A dog, undoubtedly not a puppy, had just been carried out of the examination room at the veterinary surgery. He was curled up on a blanket being carried on either side by two young adults, making it look like he was almost in a hammock. An older woman, who I presumed to be the mother of the young adults, came to the front desk where I was checking in my own pup in for a routine visit. She didn’t mean to cut in front of me, and I did not care that she had. She shook her head at my query, as though she were shivering. Her action, rather than her words confirmed the answer: her dog was not okay.
As an animal lover, I had compassion on her. Animals can become members of the family, much more than pets, much more than friends. They offer unconditional companionship; they don’t judge you for eating bad food, having a grumpy day or hogging the remote. They take all of your secrets to the grave. The mood in the room was heavy; we knew the dog was older and was clearly unwell. Even the other animals in the waiting area went silent.
“You can fix it up later,” said the normally cranky receptionist in an uncharacteristically soothing tone to the woman. But the woman was determined to pay and fumbled to get her wallet.
What could I do? My heart was frantic, I wanted to offer something…. But she was a stranger, and I really knew nothing of the situation.
“Do you need a hug?” The offer even surprised me, but I had instinctively opened my arms.
She turned. As she shivered her head as if to say “no,” she fell into my arms, nuzzling her head in my shoulder. And I hugged her. Moments passed. She said nothing. I said nothing. Then she lifted her head and with tears, “thank you.” She paid and left. The receptionist gave me the warmest smile I had ever seen on her traditionally sour face. And then, the room returned to its normal state of fowl, feline and canine contented disquiet.
But to this day, I feel like something significant happened at that moment. But what? As I have come to understand– sometimes a hug says what words and dollars cannot. A hug is not a miracle, it does not stop the conflict. But it is something. And it is significant.
But what of Visiting Teaching? And what of welfare?
The scripture section includes Luke 10:25–37 which tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know this parable: A man is walking home and is robbed, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (member of religious dynasty) pass by him and do nothing. But a Samaritan sees the man and stops. He binds the wounds of the man, places him on his horse and takes him to an inn, paying for his room and promising to pay for his ongoing care.
I love this parable, but I think in some ways, we have tended to look at it only from the financial perspective. It also seems to me that most often with welfare, we think of money and meals as preferential tender. Though “temporal welfare” is included and clearly important—in reading this and considering this message, I was more struck by the concept of “spiritual welfare.”
Years ago, I had a friend who had miscarried. It was severe, and she was unable to really do anything. One woman in the ward offered to bring a meal, but did not have time to take it in to my friend’s apartment—she declared that she only had time to drive by, so she wanted my friend to come out when she heard the car beep to retrieve the meal. Hardly able to walk, this gesture was not of benefit. Then there was another woman in the ward. She came over and helped my friend walk to the bathroom so she could relieve herself. She sat for an hour. Listening. Laughing. Crying. But mostly… listening. Just an hour. And the burden of miscarriage was a little lighter.
To be clear, meals and temporal sustenance are imperative. The global economy is still gloomy, and the amount of people living in poverty is increasing. I think that is why the first sentence of the message is this:
The purposes of Church welfare are to help members become self-reliant, to care for the poor and needy, and to give service.
Notice that the emphasis is not, “drop off a meal and run,” or “fast for 2 days so you can bring a meal to someone who is not in financial need,” or “max out your credit card to help someone else who already maxed out their credit card.” The focus is on being self-reliant. This made me think that *I*, as the visiting teacher, am not supposed to admonish the concept of self-reliance to the women I teach, but rather, that I need to become self-reliant so I can serve without conflict. So I can give of my time without disdain. So I can offer love without prejudice. Because in today’s instant-message-world, true service and especially –time– is of the essence.
As Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in the October 2011 General Conference:
The lesson we learn generation after generation is that rich and poor are all under the same sacred obligation to help their neighbor. It will take all of us working together to successfully apply the principles of welfare and self-reliance.
The Lord’s way is not to sit at the side of the stream and wait for the water to pass before we cross. It is to come together, roll up our sleeves, go to work, and build a bridge or a boat to cross the waters of our challenges
Regardless of our financial state, we can do something. Like offer a hug. Because sometimes, that does make a difference. Having been on the receiving end of a hug from a stranger when I was in need, I know. I know how much more valuable the spirit of that hug was that any amount of money flung my way at that moment.
So- how do you teach “welfare” to the women you visit?
I suggest you start by asking if they need a hug.
The greatest need of the human heart is encouragement. Let me whisper this secret in your ear: Every time you try and encourage someone else, your own soul will be flooded with a light and glow of peace and good cheer. Try it next time when the gloom is heavy and the load is barren. -Susa Young Gates, Great Thoughts for Latter-day Saint Sisters, Aspen Books, 1992, S32.
What do you think of when you consider the term “welfare”?
How can you serve others effectively without burdening your own time with family or placing your own finances at risk?