photo credit: Arnaldo Carvalho

The opening discourse in last week’s general conference was given by Robert D. Hales on the subject of becoming a provident provider. For me, this talk set the tone for all the talks that would follow. During the entire conference, there was much talk of adversity, the economy, trials, and dealing with the hardships of life we are currently going through, and will soon be facing. But this talk encapsulated the rest in my mind, since the other subjects directly relate to and are affected by our ability to be provident providers for those under our care.

Defining what he meant by “provident provider,” Elder Hales said:

To provide providently, we must practice the principles of provident living: joyfully living within our means, being content with what we have, avoiding excessive debt, and diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies. When we live providently, we can provide for ourselves and our families and also follow the Savior’s example to serve and bless others.

For further clarification, the word “provident” can be defined as follows:

  • making provision for the future; prudent
  • making or indicative of timely preparation for the future
  • exercising prudence and care in the management of resources
  • frugal; economical.

Provident providing is not about saving money on groceries, being obedient to prophetic counsel, or denying instant gratifications, though each of those certainly play a part. Rather, it is about positioning ourselves such that we are able to “act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26) during future trials and life experiences. In his talk, Elder Hales addressed himself to “all whose freedom to choose has been diminished by the effects of ill-advised choices of the past,” thus noting (and later explaining) that current choices and lifestyles have an impact on our ability to be free in the future.

A similar correlation is made in the Church’s family home storage pamphlet, where the First Presidency instructs us that:

[Our Heavenly Father] has lovingly commanded us to “prepare every needful thing” (see D&C 109:8) so that, should adversity come, we may care for ourselves and our neighbors and support bishops as they care for others.

Living a provident lifestyle allows us to meet our own needs when life throws a curve ball, and still be able to help those around us as well. Denying our fleeting passions and indulgences and wisely planning for the future brings a peace of mind when later trials inevitably come. Rather than becoming a recipient of welfare and other charitable handouts, and rather than miring ourselves further into debt, we ensure that our ability to provide will not be totally eliminated when our current source of income is diminished or disappears. Provident providing considers not only our immediate needs, but our future needs as well. Thus, we abnegate the things we truly do not currently need, so that we might store away some food, money, and supplies as a hedge against future stormy days.

At its core, a provident lifestyle considers what our true needs are, and focuses on a balanced lifestyle free from materialism, covetousness, and debt. Elder Hales explained:

Being provident providers, we must keep that most basic commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Our world is fraught with feelings of entitlement. Some of us feel embarrassed, ashamed, less worthwhile if our family does not have everything the neighbors have. As a result, we go into debt to buy things we can’t afford—and things we do not really need. Whenever we do this, we become poor temporally and spiritually. We give away some of our precious, priceless agency and put ourselves in self-imposed servitude. Money we could have used to care for ourselves and others must now be used to pay our debts. What remains is often only enough to meet our most basic physical needs. Living at the subsistence level, we become depressed, our self-worth is affected, and our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and the Lord are weakened. We do not have the time, energy, or interest to seek spiritual things.

The pervasive entitlement mentality of which Elder Hales speaks demands our support through taxation, thus decreasing the amount of money we might have to save for the future and purchase needed supplies required for provident living. However, despite our taxation levels, current income, or erosion of investments, the commandment to “prepare every needful thing” remains in force for all of God’s children, whatever their socioeconomic status.

Regardless of our financial ability to fully prepare, each of us has the ability to eliminate excesses in our life and return to the basics. Elder L. Tom Perry, in last October’s opening address of general conference (are you sensing a pattern?) defined the basics as “food, clothing, shelter, and fuel”.

More important, though, is the spiritual side effect produced by provident living. Through frugality, moderation, hard work and savings, we are able to dedicate “time, energy, or interest to seek spiritual things”. During my trip to Zambia, I witnessed faithful families living in poverty, yet beaming with joy, radiating spirituality, and humbly expressing their love of and faith in God. These people felt no entitlement, had no financial bondage, and lacked many of the things we might consider necessary. But living as they did—free of vice, constant entertainment, and distractions—they exhibited a stronger interest in spiritual things than most anybody else I’ve encountered. The parents, though poor, were provident providers on their own level. They sought not only for temporal provisions, but spiritual strength.

Provident living entails many short-term sacrifices and adjustments, but the potential return on that investment is of far more lasting value than any momentary thrill we would have otherwise enjoyed. The trials at our doorstep will, I am convinced, be far more tolerable for those who have stored adequate supplies and unencumbered their lives.

Elder Hales’ closing plea is that we each “overcome worldly temptation by coming unto [the Lord] and [become] provident providers both temporally and spiritually for ourselves and others.” We are responsible to our families, friends, and others both now and in the future. Living providently in the present will better position us to help ourselves and those around us when we are inevitably called upon to do so.

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