the cheapest housing that exists in Arizona, most of us are students and living off of government money and those that aren't are barely on their feet enough to rub two nickels together. When I went to a Stake Leadership meeting they were talking about the correct way to write food orders from the Bishop's Storehouse and I was the only one who had written very many and was pretty competent at it. I do at least 6 in an average month, sometimes more, sometimes less.

So I've been thinking quite a bit about self reliance. I mean, Joel and I are just as poor as everyone else in the ward. Yet we have never had to ask the ward for financial assistance, and I don't even think we are the best example of self reliance, either. But we get by. And I'm not saying that the people who ask don't need the assistance they are receiving or that they shouldn't have it. I'm just wondering what really put them in such a situation in the first place? Was it circumstances beyond their control, or could they have prevented it by making better choices?

I just want to give a couple of examples:

Example #1: Right now there are several families in our ward who are moving for one reason or the other. One family is having to move to another house that is wheelchair accesible (still within the ward boundaries) due to a series of unfortunate events. It is such a long story I don't think I will even attempt it here, but basically the husband is in a rehab center with two broken legs and can't come home until the house is wheelchair ready. He is expected to be in bed/wheelchair for at least six months because of the nature of his injuries. There were other events more than six months ago that started a downward spiral, so that the wife is stretched beyond her limits and can barely function with what is on her plate (an autistic child and another with bipolar disorder, among other things). Having to move came as a big surprise to everyone and the ward really jumped in and helped. There is still much to do, but I feel we have lifted a great burden off of this family's shoulders. I also feel that there is no way in the world they could have done it without our help. I also feel that it was completely appropriate to help, and that our lives were blessed for doing so.

Example #2: Another family who was planning on moving a month ago found that the wife would need to go in for emergency back surgery during the time when she would normally be packing up and moving. She ended up being in a rehab center as well for several weeks and once out could only walk with the aid of a walker. While she was in the hospital, we asked the family multiple times how we could help, but got no response. We brought in a few meals, but that was it. We found that there was a lot of extended family there to pack up the house and move everything. I found out yesterday that they are expecting our Relief Society to clean the house they moved out of almost a month ago. Nobody asked me, these are people who weren't especially active, and yet they expect us to just go and do it for them. Their family has helped enough, they say. After discussing this with my Bishop, we have decided it isn't appropriate at all to help this family and they need to find a way to do it themselves. She does have a perfectly healthy husband and five children. Two of which are teenagers and perfectly capable of cleaning a bathroom. Also, I would have been more willing to help out when they were actually moving and I was calling to find out what we could do. Yet nobody bothered to return my calls, so I was left to assume that they needed no help.

Why do some people take so much advantage of the Church and the willingness of its members to serve? There is even another lady we deal with who is not a member, but thinks the Mormons are just there to serve her. When the missionaries talk to her she is very definitely not interested. Why are the same people the ones who show up to every service project time and time again? Why?

It is such a fine line and a difficult decision to make. When is it appropriate to serve and when are we enabling people by doing so? When is it more appropriate to leave it to them to figure things out for themselves? Sometimes, they really made the mess because of bad decisions, so why should others have to clean it up for them? I got another phone call tonight from a single sister who is being evicted. She has to be packed and out by noon tomorrow. I went and helped her for a little while tonight. Yet, this is her own problem really. Why did she let it get this bad? Why did she ignore notices? Was it appropriate for me to help her tonight? I don't know. I try to think what Christ would do, and sometimes I just don't know. I guess it is best to err on the side of service, but I wonder if I am really doing them a disservice by doing so.

I guess I'll never know the answer. The other thing I'll never know is where all the people are to clean my house this week since I've been cleaning everyone else's but my own. Do you think I could arrange something?
Lara Neves
Lara Neves

Lara is mom to three daughters—two teens and a tween. She loves to share her parenting and homemaking triumphs and failures here at Overstuffed! She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015 and has been fighting it ever since. When she isn't working on her mother of the year award, you can find her reading, singing, or taking photos.


  1. I think that the answer lies in what you believe is the reason that you help someone. What is the purpose of helping a person? Is it to show them the LDS/Godly way? Is it to answer a calling? Is it to fulfill your role in the church? Is it to make someone's life easier? Is it to teach people how to live the right ways? ...I am sure there are seven thousand other reasons that people help one another that I haven't thought of.

  2. I think helping someone can get to a "red flag" point: they ask for help, food, etc, ridiculously often.

    Otherwise, I think we should step in (IF YOU CAN) and help , regardless. Leave the judgement up to Heavenly Father.

    Having said that, I do think situations like that family with the husband and 2 teenagers is ridiculous.

    Perhaps, if the word "ridiculous" comes to mind, then I would question helping out.

  3. You know, I had a SERIOUS problem with this when I was in YW. We were picking up a girl at school so that her mom could work (and she didn't even START work til' her kids were out of school, she basically laid around all day). But, I did what I could and I knew that I could only do SO much as to the point I wouldn't feel bitter about it. I mean, I got to the bitter point a couple times, but somtiems I just said it was more than I could do... and if her child went to hell... that was truly her problem, not mine. Anyway, do what you can, ignore the rest.