Our bishops face increasing calls to counsel members with problems that have more to do with emotional needs than with the need for food or clothing or shelter.
My message, therefore, is to the subject: solving emotional problems in the Lord’s own way.
Fortunately, the principles of temporal welfare apply to emotional problems as well.
The Church was two years old when the Lord revealed that “the idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways.” (D&C 75:29.)
The Welfare handbook instructs: “[We must] earnestly teach and urge Church members to be self-sustaining to the full extent of their powers. No true Latter-day Saint will … voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Almighty and with his own labors, he will supply himself with the necessities of life.” (1952, p. 2.)
We have succeeded fairly well in teaching Latter-day Saints that they should take care of their own material needs and then contribute to the welfare of those who cannot provide for themselves.
If a member is unable to sustain himself, then he is to call upon his own family, and then upon the Church, in that order, and not upon the government at all.
We have counseled bishops and stake presidents to be very careful to avoid abuses in the welfare program.
When people are able but unwilling to take care of themselves, we are responsible to employ the dictum of the Lord that the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer. (See D&C 42:42.)
The simple rule has been to take care of one’s self. This couplet of truth has been something of a model: “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
When the Church welfare program was first announced in 1936, the First Presidency said:
“Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help people help themselves.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3; italics added.)
Occasionally someone is attracted to the Church because of our welfare program. They see material security.
Our answer to them is: “Yes, join the Church for that reason. We can use all of the help we can get. You will be called upon continually to bless and assist others.”
Interesting how enthusiasm for baptism often fades away.
It is a self-help system, not a quick handout system. It requires a careful inventory of all personal and family resources, all of which must be committed before anything is added from the outside.
It is not an unkind or an unfeeling bishop who requires a member to work to the fullest extent he can for what he receives from Church welfare.
There should not be the slightest embarrassment for any member to be assisted by the Church. Provided, that is that he has contributed all that he can.
President Romney has emphasized, “To care for people on any other basis is to do them more harm than good.
“The purpose of Church welfare is not to relieve [a Church member] from taking care of himself.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1974, p. 166; italics added.)
The principle of self-reliance or personal independence is fundamental to the happy life. In too many places, in too many ways, we are getting away from it.
The substance of what I want to say is this: The same principle self-reliance—has application to the spiritual and to the emotional.
We have been taught to store a year’s supply of food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel—at home. There has been no attempt to set up storerooms in every chapel. We know that in the crunch our members may not be able to get to the chapel for supplies.
Can we not see that the same principle applies to inspiration and revelation, the solving of problems, to counsel, and to guidance?
We need to have a source of it stored in every home, not just in the bishop’s office.
If we do not do that, we are quite as threatened spiritually as we should be were we to assume that the Church should supply all material needs.
Unless we use care, we are on the verge of doing to ourselves emotionally (and, therefore, spiritually) what we have been working so hard for generations to avoid materially.
We seem to be developing an epidemic of “counselitis” which drains spiritual strength from the Church much like the common cold drains more strength out of humanity than any other disease.
That, some may assume, is not serious. It is very serious!
On one hand, we counsel bishops to avoid abuses in welfare help. On the other hand, some bishops dole out counsel and advice without considering that the member should solve the problem himself.
There are many chronic cases—individuals who endlessly seek counsel but do not follow the counsel that is given.
I have, on occasions, included in an interview this question:
“You have come to me for advice. After we have carefully considered your problem, is it your intention to follow the counsel that I will give you?”
This comes as a considerable surprise to them. They had never thought of that. Usually they then commit themselves to follow counsel.
It is easier then to show them how to help themselves, and more than that, how to help others. That is the greatest therapy.
Speaking figuratively, many a bishop keeps on the corner of his desk a large stack of order forms for emotional relief.
When someone comes with a problem, the bishop, unfortunately, without a question, passes them out, without stopping to think what he is doing to his people.
We have become very anxious over the amount of counseling that we seem to need in the Church. Our members are becoming dependent.
We must not set up a network of counseling services without at the same time emphasizing the principle of emotional self-reliance and individual independence.
If we lose our emotional and spiritual independence, our self-reliance, we can be weakened quite as much, perhaps even more, than when we become dependent materially.
If we are not careful, we can lose the power of individual revelation. What the Lord said to Oliver Cowdery has meaning for all of us.
“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (D&C 9:7–9.)
Spiritual independence and self-reliance is a sustaining power in the Church. If we rob the members of that, how can they get revelation for themselves? How will they know there is a prophet of God? How can they get answers to prayers? How can they know for sure for themselves?
It is not an unfeeling bishop who requires those coming to him for counsel to exhaust every personal and family resource before helping them.
Bishops, be careful with your “emotional order forms.” Do not pass them out without having analyzed carefully the individual resources.
Teach our members to follow proper channels in solving problems.
It is not unusual for some to “shop around” to get advice from friends and neighbors, from every direction, and then choose what they think is the best of it. That is a mistake.
Some want to start with psychologists, with professional counselors, or to go directly to the General Authorities to begin with.
The problems may need that kind of attention but only after every personal, and family, and every local resource has been exhausted.
We mentioned that when a member has used all of his own resources there should be no embarrassment in receiving welfare assistance.
That principle holds true with emotional assistance as well.
There may be a time when deep-seated emotional problems need more than can be given by the family, the bishop, or the stake president.
In order to help with the very difficult problems, the Church has established some counseling services in areas where our membership is large. (Only for those that come through proper channels.)
The first category includes those services that ordinarily require a license from the local, state, or national government. The licensed services include:
the care of unwed mothers,
the foster care of children,
and, the Indian Placement Program.
In July of 1977 the First Presidency issued a letter giving some instruction and caution to priesthood leaders, with reference to licensed services.
Our purpose here will be to review principles that apply to the services offered under the heading clinical.
Clinical services are offered (again, through proper channels only) in three successive steps:
First: consultation, where a priesthood leader consults with an LDS Social Services representative about a member with serious problems. Only the priesthood leader meets with the member.
The next step is evaluation, wherein a priesthood leader and the member meet together with an LDS Social Services practitioner to evaluate the problem. Ordinarily this is one meeting only. Thereafter, the priesthood leader continues to help the member.
In difficult and persistent cases, there is therapy. The member (and, when possible, the bishop) meets with an LDS Social Services practitioner for counseling. The bishop gives continuing help after termination of these sessions.
Bishops and stake presidents can exemplify self-reliance by resolving these problems locally. Ultimately it is the member who must solve them.
Bishops, you must not abdicate your responsibility to anyone—not to professionals, even to those employed by Church Social Services. They would be the first to tell you so.
You have a power to soothe and to sanctify and to heal that others are not given.
Sometimes what a member needs is forgiveness—you have a key to that.
If you find a case where professional help is justified, be very careful.
There are some spiritually destructive techniques used in the field of counseling. When you entrust your members to others, do not let them be subject to these things. Solve problems in the Lord’s way.
Some counselors want to delve deeper than is emotionally or spiritually healthy. They sometimes want to draw out and analyze and take apart and dissect.
While a certain amount of catharsis may be healthy, overmuch of it can be degenerating. It is seldom as easy to put something back together as it is to take it apart.
By probing too deeply, or talking endlessly about some problems, we can foolishly cause the very thing we are trying to prevent.
You probably know about the parents who said, “Now, children, while we are gone, whatever you do, don’t take the stool and go into the pantry and climb up to the second shelf and move the cracker box and get that sack of beans and put one up your nose, will you?”
There is a lesson there.
Now, a bishop may ask, justifiably, “How in the world can I ever accomplish my job as bishop and still counsel those who really need it?”
One stake president said to me: “Bishops don’t have enough time to counsel. With the load we’re putting on them, we’re killing our bishops off.”
While there’s some truth in that, I sometimes think it’s a case of suicide.
Our study of the role of the bishop indicates that most bishops spend time ineffectively as program administrators.
The influence of a bishop on a ward is more positive when he functions as a presiding officer, rather than getting so heavily involved in all of the program details.
It is usually in program administration, with all of the meetings, training activities, etc., that the bishop spends too much time.
Bishops, leave that to your counselors and the priesthood leaders and auxiliary leaders. Problems, for instance, that involve need for employment can be solved by the home teacher and the quorum leaders.
Trust them. Let go of it. And you will then be free to do the things that will make the most difference, counseling those who really need it—in the Lord’s own way.
Recently two letters have gone to the field. The one was a two-thirds reduction in the number of personal priesthood interviews required on all levels.
The other was a shifting of major administrative meetings from weekly and monthly to monthly and quarterly.
We have every hope that other relief will be filtering down through channels.
In the meantime, bishop, you are in charge. Get the administrative and training part of your work in such efficient operation that you will have time to counsel your people.
Bishops, keep constantly in mind that fathers are responsible to preside over their families.
Sometimes, with all good intentions, we require so much of both the children and the father that he is not able to do so.
If my boy needs counseling, bishop, it should be my responsibility first, and yours second.
If my boy needs recreation, bishop, I should provide it first, and you second.
If my boy needs correction, that should be my responsibility first, and yours second.
If I am failing as a father, help me first, and my children second.
Do not be too quick to take over from me the job of raising my children.
Do not be too quick to counsel them and solve all of the problems. Get me involved. It is my ministry.
We live in a day when the adversary stresses on every hand the philosophy of instant gratification. We seem to demand instant everything, including instant solutions to our problems.
We are indoctrinated that somehow we should always by instantly emotionally comfortable. When that is not so, some become anxious—and all too frequently seek relief from counseling, from analysis, and even from medication.
It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal.
Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out.
There is great purpose in our struggle in life.
There is great meaning in these word entitled “The Lesson.”
Yes, my fretting,
I could cross
The room to you
But I’ve already
Learned to walk,
So I make you
Come to me.
Let go now
This simple lesson,
In later years
You cry out
With tight fists
“Oh, help me,
And you’ll hear
A silent voice:
“I would, child,
But it’s you,
Who needs to try
(Carol Lynn Pearson, “The Lesson,” Beginnings, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1975, p. 18)
Bishop, those who come to you are children of God. Counsel them in the Lord’s own way. Teach them to ponder it in their minds, then to pray over their problems.
Remember that soothing, calming effect of reading the scriptures. Next time you are where they are read, notice how things settle down. Sense the feeling of peace and security that comes.
Now, from the Book of Mormon, this closing thought: The prophet Alma faced a weightier problem than you, bishop, will likely see in your ministry. Like you, he felt uncertain; and he went to Mosiah.
Mosiah wisely turned the problem back to him, saying:
“… Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged.
“And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.
“And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him. …” (Mosiah 26:12–14.)
That voice will speak to you, bishop. That is your privilege. I bear witness of that, for I know that He lives.
May God bless you, bishop, the inspired judge in Israel, and those who come to you, as you counsel them in the Lord’s own way.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.