This month, November 2015, we have been teaching Young Men principles of temporal and spiritual self-reliance. Two of the six Come, Follow Me lessons ask: “What does it mean to be self-reliant?” and “Why does the Lord want me to be healthy?”. Both of these subjects surprised me. I had not thought of spirituality and healthy habits as part of self-reliance. It’s quite nice how they play well with the Scout Oath and Law, especially around the campfire or in a Scoutmaster’s minute.
In the first lesson we are heartened by Luke 2:52, which reads: “Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.” It always encourages me to realize that our Savior traveled a path into manhood, like all boys should. It is also clear that by twelve he was spiritually self reliant as he was “about his Father’s business”(Luke 2:52).
Not so much for me at at age twelve, but with the help a good men like Farnes Berntsen, my Scoutmaster, and Paul Swenson, his assistant, there was great adult modeling and mentoring for our troop. With these men, my first year at camp was full of wonder and exploration.
Paul helped me discover an interest in pioneering. I made rope, tied knots, and got real good at splices, but most of all made a tower. He kept me busy all day, building a trust relationship around helping me with pioneering, so that when he and Farnes wanted to speak quietly around the campfire for a Scoutmaster’s minute, they had my rapt attention.
My second year at camp, Farnes got me to swim a mile and earn the canoeing merit badge. Once again, each day was filled and my trust relationship with him grew .
One Stake leader wrote: “Many young men don’t have the opportunity to connect with others. They don’t have strong family ties, they may not make friends easily, don’t fit in well at school. Scouting provides an atmosphere where the kids can fit in with their peers. Our leaders try to do a variety of activities that interest all of the boys. This gives leadership a chance to reach the one.”
One evening he talked about spiritual stuff, something I had never really heard camping. He challenged each of us to have a quiet outdoor prayer experience one evening. I remember that prayer being my first real spiritual experience. The next time he talked about Duty to God, it meant more to me.
Farnes saw something in me that I couldn’t see yet. He helped me grow in “wisdom and favor” with my fellow Scouts. Awkward as I was, with each passing week I became a better Junior Leader. He coached, instructed and mentored until eventually, I was leading other troops in junior leader training.
When Scouts become self-reliant, they can use the blessings and abilities God has given them to care for themselves and their families. They can find solutions to their own problems and with self-reliance, they can better serve and care for others as they remember to do the daily Good Turn. The Lord wants us all to become both spiritually and temporally self-reliant.
Scouting also makes boys physically strong so they can face the challenges this world has to offer. Both Farnes and Paul were fine examples of manhood—no one could ever do more chin-ups than Farnes. Whenever they talked about the troop needing to keep themselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, we knew there was no hypocrisy in them.
Making the Scout promise helps boys understand that good health is an important part of being self-reliant and that safeguarding their health allows them to fulfill their divine potential and improve their understanding of their true nature as a sons of God.
In the Come, Follow Me lessons this month, our young men have learned that the way they treat their bodies affects their spiritual health and their ability to receive guidance from the Holy Ghost. The lessons teach youth to preserve thier health by obeying the Word of Wisdom, eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep.
At the end of my seven years with Farnes and Paul in Scouting, I had grown in stature and integrity, but that would soon be put to test.
At eighteen, I trained to be an army reserve medic. The environment was far from the nurturing one I had known in Troop 345. Men invited me to smoke, drink and carouse, but the lessons, examples, Scoutmaster minutes, and campfire chats all fortified me against these forces.
Though I never once faltered on the Word of Wisdom, my basic training wore me down. I grew a bit stronger, but not enough to pass the physical test. This was disappointing after all the hiking and swimming I had done in the years just before. Each day of training wore me down further, until it was determined I could have only one more chance to pass the test or return to another eight weeks of basic training.
I remember that night finding a chapel on base and nestling myself in the adjacent bushes to pour out my heart to God. Yes, the lessons of that night in the woods came back as if Farnes were at my side. I reminded God that I had done my duty to Him as a Scout and Aaronic Priesthood holder and that I had done my best to keep His commandments. After my prayer, I felt a renewal of body and soul I had never known, but it was like a feeling I had first felt during that prayer in the woods several years before.
The following morning I passed the PT test quite easily and went on to my medic training, where week in and week out my fellow soldiers tried and taunted. The integrity I had learned as a Scout from good adult mentors and from the Scout Oath and Law saw me through. I believe it prepared me as a son of God by working to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
What experiences have you had with self-reliance and the Oath and Law?