Every month, except for conference months, there is a Visiting Teaching Message and a Message from the First Presidency in the Liahona and Ensign magazines. The visiting teaching message is clearly for all Mormon women to instruct or be instructed, whereas the First Presidency message is applied to entire families through men who are home teachers. I rarely look at the two messages in comparison with each other, but was drawn to do so this month. What a world of difference!
The home teaching message is on Christ. It has a beautiful, atoning, healing focus: “He is Risen.” It suggests reading the sacrament prayers in a manner that seeks to make the sacrament a sacred part of the path leading to Christ an Eternal life. I love the focus on Christ. I love the suggestion of making a personal application of the sacrament prayers- the words that mean so very much. I love the focus on the Atonement.
Comparatively, the visiting teaching message is about making temple covenants. The included questions are:
1. Am I worshipping in the temple regularly?
2. Am I encouraging my sisters to receive temple blessings?
Here are my personal answers to both of these questions: “Probably not” and “No.” Ouch. Not a really uplifting thing to realise, feel, or share.
For the most part, I think the purpose of the visiting teaching message is meant to be calming, or at least intended to place the temple in a position as something to reflect when we are in strife. Hence the inclusion of this quote from Daughters in My Kingdom:
Like many Relief Society sisters, Sarah Rich served as a temple worker. She spoke of her experience: “If it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple by … the Spirit of the Lord, our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark. … But we had faith in our Heavenly Father, … feeling that we were His chosen people … , and instead of sorrow, we felt to rejoice that the day of our deliverance had come.”
The problem is, many of us visit and teach women who have very real issues with the temple ceremony, so deliverance for them is not found in temple rehetoric. Specifically, the bell of the term “hearken” has some of the loudest repercussions I have ever heard for ill in Mormon womanhood, and results in concern probably for all Mormon women at one time or another. (Zelophehads Daughters has a post on this– a must read for all temple-going Mormon women.)
But why is this? Why does the “hearken” word mean so much? And why does the emphasis on temples strike me as so much more daunting and even burdensome, especially in comparison to the uplifting, “He is Risen” message from President Eyring in the First Presidency message?
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”(1) The sting of certain words and related experiences can echo throughout our lives in an unforgiving manner. The pain can be insomuch that even the deepest sought reconciliation from the Atonement’s healing balm may not find resolution in this life. Likewise, the words of the temple DO edify many of us in trials, just like Sara Rich, as she forged west into an unknown destiny. Words of the temple, to her, were healing, and I admire her for her faith in that.
Nevertheless, I looked at this message, and troubled over what words in this message could heal, enlighten, encourage or soothe the women I visit teach. Women who are confused, even hurt and agry at the wording of some parts of the temple. Women who do not view the temple as a place of refuge and rest. I sought what things I could, as a vessel, help to bring the Spirit to them. In this, I found myself thinking about words. Words in general. The power of words, to heal, sustain and yet, to hurt, and curse. Words, words, words. What would could I offer too these women?
“Yes, it is hard to be a Mormon woman, but life is hard, and it is supposed to be, I believe. The joy is in living with the struggles prayerfully and peacefully and consciously and in the company og angels.” – Judy Dushku, Exponent II, Summer 1995, 5.
Finding joy within struggles with the temple and with other challenges seems impossible, and yet, I believe it can happen. I want it to happen. I seek for it to happen. How do I do this?
Well, I thought of my most recent doctor’s visit, wherein I sought to reduce and manage the stress that came from an ongoing trial. Her office was like a temple, with white and muted colours, soft voices, peaceful background music and a calming, clean and warm scent. She was in a white coat, holding my personal records in sacred, private asylum. I sought to find a way to sleep without medication, reprieve from temporary, yet at times, overwheliming, stress. My doctor, a beautiful Asian woman, proficiently versed in Eastern and Western medicines, instructed me on how to breathe deeply, inviting me to look upward toward a mosaic of flowers painted on the ceiling. The she walked me through a type of meditation, teaching me how I could instruct my body to release tension. Her words were soothing, and my body responded. Nearing the end of this meditation, her words were directed to my mind, my heart. “Praise yourself for the good work you have done. Praise yourself for looking after your health. Praise yourself…”
I was struck by the word “praise,” prickling against the thought of overt unrighteousness. Dare I praise myself? Isn’t praise reserved only for Christ? But in this context, “praise” was not admiration, glory, or worship. It was recognition of the good I was doing, not the stress of what I was not doing, not the stress of my situation. It was bringing joy in a trial of hard work. My “good work” was no more perfect that the neglectful way I felt I had been looking after my health. But her words forced me to focus on the good I had done, and the good I was doing, rather than the hundreds of ways I perceived that I was failing. She also reminded me to praise myself for works that are too personal to share here. I teared with gladness in understanding that there is good in my life, that I do good, that I deserve, at least occasionally, to feel joy for the good, and in that, to rest from anxiety.
I believe this to be the true heart of this message: It is the recognition of joy amoungst trials. The intention of the temple is good. Seeking for a better life, like Sara Rich did, is good. Recording and preparing family history is good. Soothing a crying baby is good. Emailing a friend is good. Saying “thank you” is good. There are things that all of us do that are good, that bring joy to us and those around us. Recognising that good part is imperative for our emotional and spiritual survival. We all have good in us. Every. Single. One of us.
The recognisiton of goodness, of good intent and of good works– this can bring joy. Just like the temple. The intention is good. The goal of the temple is eternal joy, even if it does not alwyas fel that way. Should you be in a position to go to the temple, then invite your visiting teachees to join you. But if not, just seek for the good in each other. Invite joy. Because Christ is Risen. And He atones for, and loves, each of us.
Subsequently, rather than looking at this message and feeling inadequate or discouranged, or even being traumatised for not “worshipping” or “encouraging” the temple in a manner deemed “regularly” ….. take away the sword. Replace it with the pen. And in the words of my doctor, “praise yourself.” You and the women you teach may attend the temple weekly or more or even not at all. But you are good, and you do good. Find the good. Stress-filled anxiety is not of Christ. But atonement, excitement, good works, and love– is of Christ. We need these latter qualities for the temple. But even more, we need these things to survive.
What are some good things the women you visit teach probably do regularly without recognition or thinking? How can recogition of this bring joy to them?
In the stress of everyday life, how can you invite them to feel the love of Christ for these small things?
- 1. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, 1839. This work is a play, the character of the Cardinal speaks the phrase in Act II, Scene II:
True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!