Visiting teaching has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe because so many people have told me that they don't feel like they are as good as visiting teaching as they should be. Maybe because I don't feel like I'm as good at visiting teaching as I should be. Maybe because now I receive the visiting teaching reports and I know who is being visited and who isn't...and I worry about those who aren't. Maybe because I have been listening to President Monson's biography To The Rescue since November (it's long and I only seem to get to listen to it in short snatches but I am learning so much from it!) and he is constantly noticing the one. He truly "lifts up the hands which hang down and strengthens the feeble knees". He is such an example. Anyway, I sent an email to a friend about visiting teaching after she was asking me some questions. This has been on my mind so much, that I decided to jot down my thoughts and share them here too.
Before I say more about visiting teaching, I had a little bit of an A-Ha! moment this evening. I realized that in the past couple of years I have been so busy and I have often allowed that busyness to prevent me from doing some of the things that I know are important. Because of that, I wasn't as close to the spirit as I could be and I felt a lot of guilt. I felt guilty that I wasn't a better visiting teacher, that I wasn't serving more, that I wasn't attending the temple as often as I should, etc. I wasn't doing bad things...but I felt guilty that I wasn't doing more of the things I should be doing. Guilt is not a positive emotion as I'm sure we all know. Here's the truly miraculous thing. I am doing better at all of those things...not perfectly, but better. I still work full time. I still have three kids and I'm not neglecting them. I am still cooking dinner and cleaning house and helping kids with piano practice and homework...but somehow, I am able to do what matters most in the same number of hours I had before. I am happier than maybe I've ever been. I still get stressed out sometimes. I still get impatient sometimes. I am still me. Imperfect, full of flaws. But making sure I do what is most important has brought me piece of mind and a happy heart and has strengthened me in ways I would never have imagined possible just a month ago. I hope it is a lesson I never forget again. If you do what is most important, then the other things will fall into place and/or you will be given strength and wisdom to decide what you can let go of and how to deal with the inevitable trials that will come. I'm sure everyone else knows this...and I think it is something I've known before and just not lived as fully as I could have this past couple of years.
Anyway, back to my rambling thoughts on visiting teaching....
I've had a few good visiting teachers, but one really stands out. She was my visiting teacher for about 4 years... from the time I first moved into my current ward until Ella was about 2. For a year, Alfredo and I only had one car and he worked most Sundays. He left at 5:30 in the morning to go to work. Michelle was a baby, and I got up at 5:30 at least 3 days a week to take Alfredo to work. THen came home, got ready and went to work myself. On Sundays, I wanted to sleep in a bit...but that meant I'd need to walk to church. This wonderful visiting teacher called me most weeks to see if I wanted a ride. She had us over for dinner. Her husband helped Alfredo give Ella a blessing before her open heart surgery. She watched Michelle when I delivered Ella (and actually helped me deliver Ella, but that is another story.) She was someone who I felt like I could call when I needed something. She came and had a sit down visit most months, but she ocassionally missed a month. But it was okay, because I knew I could ask her for help when I needed it. She still holds a special place in my heart and always will.
The purpose of visiting teaching (as I understand it) is to meet the needs of all the sisters (and their families) in the ward. These include temporal and spiritual needs. The purpose of Relief Society is threefold: 1...to increase faith and personal righteousness, 2... to strengthen families and homes... and 3... to seek out and help those in need. Visiting teaching helps the Relief Society to meet those needs.
For some, it may be the only contact they have with the church. The ideal is a monthly sit down visit with each sister, with a brief lesson or spiritual thought from the Ensign. But visiting teaching isn't meant to be rigid or to really be something you "get done". It is an assignment to minister, to care. In fact, in Relief Society training I watched online, they talk about counting the caring (not reporting visiting teaching visits). The ideal is to pray daily for each sister, to listen to the spirit and to respond when you feel a prompting. The ideal is to look for ways to serve...whether it is noticing that one of them has her hands full with little kids during sacrament meeting and helping her out, taking a meal when she is sick, watching her children when she has a doctor's appointment or needs to run errands, etc. It is all about observing and serving like Sister Burton talked about in conference. And it doesn't have to be huge things. It is about helping that sister to feel loved by you, but more importantly helping that sister to feel loved by her Savior and Father in Heaven. That sister should know that if she needs something, she can turn to you. Maybe she never will ask, but sometimes it is just knowing that there is someone you COULD ask that helps most of all. When Ella was 1 1/2 she had open heart surgery. So many people offered to help. We received meals for several days. But others also called to see if we needed them to pick anything up at the grocery store or to see if I needed a break and wanted Michelle to come to their house. I don't think I actually took any of them up on these offers (although maybe I did) but it felt so wonderful knowing that if I DID need help, there were many people who were willing to help me. There have been times since when I've felt lonely or overwhelmed that just remembering those offers of help has cheered me up because I realized when I reflect on it that many people are willing to help if they realize there is a need.
In addition, if there are more serious needs, the visiting teacher should discuss it with the Relief Society President. It is impossible for the Relief Society President or Bishop to visit every sister/family on a regular basis or to be aware of every need. So visiting teachers are there to inform the RS President of needs so that those needs can be met...
Those are the ideal. I think a lot of us fall short of the ideal, though, and then we spend a lot of time feeling guilty that we aren't better at visiting teaching (or whatever area it is we fall short at). I've decided that guilt is productive if it leads us to repent and change but otherwise it is a wasted and negative emotion that we should try to expunge. I'm certainly not good at that...I feel plenty of guilt about plenty of things. But I'm trying to let it go and do the best I can. So I've written about the ideal and I think that is what we should strive for. But I think we also need to give ourselves a little room to do the best we can when life is not ideal. Things come up. We get sick, we get depressed, we get busy. So if a month comes that you don't get to have the sit down visit with a lesson, then call your sisters on the phone to say hi or send them a message via Facebook or email. Talk to them and see what they would most like... do they want a monthly visit or would they prefer some other type of contact. I do think we can try to pray for them daily or nearly daily...that's not difficult to do. And I think when we do that, the spirit will help us find other ways to serve. I also check Facebook to see if they've posted anything. Sometimes that gives me ideas of what is going well for them or when they might need help. If a month is super busy, sometimes I do just drop off a little treat and visit with them at the door for a few minutes... I think that is okay as long as you shoot for the ideal but allow yourself some flexibility when life happens.
There are some great videos online at www.lds.org that teach more about visiting teaching and inspire me to want to be a better visiting teacher (as well as a better RS President).
Click here to watch them.
Click on the tab that says visiting teaching and there are 5 short videos.
Two quotes that I want to share that go along with this:
In Relief Society auxiliary training last February, Sister Bradshaw (part of the former General Relief Society presidency) said, “We have been invited by the Savior to participate in His work and that is a privilege.”
Pres. Kimball said, “There are many sisters who are living in rags--spiritual rags. They are entitled to gorgeous robes, spiritual robes…. It is your privilege to go into homes and exchange robes for rags… You are going to save souls.”