The crumbling of our American financial institutions has triggered a memory in me. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists toppled the World Trade Center. On Sept. 14, I was sent to ask President Gordon B. Hinckley his feelings. It was late. He'd just come from Larry King's show, but he agreed to take a few questions.
"President," I said. "Last year in general priesthood meeting you counseled us to get out of debt, to get our affairs in order and prepare ourselves for problems. What would you counsel now?"
He turned his gaze away from me to focus on something down inside himself.
"I think this may have fortified that counsel," he said. "I feel very strongly about the need to watch our temporal interests. We've seen the economy slide ... It's always a good thing to have a reserve, get out of debt, be self-reliant, do what you can to take care of your own needs and live independently. That's a goal we ought to strive for."
He took a breath.
"I think so very strongly," he said.
That advice had been good two times. And though I'm not the one to say, I think if he were here now he might well offer the same advice a third time. It makes me think of Moroni repeating and repeating his instructions to Joseph Smith over and over.
Sometimes repetition is the only way to lodge a thought in our hearts.
The problem with following President Hinckley's advice to "live independently" isn't that we have short memories for his counsel. The problem is we are short on will. Being self-reliant and completely independent takes discipline more than many of us can muster.
In fact, like the lazy man who said work fascinated him so much he could watch it for hours, I'm so poor at self-discipline that it intrigues me to no end. I'm sure there must be some text, for instance, where Elder Neal A. Maxwell points out that the words "discipline" and "disciple" share the same root. I know Elder Maxwell once wrote, "True law enforcement depends on the policing of one's self. If the sentry of self fails, there are simply not enough other policemen."
Indeed, when it comes to reckless spending, many people struggle to toe the line like a drunk at a traffic stop.
We do pretty well for a while, but then we let impulsiveness trump our self-control.
Still, just because President Hinckley's advice is difficult doesn't mean it should be dismissed. Sometimes church leaders hang challenges high just to make us stretch. I remember Robert Stone, an author and devout Catholic, saying: "As Catholics, we sometimes promise more than we can deliver just to deliver what we do."
I suspect it is the same for many members of the LDS Church.
We promise 100 percent home teaching just to deliver 60.
We promise to love one another just to keep from snapping at a neighbor.
And we promise to be self-disciplined with our finances just to keep from making ridiculous choices with our money.When it comes to money and Mormons, most of us will probably never reach the self-reliance that President Hinckley suggested. But then I'm sure he knew that. Yes, he'd be discouraged by all the foreclosures and bankruptcies among the Saints since his passing. But then I also suspect he hung the challenge high, hoping to get us to "deliver" more in our "temporal interests" than we do.
Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org