November 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: Teacher’s Choice- Conference Compilation

Most usually for the conference/teacher’s choice messages, I focus on a single talk that strikes me as relevant. Sometimes, including this month, I make a compilation message derived from various talks aimed to address and discuss some of the changes affecting women that were announced:

With so much need for relief and rescue in the lives of sisters and their families today, our Heavenly Father needs us to follow a higher path and demonstrate our discipleship by sincerely caring for His children. With this important purpose in mind, leaders are now taught to ask for reports about the spiritual and temporal well-being of sisters and their families and about service rendered. Now visiting teachers have the responsibility to “sincerely come to know and love each sister, help her strengthen her faith, and give service.”-Julie Beck

This is an interesting highlight in regard to the visiting teaching program- actually reporting on the “spiritual” and “temporal” needs of sisters. It is not new advice. A hard-copy of the church handbook of Instructions from 1998 states “The Relief Society president receives monthly reports from visiting teachers about the spiritual and temporal welfare of each sister.” But in consideration of what seems to have developed into an organization of statistical reports and an occasional emergency notification service, the renewed emphasis on personal spiritual development and empowering the ability to balance one’s life is significant and overdue.  (Beck’s references for this “new” assignment are the CHI2 2010).

The creepy thing is… how do we do it? It is wrong to judge the spiritual or life needs of another. I think this means that we are to introduce a greater degree of revelation as a part of visiting teaching. As Barbara Thompson taught:

The way to receive personal revelation is really quite clear. We need to desire to receive revelation, we must not harden our hearts, and then we need to ask in faith, truly believe that we will receive an answer, and then diligently keep the commandments of God.

Following this pattern does not mean that every time we ask a question of God, the answer will immediately appear with every detail of what to do. However, it does mean that if we diligently keep the commandments and ask in faith, answers will come in the Lord’s own way and in His time.

Okay, we all know this standard revelation formula: “read the scriptures, attend church, and pray”… yadda yadda yadda…and you will have all of the answers you need. The thing is, not all of us are in a place in our lives where we do this, nor do those of us who do this have the ability to claim perfect revelation in regard to anyone, including ourselves, and especially the women we visit teach. I think what comes best with this is the sincere desire to serve. When we truly desire to serve someone, not as an assigned friend, or indentured servant or as an open piggy bank, but with a sincere heart, the sisters we teach will know.  To me, this means listening, being a sounding board, and not judging (i.e. being filled with true charity).

From a practical perspective, I also believe that this includes regular, real contact. I say this as a person with trust issues. It takes me a good six months or more (or never) for me to trust some people. Okay, a lot of people. The people who I have come to trust, for the most part, are those who I have regular communication with. For example:

  1. Visiting Teacher S used to tick off the “made contact” box if she saw me at church. I resented this, and although I was desperately struggling at the time, her choice to tick me off the list made me not want to have her visit me.
  2. Visiting Teacher A stopped by to talk “at” me; she did not listen, she did not know me, and she gossiped about other church members in our visits. Still do not trust her.
  3. Visiting Teacher W came to my home and shared a message. I said that I could not apply the message in my life right then and I didn’t think it related to me. She patiently listened to my issue, and agreed that I needed to do what was right for me- which was NOT the stock message! She then asked me how she could support me in that. To this day, I am in touch with her and I would do nearly anything for her. This beloved friend really taught me how to be a visiting teacher and a woman of faith. I trust her with my life.

This all leads me to the concept of real service. Silvia Alvarez addressed service as an expression in true charity, or the pure love of Christ in her talk :

When we have charity, we are willing to serve and help others when it is inconvenient and with no thought of recognition or reciprocation. We don’t wait to be assigned to help, because it becomes our very nature. As we choose to be kind, caring, generous, patient, accepting, forgiving, inclusive, and selfless, we discover we are abounding in charity.

I love the additions of patience, acceptance, and inclusiveness. How can you be more patient with the women you visit teach? How can you sent a standard of inclusion for these women, even if they parent differently, look different and have different tastes than you? How can you better accept these sisters for who they are, thereby developing real trust so they will allow you to be of spiritual or personal service to them? I think a big way of doing this is by listening to them. Let them share with you who they are; let them talk more than you do. Let them show you how to love them.

In contemplation of addressing individual spiritual and temporal needs,  I found this section Jeffery R. Holland’s talk from the Priesthood session worthy to include here. (I personally believe that priesthood keys will one day be restored to women; in preparation for that, I listen to the Priesthood Session and consider ways to apply the direction laid there in my life.)  With that in mind:

To encourage more couples to serve, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have made one of the boldest and most generous moves seen in missionary work in the last 50 years. In May of this year, priesthood leaders in the field received a notice that housing costs for couples (and we speak only of housing costs) would be supplemented by Church missionary funds if the cost exceeds a predetermined amount per month. What a blessing! This is heaven-sent assistance toward the single largest expense our couples face on their missions. The Brethren have also determined that couple missions can be for 6 or 12 months as well as the traditional 18 or 23. In another wonderful gesture, permission is given for couples, at their own expense, to return home briefly for critical family events.

Why point this out in visiting teaching? One non-Anglo woman I used to visit teach asked me why all of the mission presidents were American. She and I discussed the (US-based) costs of a mission and we clearly came to the conclusion that she and her husband would never be able to go on their non-US income. Even though they both worked and paid tithing, it would never be financially feasible for them to take up unpaid church work for 18-23 months, even though they had hoped to do so. This new opportunity for couples to serve for 6 months, and with housing assistance makes the mission dream of couples with limited income much more realistic.

Plus, I really, really like the idea of mission presidents of the same nationality as the missions wherein they serve, if only because locals have a greater empathy in regard to culture, income, and social obligations that foreign mission presidents (who are focused on numbers) may neglect to consider. I also like that missions are aimed to be better financially inclusive to those who otherwise would never have been in an economic position to go if they so desire. In my own mind, I hope to see more missionary couples from Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, and South America in positions of authority that in the past have been limited to those only of upper and middle-class, western income.

Another thing I like about this announcement is that it seems to offer a window of real support for families of missionary couples. My personal example is another missionary couple that I know; they had a number of inactive, adult children. One of their children was having a commitment ceremony with her partner, which my friends were unable to leave their mission to attend. As you would imagine, it made an even deeper rift- not only between parents and daughter, but between the daughter and the church because of its appearance of inflexibility in regard to the most important relationship in her life. I firmly believe that something as simple as being in attendance, thereby showing support for a family member of different spiritualism, can create miracles within family units. So I am glad- and I hope that this new directive will allow mission couples to attend commitment ceremonies and weddings of their children as well as births of grandchildren and otherwise.

By introducing the eligibility of missionary couples to maintain and support family members by allowing the missionaries leave for significant events, it seems to better support the church’s ideology of the family.  Indeed, I think all of these changes are in tune with the church adapting to the spiritual and temporal needs of church members and their families. On that note, and in closing, I again quote Beck:

Through Relief Society, [women’s] discipleship is extended and they can become engaged with others in the kind of impressive and heroic work the Savior has done. The kind of work the sisters of this Church are asked to do in our day has never been too modest in scope or inconsequential to the Lord. Through their faithfulness, they can feel His approval and be blessed with the companionship of His Spirit.

 

Did any one or two line quotes from conference strike you as a woman? What were they?

How can you improve your listening skills so you can become closer to the women you visit teach?

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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6 Responses

  1. CatherineWO says:

    Spunky,
    I always love your VT messages. Could you come visit me? 😉
    I love that you used so many quotes from women, and I love the information from Elder Holland’s priesthood address as well. Our November Ensign just came, so I will have to go read the whole talk.
    On a side note (not having to do with VT), it is good to hear of the Church making such changes to couple missionary service. A few years ago my mother died while my brother and his wife were serving a mission. My dad was very stoic about it and insisted that it was okay that this son was not there for the funeral, but I know it was very difficult for him. Dad and my brother (the oldest son) were very close, and it tore my heart to see Dad not have him there. I had occasion sometime later to meet Elder Bednar (who knows my brother well) and mentioned to him how difficult this situation was. Elder B’s reply was to the effect that “he was doing a greater service as a missionary.” How can that be? He was needed at home to comfort his father, something no one else could have done as well.
    Sorry for the tangent, but this hit a raw nerve, and I really am pleased to see the change. I think using this in a VT message is very appropriate–says to the sisters that the Brethren are listening.

    • spunky says:

      CatherineWO, I promise that should I ever go to Wyoming, I will visit teach you. Though I will likely skip the message and just give you a huge hug. Deal with it. 🙂

      Holland’s talk is very, very, masculinity based, so don’t go thinking that you will be overly delighted by it. It was very much as though he were addressing a male army. (His “joke” about men leaving remote controls and women leaving grandchildren for a mission made me ill… consider yourself warned.) I did appreciate his admonition against hypocrisy of those hoping to serve missions and hope that this concept extends to challenge cultural gender ideology that I believe is hypocritical.

      I am very grateful that you shared your experience in regard to the painful inflexibility of missions. My brother was on his mission when my father died. He had an option of coming home, but that meant being released from his mission. I don’t know how it affected him at the time, but I think my mother found some strange strength that “I will be blessed because my son is on a mission.” I am not convinced that this is psychologically healthy in every case—the stoic, push it down, for the greater good– theory. Seems like that would be fodder for “going postal” at a later date.

      We are taught to mourn with those who mourn, so like you, I am very grateful that this change gives us an opportunity to find healing in the passion of mourning (Romans 12:15, Matthew 5:4). As always, thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. Rachel says:

    I enjoyed reading this very much. And, like you, am very reluctant to tell people my business.
    I prefer to VT without a partner just because I think it’s easier to have a real conversation that way.
    I had a woman I VT for about a year that I just didn’t like visiting. She was perfectly nice but we didn’t have anything in common, at least as far as I was concerned. Pretty much, she talked about ‘things'( latest redecorating project, etc.), and I tend to be an ideas/concepts person. I tried to listen, but I judged her harshly. And I’m sorry about that because I know she really did have a strong faith. If she had a real spiritual need, I doubt I would be who she’d confide in. Thinking about it makes me sad and repentant. I didn’t look at her with Christ-like perspective.
    I think I have perfectly good listening skills-for me, it’s about putting aside differences, my own insecurities/jealousies/whatever in order to care enough to listen.

  3. April says:

    Such a wonderful message, Spunky. You’re my visiting teaching hero.

  4. Pamela says:

    I have enjoyed the message and the comments. I too am glad for the ability of the couples to go home. Our couple is going home this weekend for the marriage of their daughter. they are needed here but will be sooooo much better at their job by going to the marriage. My sister was married while I was on my mission. all those people are forgotten and lost, my sister is still with me and I still miss, but do not resent, not being able to be there.
    keep up the good work.

  5. blessing watungwa says:

    i enjoyed reading the message so much it has up lifted me because i am one of the sisters who never enjoyed vt but now i have learnt the great blesssings and joy other sisters have wen they do their vt.

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