Picking Up the Oars: An Experiment in Problem-Solving


'You wouldn’t get into a rowboat and expect the Lord to push you across the river; you have to pick up the oars and do your part too,” the self- reliance course manual tells us.'

“You wouldn’t get into a rowboat and expect the Lord to push you across the river; you have to pick up the oars and do your part too”, the LDS Self-Reliance course manual tells us.

So, as part of my year-long experiment with implementing each of the 12 self-reliance principles, I decided to bring “solve problems”, the Church’s problem-solving wisdom, into the home, and implement it together with my husband.

The first thing that I realised is that this needs buy-in from everyone involved. It took my husband and I four days to find the time to sit down and discuss our “challenge”, after making the decision to do so. Our biggest problems seep up our energy and monopolise our thoughts – but how often do we set aside dedicated time to actively focus on defining our problems and coming up with positive solutions to solve them?

In step one of the process, we are asked not to call our problem a problem. Instead, “it’s a challenge to overcome”, the Self Reliance course tells us. I admit I groaned inwardly when I first read that. Semantics, right? Then I read the definition of the word ‘challenge’ -- to “prove or justify something”. Brigham Young observed, “God never bestows upon his people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them.” After reading that, seeing a problem as an opportunity to prove myself – or the Lord, for that matter – began to make sense.

We spent some time on step two: clearly defining the challenge. In our family, this was to address a pervasive negativity that many around us were feeling about our country. South Africa is wracked with political difficulties, socio-economic challenges, a high crime rate and much unemployment. Because of this, many of our friends had become discouraged about their prospects and had begun to emigrate. We wanted to decide on a suitable course of action for our family facing these difficulties and negative emotions.  

This led us to step three: brainstorming solutions. Here we are instructed to “challenge assumptions” and write down even “outrageous solutions”. For my husband, brainstorming was a reminder to suspend his personal judgments.  

“It helps you to focus on the other person’s ideas,” he said. “Each person needs to feel empowered in the process. It takes encouragement.” Our possible solutions included: to stop listening to the news, explore our options for moving to another country, and keep a ready supply of chocolate in the pantry (my husband suggested the chocolate!)

Steps four and five asked us to consider each of the solutions, and ask ourselves “what if?” What might happen if we implemented that particular solution? At this point, the chocolate idea pointed to a “weighty” outcome and was discarded. Instead, we decided on actions that would help us feel positive and motivated in the country we love.

In step six we identified an action plan, with deadlines and accountability. In the end, we decided we would feel better about our country if we were more actively involved in uplifting it. As a family we committed to pray to find a charity in our community that we can become meaningfully involved with on a regular basis. We also committed to arming ourselves with plastic bags to pick up litter every time we go out for a walk. By implementing these steps we anticipate that we will not only feel more positive about our land but will also be able to instill a culture of meaningful service within our home.

We’re excited for the new year as we implement step seven – pray about it. With the Lord’s hand guiding us, we feel confident that this can become a new, powerful pattern for our family to overcome many challenges in His way.