Note: I glanced through the lesson outlines, and it appears to me mostly to be a lesson on growing-up, wanting to have more freedom, learning to give wisely, etc. I took my thoughts in a related direction, but what follows is in no way a direct commentary on the manuals.
Self reliance, self reliance... this is always a mixed-bag for me. When I hear those words out of any context of any lesson, I think of two extremes: 1, I think of being responsible, not lazy, being willing to think outside the box in any situation, etc. but also 2, not relying on others (which can lead to feeling guilty if someone does need to rely on others) and sometimes, leading to not relying on God.
I worry quite a bit about the way I (usually) hear self-reliance taught in the church. I really wish we had a better name for the concept, for one. SELF reliance? self RELIANCE? Why are we relying on ourselves? That sounds so closed-in. So, well, selfish. And relying on only ourselves does not seem like a happy way to live, nor what the scriptures teach!
But, I can see value in the outcome that some of those lessons in the church are aiming at: we don't want people to be lazy. We don't want people to waste their talents and abilities. Etc. Well that does make a great deal of sense. Or, for example, I like the up-and-coming focus on people learning spiritual truths for themselves. That's fantastic - get to work, you can do more than you think you can!
But if all of that is just for ourselves, haven't we missed something?
Rather than the way this is often taught (and to clarify, I hadn't even read the manual lessons when I wrote this; I just thought about the lessons I've seen during my experience as an adult in the church), wouldn't we reach the same outcome, but in a more substantial way, by teaching consecration? When we consecrate, we see everything we have been given as coming from God. Our minds, our hands, our spiritual gifts, etc. Everything is really His. Second, we also see ourselves as part of something else; we are a part of God's church, God's work, God's family. We aren't relying on ourselves, we are relying on God, but we also realize that God is relying on us!
There, that's the way I want to say it (so I'm going to say it again :) ): We aren't relying on ourselves, we recognize so clearly that we are relying on God, and we see it so much that we also realize that God is relying on us to bless others. Why? Because all of those people around us are relying on God too. Why does He give us spiritual gifts? "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby" (D&C 46:11-12). Why? So that all may be profited. It's like the image Paul uses of the "body of Christ." We all have different spiritual gifts, but not just so we rely on ourselves! It is so that we get to work (yes! get to work!) in order that the whole body can be blessed. We need each other. We don't work to save ourselves; we work because we have something to offer, and we hope others work because we need them. It isn't self-reliance, though it is pushing ourselves to work - that part I think holds, but look at the difference in context! :)
And to keep up the theme... Why do we have the ability to work? Benjamin works so that he would not be a "burden" to his people. I suppose that we could call it a self-reliance, in that he didn't want to rely on his people. But it wasn't that he didn't want to rely on them, it was that he didn't want to take anyway from them. Same outcome, but a different focus.
That focus means, however, that when someone does need to rely on the community because they can not work, that's not a problem. There are always other ways to give to the community, if we are seeing ourselves as a community. There is always work to be done, work we need to do - not to make us independent from the community, but precisely because we have something to offer to God's work in whatever community we are a part of.
One more example, to try and make this clear. Why do we have riches? Wealth? Monetary means at all? Jacob says: "And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to dogood—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted." We receive riches from God only for the purpose of blessing others - not ourselves. Not, as long as I give a little bit extra away then I can be justified in having whatever I want. This isn't a sermon on self-reliance in Jacob 2. He is calling his people to repentance; he says, "you have obtained many riches" from God, and then you "persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they." This is not God's plan; you are not "better" because you are self-reliant. The reason for riches is to bless others. Check out Nephi and Benjamin as well:
And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish. (2 Nephi 26: 30-31)
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just--
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. (Mosiah 4:16-22)
I know these are strong words, but I want to highlight a few points. First, Nephi says that if we have charity, we won't suffer that the labor in Zion will perish. But notice also what he says: none of us, even that laborer, can labor for money! I think that is a call for each of us, rich, poor, or in-between: we are not to hold money over people's heads, nor are we to covet money others' have - we are here to build Zion, and do whatever it takes to do that. Not to just relax in material comforts. :)
Second, Benjamin points out that even we have plenty, because of our own, hard work, we have to remember that it is not ours. If we simply dismiss someone who begs because we feel "I worked hard for what I have; I followed the direction to be self-reliant; this person didn't, I assume, so therefore I won't help them" then Benjamin says we "have no interest in the kingdom of heaven." I don't think that just means "being bad" I think we should take those words very literally. The kingdom of heaven is a place where God does His work, and in heaven it will be quite obvious that everything is really His afterall! Also, the kingdom of heaven is a place where we are all together. Even if God reigns over it, He still sends angels to be messengers, still calls on prophets to preach, still blesses our families by the things you and I do. He uses us to get His work done; the kingdom of heaven is a place where we all work together to accomplish God's work. You know, a Zion place. :)
So if our attitude is so focused on whether or not I have been self-reliant or whether or not this other person has been self-reliant, we've missed the boat. Completely. But, on the other hand, if we think that Zion means a place to coast, to do nothing, then I think we could also say that we "have no interest in the kingdom of heaven." That place is a place where we consecrate everything. To be idle is not consecrated. However, to rely on the community is also not un-consecrated. Zion is zion, a place where God's work comes first, and we are constantly working with whatever He gives us. Not so that we are all set all on our own, but so that we have something to give.
So there's my rambling concerns about how we usually teach "self reliance" and "work" in the church. YES, do not be idle. But not for some invented reason that being focused on self is good in and of itself. I know that's not what is intended, but it can come across that way very, very easily. Teach that we are growing up - yes! teach that we can work - yes! teach that we don't need to wait around for others - yes! yes! yes! We have our own relationship with God and can receive personal revelation - yes! But in all of this, please don't miss consecration. Please, somehow, don't turn this into a praise of selfishness.
Rather, perhaps, teach about the great potential each Young Woman has. Teach about the great trust God has in them to do great things. That He will use them, and it's worth all the work that comes with that!
And, since I didn't relate this directly to the manuals themselves - what thoughts do you have about these lessons? What additional resources would you suggest? For those who have already taught, what went well? What didn't? Share away!