About 20 years ago I first heard a quote that the only way to truly know a person was to follow them home. I thought of Christ and how we can follow Him home and how much we learn about Him when we do. I thought of Temples being the houses of God and how much we learn about God and Christ by spending time in that home. Then I thought of visiting teaching. Visiting Teaching is an invitation to follow a sister home. You can learn things about a sister in her home that you could learn in no other way…not over the phone, not in the hall. In the Bible dictionary we learn that only the home compares with the Temple in sacredness. By entering a sister’s home we enter her most personal space…her world. Why do we choose not to go?
Why don’t we love visiting teaching? We don’t like to be told to be assigned to be a friend-or feeling like a friend had to be assigned to us, we don’t like another thing we have to do, we don’t enjoy reporting or feeling guilty…we’re busy, we’re shy, we forget, we’re distracted, we’re tired, we’re stressed. We’re too different from the people who’ve been assigned to, they’re doing fine anyway, they’re not doing fine and they wouldn’t want us there anyway, they’re busy themselves… We don’t always want to share the message. We forgot to read it, can’t find our Ensign, or don’t have an Ensign, we are having a good conversation anyway so why bother interrupting.
Last night in the Relief Society conference broadcast Sister Beck briefly connected statistic focused visiting teaching to the law of Moses. That really struck a chord with me. Do we ever look at Visiting teaching that way? As if it is a lesser law? I don’t know much about what was required by the law of Moses but I do know that it was there to point people to Christ. The animals sacrificed were unblemished, they were to be the best of the flock…it was all a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. It’s not a very enjoyable reminder, but it would be very poignant. Killing animals isn’t the goal of the Law of Moses, a once a month visit isn’t the goal of visiting teaching.
When we visit teach because out of duty, because of stats, to get it done…we are only keeping the lesser law. That is not what visiting teaching requires of us. Making appointments, sharing a message…that is not what is required of us. The higher path of visiting teaching, the real goal? Zion.
Think of the sisters on your visiting teaching list, or think of sisters in the ward, choose one person, maybe they are sitting next to you…imagine that before that sister was born she had a personal interview with her Heavenly Father. Maybe he was excited about the family He was sending her to, maybe he was concerned because He knew well the situation she would be entering, maybe He was trying to prepare her for this life one last time. Maybe he gave her specific gifts that would help her in her specific situation. This sister is here now. She is most likely facing very real difficulties. She may have fears, challenges, and problems. She may have specific doubts that are part of the normal process of learning in the gospel, but are unsettling. All of us have times of weakness, fear, struggles. What does Heavenly Father want for this sister?
Homes are next to the temple in sacredness. When we enter the home of our sisters we learn so much about them
Visiting teacher consists of a message, service and reporting. Let’s look at what Jesus would do if He were here…what would he counsel Mary and Martha to do as visiting teachers?
First, the message. That standard gospel message you are asked to share every month carries truth, and it can bring in the spirit whether or not you feel it applies to this particular sister….OR you can pray and teach the sister what her Heavenly Father would have her know. Maybe that has nothing to do with the message, but I know that by studying the message you will be better prepared to teach this sister what God wants her to know. Russel M. Nelson taught in his April 2011 conference that no matter what fears we are struggling with…“We can combat those fears by strengthening our faith”. Sometimes we hesitate to share a message…it could feel awkward or forced, or perhaps we don’t know the sister well, or we know her too well. We ALL struggle at times with recognizing the spirit, and receiving revelation…do we know what our sisters are praying about? We can pray with them. By bringing the truth and the spirit into our visit, Heavenly Father can teach her whatever He needs her to know.
Eliza R. Snow said “A teacher…should surely have so much of the Spirit of the Lord, as she enters a house to know what spirit she meets in there…Plead before God and the Holy Ghost to get [the spirit] so that you will be able to meet that spirit that prevails in that house…and you may feel to talk word of peace and comfort, and if you find a sister feeling cold, take her to your heart as you would a child to your bosom and warm her up” How would our visiting teaching be if we weren’t just sharing a message, we were sharing truth? Some of us may not feel worthy or able to have that spirit with us so strongly. I have learned in callings that frequently the Lord blesses me far beyond my capacity because of His great love those I am serving. All He needs is my willingness...I have to BE there and want to do what He would have me do. While serving others the spirit is present to bless them and in the process it purifies me.
The second part of visiting teaching is service. The Lord wants us to love His daughter. He already loves her. He knows what is amazing and beautiful about her. He knows what gifts she has and what she needs to develop. He knows what help she needs. He has spent time with her. He hears all her prayers. He sees what she can become. How different would our visiting teaching if we saw our sister like God sees her? Sister Silvia Allred asked us to plead for charity, to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.”
President Kimball talked about visiting teaching and said “Your duties in many ways must be much like those of the [home] teachers, which briefly are to ‘watch over the church always’-not twenty minutes a month but always-‘and be with and strengthen them’-not a knock at the door, but to be with them, and lift them and strengthen them and empower them and fortify them”. Frequently what our sisters need most is a loving listening ear. We can be the visual reminder that God is listening when we listen to our sisters.
The Lord wants Zion. He wants us to truly care about the sisters…to love them and lead them gently back to Him. He wants our hearts knit together in love…they cannot be knit together if we never actually come into contact with them. Just like my daughter’s knitting over time small little acts and movements can make a beautiful creation. Loving and serving each other creates Zion..a people of “one heart of one mind and dwelt in righteousness and there was no poor among them.” Moses 7:18.
Reporting is the third part of visiting teaching…not because of the stats. Report because you love your sister and want others to best be able to help and love her. Report because you want the teachers and leaders to know how to direct our lessons and activities to best meet the needs of your sisters. Report what we can do to support you in your visiting teaching. There is no way for us to know how each individual sister is doing without help. A checkmark in a box does not help us know how the sister is doing.
It sounds amazing… since we all have hours of free time to devote to praying and learning the truths and the love that Heavenly Father would want for our sisters, extra time to spend in service and we always remember to call and report right? . I have presented an ideal. A beautiful, wonderful ideal. I have pointed to a mountain top far away and have tried to hopefully encourage us to what we can be. Last night Elder Uchtdorf reminded us to be patient with ourselves. Hopefully something of this message will inspire you. Hopefully you have felt the spirit. Listen to what it is inspiring you to be. Please be patient with yourself…but I hope you will be determined also.
The last few weeks my daughter has been trying to learn to serve a volleyball overhand. Her dad told her that she would fail and fail and fail and fail and fail..but she could learn from each failure and she would be getting closer to success. The failure is only the end if we stop trying…if we keep trying it is a part of our learning and success. She tried and tried…she’s easily served more than one hundred balls---most of them into or under the net. She let many many tosses drop because they were nowhere near where they needed to be-the ceiling or the other court…Yesterday she served a few balls over the net-in a game. She was so excited. I hope we can have her determination AND her ability to appreciate the beginning steps and successes.
Each attempt we make to visit teach strengthens our love for that sister. Every attempt to call or visit or prepare increases our abilities as a disciple of Christ. We may feel like it's a failure if we miss a month or she doesn't let us in, or we never seem to be able to get ahold of her. It may feel like we don't really understand her yet...but in the process we are developing the heart of a disciple.