May 2012 Visiting Teaching Message: Teacher’s Choice from Conference

Since it’s May, I thought I would focus on Mother’s Day because you can read conference on your own and pick out something that works for you.

Just kidding! I would never do that. But I know some people do. I suppose it isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t work for me. Another thing that doesn’t always work for me are Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s talks. His verbiage (to me) seems as though he overtly is only addressing the men of the church, and as I was particularly offended at his flippant television remote = grandchildren joke, I am resistant to consider his advice or direction. 

But I love Matthew 20. And Holland’s talk is based on Matthew 20, Jesus’ parable of the labourers in the vineyard. In the parable, the labourers who work from the start of the day are paid equally to those who work only for the last few hours of the day. This passage of scripture plainly and clearly reminds us that we are all welcome to receive blessings of the spirit. Every one of us, no matter how long we have been “at work” in His kingdom. We do not need to be in a special calling, we don’t need to be “active”, we don’t need to be a member of the church and we especially don’t need to be male. So long as we desire and have faith to be guided by the spirit, we will be guided by the spirit regardless of who we are, our length of devotion, our religiosity, or anything else.

I like this. I perceive myself to be “active” in personal religiosity, yet rarely attend all three hours of Sunday services. I am often assigned to visit teach women who I have yet to see enter the church building. To be honest, I prefer to visit teach these “lass-active” women because I feel a more powerful spirit abiding with us as we visit. It is a beautiful witness that the parable in Matthew 20 is right, and that we all have the ability to call upon Christ, no matter who we are– judgement and unfair perceptions be blasted.

Now—with this in mind, have you ever held a grudge? I am ashamed to admit that I am holding several at the moment, including one against Holland’s writing style. Most days, I forget my grudges, but at certain moments, these grudges are triggered and I feel bound to hold my ground and fight as though that will make me righted from a past situation where I continue a feeling of being wronged. I hate feeling this way, so confess my (somewhat unwilled) doggedness in an attempt to heal my begrudged heart. So- with that in mind, if you’ll hold my hand through this passage from Holland’s talk, I endevour to avoid the grudge:

This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

Okay. Hang on. I felt it too. That sting. Holland’s verbiage of being late, missing chances, making mistakes…. all of which reminds me of my mortality and persuades me to feel like all of my problems, trials and challenges are because I am somehow inherently not trying hard enough, even upon personal, physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. This unappreciated reminder that I am imperfect slaps me in the face every waking moment, so I am pained at Holland’s words. But. When I ignore the balderdash and read the rhetoric-free sentences, I am healed:

that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it.

and

It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

The first reminds me that sometimes those fun random happiness moments and things that surprise me.  You are never beneath the light of Christ. Never. No matter how tired, inactive, unbelieving, “sinful”, imperfect, etc. you are. No one is EVER beneath the light of Christ. No one.

This brought me back to a brilliant Gospel Doctrine lesson I had many years ago in a ward in Boulder City, Nevada that I was visiting for a summer. I loved the Gospel Doctrine teacher; his lessons were academic, philosophical and perhaps unorthodox. Right up my alley. He described his first “real” prayer in a lesson by saying he was adamantly disinterested in the church, but felt naggingly impressed to read the Book of Mormon. He refused to read it, refused to pray, refused to acknowledge God. It came to a point where he felt harassed by the spirit, so he finally looked to heaven and, shaking his fist, said directly to God, “Alright! I will read your damn book!”

That was his self-defined prayer, and the spirit of that class absolutely sustained this fact. There was no formality, no opening, no closing. But he spoke to God, and God, in His thrill of being merciful, heard this prayer. Just as God hears all prayers, no matter who utters them, and in what manner they are uttered. No matter who we are, no matter how Mormon we are or are not, no matter how orthodox our prayers, lives, or appearances are: “whatsoever is right I will give you.” (Matthew 20:4).

So that is the visiting teaching message that I took from conference, via Holland. We don’t have to be perfect. Our Heavenly Parents God love us, and will still answer our prayers. Because none of us are ever beneath the infinite light of Christ.  I really needed to hear that. Perfection is for the birds. God delights in, and hears ALL prayers, and the Atonement will heal you. No matter who you are.

The Atonement is infinite. The ocean is endless; the waves, constant. Eventually, every hole, every gorge will disappear without a trace, no matter how ravaged the landscape, through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” – Sally B. Palmer, Clothed with Charity: Talks from the 1996 Women’s Conference, BYU Press, 1997, p 122-123.

(If you are looking for a further reminder of God’s love, I strongly recommend this podcast speech by Elder Patrick Kearon)

 

What are some “stock” Conference Visiting Teaching messages that you have been told?

Which conference talks appealed to you to share with the women you visit teach?

What messages from conference do you wish your visiting teacher would share with you?

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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16 Responses

  1. Mhana says:

    It’s interesting to me that you don’t like Elder Holland, because his are the only talks I look forward to (and, increasingly, Uchtdorf’s). What I like about Elder Holland’s talks is that I feel like he speaks to the marginalized. He gave an awesome talk about body image in I think October 2005, I liked this talk to the lonely (Lonely Foxholes of the Heart?) and I like this talk as a reminder about grudge holding and I felt like I learned a lot about the parable — not that some of your criticisms aren’t valid, I just didn’t feel that way when I heard it. I feel like Elder Holland does a better job than most of acknowledging that people don’t really live in happy valley, that depression and loneliness and feeling fat and all those problems are real issues and can be real stumbling blocks to happiness and fulfillment in the gospel and in general. That’s my thought.

    I think this month if I get around to VT at all, I’ll probably talk either about Holland or Uchtdorf — theirs are the only two talks that I remember and therefore I will probably be sharing one of them.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mhana. I knew that outing myself as an non-Holland fan could be dangerous, but I felt like owning my discomfort would allow others to speak about their discomfort in other speakers– be it at general conference or general Sunday school lessons. I had a huge grudge against Uchdorf for a long time, and I still listen to him with suspician, but he is growing on me. Each of us are sensitice about different things, and I think that these sensitivities are important when considering visiting teachign women who may not share the same ideas or attitudes that we do (I am not a blind faith kind of person, probably why I prefer to visit teach inactive women– keeps me sane). I am interested in the body image talk you mention, that might turn me around on Holland- would you post it?

      • Mhana says:

        This is the talk that addresses body image, toward the end. It may not speak to everyone, because there are some turns of speech that can be off-putting, but it meant a lot to me at the time because I was on my mission and fifteen pounds heavier than when I left and I needed that message badly.

        I also liked one thing he said about modesty, a touchy subject: “Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing.” — To me that is a good guideline. It isn’t about materials or length or spandex or whatever, it is about choosing your clothing knowing your own value.

        http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/to-young-women?lang=eng

        Another Holland talk I like is called “the Inconvenient Messiah”

        http://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/02/the-inconvenient-messiah?lang=eng&query=inconvenient+messiah

        My favorite quote from that talk is “So if your prayers don’t always seem answered, take heart. One greater than you or President Kimball cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. … My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) If sometimes the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.” — it has been a great comfort to me again and again. If sometimes the harder you try, the harder it gets take heart.

  2. Spunky,

    Love the first real prayer anecdote from the Boulder City Gospel Doctrine teacher!

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, Course Correction! Loved that prayer example as well. Made me apprach prayer differently– I talk to God in my prayers as a result of this and other expieriences I have had (I’ll share another story sometime about a visiting “hippie” when I was in youth that was formidible on my prayer style).

      I was always taught the formal prayer style (“thee” and “Thou” stuff), but I feel dishonest when I pray in that manner. “I’ll read your damn book” was the most honest confession of a prayer I think I have ever heard. 🙂

  3. Patricia says:

    also not a fan of the remote control= grand children joke.
    not a fan of what it implied of the roles for men and women.

  4. Gilly says:

    I will be sharing “Only upon the Principles of Righteousness” by Elder Wilson. I loved this talk, thought I know some people were annoyed by the wife driving joke at the beginning. I love that it talks about allowing children to make choices – that was the way I was raised and I have been surprised and saddened in recent years as I have become aware of so many parents who control so much of their children’s lives – and seem to feel that that is the righteous way to raise their children. I am glad I have a conference talk to quote tot hem every now and then.
    I am YW president and the sister I visit has 2 girls in YW. I will share this talk and hopefully be able to to discuss why it is hard to let your children make their own decisions, what are the benefits of making their own decisions and how the YW leaders can support her daughters in making their own decisions.

    • Spunky says:

      That is a good choice, Gilly. I don’t have children, and stray away from parenting-only messages because of unkindness I have been subject to for “lecturing” people on how they can be mothers when I am not one…. so I did not choose this talk. But it is a good choice for a Mother’s Day theme message, or for women who have children. Whilst I agree with you that we need to allow children agency and choices, I would be cautious in delivering this message and ensure that the mother you visit teach is not feeling defeated in regard to motherhood, else this could sting.

  5. lizziek says:

    Put me down as another Elder Holland fan. I’m not sure why you think his “verbage” is directed to the men. I think his talks are nuanced and layered and take multiple readings for me to get the full impact of what he is teaching. His Easter talk a couple of years ago called “None were with Him” is one of the most profound and touching talks on the Savior that I’ve ever heard.

    • Spunky says:

      Thanks for your input, lizziek. I suppose I have been involved in post-graduate masculinity research for a few too many years, as his language style -to me- sounds conceptually based in the marketing of masculinity. But masculine vs. feminine linguistics is for another discussion.

      I like it when he tells it straight. But one of the things he does is to speak on my behalf (militarist = masculinity derived), i.e. from this talk, “In light of the calls and releases the First Presidency has just announced, may I speak for all of us in saying we will remember and love always those who have served so faithfully, just as we immediately love and welcome those who now come into office. Our heartfelt thanks to every one of you.”

      I don’t like that he spoke on behalf of “all of us.” I have some issues with some of the people who were released, and although I appreciate the efforts of even those who I had issue with, I am not comfortable with Holland announcing that I will “always remember” and appreciate them (the verbiage is too close to a sacramental prayer for my taste). Probably because of “Mothers Who Know” (and other gems), I am equally hesitant to “immediately love” those in new callings. It isn’t as though I dislike past and new church officers, or am unable to forgive or have massive new general authority trust issues (I am anxious to hear the new RS general presidency speak because I don’t know them). Its that I like having agency, and I distrust those who assume my membership in the church means I whole-heartedly agree, appreciate and love everyone and everything that is said in general conferences.

      In short, I just really like Heavenly Parents’ plan which means I get agency in my thoughts, actions and emotions. That’s me. I respect that you don’t feel the same as I do and am grateful for insights that help to soften my trepidation in regard to Holland (and Uchdorf). I also want to add that I don’t intend in any way to draw people away from Holland or other speakers with whom we disagree. I chose to quote Holland because the message (Matthew 20) in this talk speaks volumes to me, and because I equally recognise the language-based negatives are *mine* because of my background, training and sensitivity. My intention was only to be honest.

  6. lashley says:

    I loved this talk too. It was my favorite from this conference and the one i will choose to share this month as well. Interesting that you are not a fan of his. He’s one of my favorites – cuts to the chase, tells it straight.
    You know what I am not a fan of? When people laugh during talks at GC… I find it so irreverent and contrived. Totally bugs me! I guess I was a pious Calvinist in a past life 😉

  7. Pam says:

    I met and got to know Sr. Linda Burton a few years ago when she was on the primary board. A large group of them came to were we lived Sr. Beck included. I spent my time with Sr. Burton since I was Dist. primary pres. She is a wonderful person. She is very humble and real. she has a lot of energy. She was honest in her feelings. anything else you want to know?

    • spunky says:

      What does she really think of women? Does she mistaken all women as mothers? Are women slaves to priesthood-holding men? What is her realtionship with Heavenly Mother? That’s what I would like to know of her; where her heart lies in positioning woman as servants of Christ, rather than servants of men.

  8. Diane says:

    “Now—with this in mind, have you ever held a grudge? ”

    I think it would be easier to “let go” if people who have done things with specific intent to otherwise humiliate and denigrate would ever actually come up and ‘ask” for forgiveness. At least in this fashion, they are on some level conscience enough( I would hope anyway) to actually think about know how their own actions have hurt those around them.

    I know for me personally if this was done I might not be so angry. I do not expect this to ever happen. Especially with members of the church given the attitude that your just suppose to automatically forgive and if you don’t than you just have a problem with Pride. Yuck

  9. Valerie says:

    Thank you for your frankness and honesty. Very refreshing. Elder Holland’s talk was for me a lightning bolt from HF. He touched my heart because it was what I needed to relearn. That I am loved, that perhaps I am harder on myself than is necessary. That there is forgiveness and I can go back again and again to the well and be given living water.

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