Why I Love Visiting Teaching

I admit I’m a fan of Visiting Teaching.  I’ve been doing it all my life. My mom was the Eternal RS President and with me as her underage companion, she assigned us to visit people who didn’t really want to be visited.  Or were crazy. Or both. But we always got in, often with the help of cookies, and usually ended up making nice connections.  In my current ward they just rearranged the assignments and I have a GLS companion (Good Little Soldier). Which is great. Except that one of the women we teach would be more comfortable at an Exponent Retreat than at an Enrichment meeting. She’s a physician who calls it like she sees it (let’s call her OMD, Outspoken MD). So I’ve been visiting her on the sly because I’m a chicken and was afraid to bring my GLS along. But this month we had a traditional visit. Here’s what happened.

We sit and chat for a while and things go well until GLS says it’s time for the Message. Before she can even open The Engisn OMD says politely but firmly, “Let me stop you right there. Is the lesson on prayer and faith and love?” GLS looks confused, “Why yes, have you already read it?” OMD sighs. “No. But all the lessons are on prayer and faith and love.  These lessons don’t work for me. I don’t find any useful religion in them.”  There ensued a very awkward silence. Luckily I remembered a great conversation I’d had earlier that day with my good friend and shared it as my message.

My friend’s youngest was struggling with a particular task at school and kept praying that he would master it. He even found a quiet corner in his kindergarten class to kneel down. He cried to his mom that his prayers didn’t work because his task neither got easier nor went away.  She held him tight and explained Heavenly Father answers our prayers by giving us the strength and peace to face our struggles. “Sweetie,” she said, “prayers aren’t like magic wands that makes worries disappear.” “But Mom,” he replied, “that’s how it always works in The Friend.”

I told both women that I struggle as a YW teacher and as a mom with lots of the stories in the manuals and magazines. I want to promote faith but fear that presenting only the “and everything got fixed” version of life was dangerous.  The gospel is NOT an insurance policy against pain and suffering; but it is the best tool I have in my arsenal to deal with life when the crap hits the fan. I was surprised when GLS agreed with me, and shared a hard story about her mom getting cancer, twice, and her sister leaving the Church because she felt God had betrayed the family by not keeping the cancer away. OMD talked about how she was strengthened by the faith of one of her patients, a man she’d helped perform a liver transplant on the night before. He was 80 lbs, had contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion as a kid and had been in excruciating liver failure for a while. She marveled at his optimism, his gratitude, and his refusal to live life as if he had a death sentence, which he basically did. That was where she found her faith.

We all talked and laughed and I was so thankful that OMD spoke up and told us what she needed. And I was even more thankful that GLS was not offended but was willing to share her personal message of prayer and faith and love as well. I need to remember that just because someone tows the line and follows rules doesn’t mean they can’t toss the manual when necessary. And just because someone says they don’t believe in Visiting Teaching doesn’t mean they can’t use a good conversation with friends at least once a month.  At times like this I love being wrong.

Do you “believe” in Visiting Teaching? Is it a monthly chore or something you look forward to? When does it work for you, and what do you want in a Visiting Teacher?

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22 Responses

  1. EM says:

    I have to say that your article touched me. I really don’t have a testimony of visiting teaching. I think it’s okay for some people. I’m in the RS presidency and I have to present a lesson for our visiting teaching conference at the end of January, so needless to say I really need to gain a testimony fast! I know deep down it’s important, but I truly find it difficult to do. And I’m not sure if it’s my personality (introvert) or I couldn’t be bothered. Overall I like visits and visiting in general, but when it comes to “visiting teaching” it’s like I shut down. I’m looking forward to seeing what the responses are and I look forward to being enlightened.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    “And just because someone says they don’t believe in Visiting Teaching doesn’t mean they can’t use a good conversation with friends at least once a month.”
    This, for me is the most important thing about visiting teaching, having a conversation with friends. For all of my angst with the Church, I am a big supporter of VT, but only when these two things are present–friendship and conversation. I’m not a very social person (an introvert like EM), and making friends has never been easy for me, but I think that VT gives us the opportunity to do it in a very personal setting, a person’s home, and with the best of intentions, true charity. As for the conversation, you’ve given us a good example of how the topic of the lesson can give our conversation direction without the constraint of the actual wording in the lesson.

  3. LovelyLauren says:

    Visiting teaching has always been difficult for me. I’ve always been a student which means my schedule is already wacky and it’s always hard to coordinate (especially when people don’t text! Seriously, start texting. I hate having to have 5 awkward phone calls when I could have 5 to-the-point text messages. I hate talking on the phone).

    However, I usually really enjoy the actual visits. I just wish they would coordinate themselves. Right now my companion doesn’t drive and until last week, I only had a car when my husband wasn’t working (and he works 24 hour shifts.) I think the friendships are the most important. When I’ve been in wards where people are doing their visiting teaching, there is so much more sisterhood. I’m often surprised at how many people disliked being visited. My visiting teacher is always great at chatting and making me feel comfortable. She also usually comes alone, which is nice because I like the one-on-one better.

    I think too many sisters put too much focus on the messages instead of getting to know each other and enjoying the company. Let’s be honest, the message is not the reason you’re there and they get a little monotonous.

  4. Miri says:

    I fully agree that we all need to be able to have a good conversation with friends. And I also don’t like Visiting Teaching. But I don’t have better suggestions, because a replacement would need to be systemized and it’s the fact that it’s a system that turns me off to Visiting Teaching. No matter how much I’ve loved my Visiting Teachers, even at BYU when they were some of my best friends, the fact that they came for an official visit automatically made it feel weird for me and I didn’t like it. This might be my personality, or my social phobia/anxiety that makes certain social situations difficult for me, or insecurity leftover from childhood about feeling like people are hanging out with me because they have to, not because they want to. I don’t know, but I just really don’t like the program.

    I want to promote faith but fear that presenting only the “and everything got fixed” version of life was dangerous.

    I love what the kid said, about that being how it always works in The Friend. That’s how it feels to me, too (and that’s why Visiting Teaching can feel so lame when you don’t expand beyond the official smiley-face message). I wrote a blog post about this a little while ago, actually, when I came across a post on Fran’s blog about an article she read in BYU Magazine. It’s really hard for me to always hear the stories about how things ended up perfectly, because that’s not how life has been for me.

    I need to remember that just because someone tows the line and follows rules doesn’t mean they can’t toss the manual when necessary.

    This is something I need to remember, too. It’s all too easy to forget. Great post, Heather!

  5. Miri says:

    I must’ve done the code wrong; I tried to include a link to my blog post but it didn’t work. It’s http://mirishorten.blogspot.com/2011/09/pocket-watches-and-descartes.html, if anyone’s interested.

  6. DefyGravity says:

    I also struggle with visiting teaching, mostly because I feel that what I have to say my visiting teachers or visiting teachees don’t want to hear. I attempt to share my Mormon feminism with my visiting teachers, and there is just awkward silence or comments about how young I am and how I’ll change my mind one day. That is not friendship and not helpful. So often I say nothing during the visit as they talk to each other. I’m unnecessary to my visiting teaching visit, which is an odd situation. I’m in a very different life position then my visiting teachers; they have kids and grand kids my age. I’m all for friends of different ages, but I just feel too different to have a relationship with these women; and they seem to want to fit me into the young married box. They can’t deal with anything outside of that expectation.

    I understand that there is an advantage in getting to know people of a variety of ages and experiences. I truly do. But the women I am assigned to teach, like my visiting teachers, are grandmothers. They are comfortable in the Mormon women housewife experience, and don’t seem interested in anything different. And the messages seem to exist to reinforce one world view. It’s another way for me to not fit in, to be different and wrong.

    I’d love it if we bagged the message entirely, or if they weren’t correlated, and if it were about really getting to know the women you visit teach. Getting to know who they are, what their lives are like, and what they have to say about the church and the world. But I don’t know how to make that happen…

  7. MB says:

    I neither love nor despise visiting teaching per se, but I have learned that it has great capacity to make me a better person and teach me to know and love people that I would otherwise just have had a nodding acquaintance with. Because of VT my life has been enriched by connections and caring for and from people who, at first look, are very, very different from me in age, ethnicity, politics, education, health, hope, economics and experience. And it has taught me to accept help from others with grace and gratitude whether or not the help offered is exactly what I’d hope to receive, but is offered nonetheless. So I take my VT responsibility seriously and do that outreach as best I can. I know that, challenging as it may be personally for me, its capacity for good is real.

    It has made me a gentler, calmer, wiser, less judgmental and more humble (due to the times when I mess up and make things worse) person. And has given me connections with sisters that I will always care about though I now rarely if ever see many of them due to the moves we’ve made over the years.

    I am a firm believer that the kind, caring connections that we make with others in this life are what make it most worthwhile. And my experience is that visiting teaching gives me an extra opportunity to create those connections with sisters with whom otherwise I might not have taken the time and care to do so.

    My life is richer for it.

  8. spunky says:

    Love this post and love the comments! I don’t have a testimony of Relief Society. I never enjoyed going to Relief Society, and formally stopped going a little over a year ago stating that I don’t consider myself a member of the RS organization, but that I support some of the ideology. Most seem perplexed at this, especially since I enjoy teaching Relief Society (because I throw in examples of divorced or single or childless or just not-a-molly examples that I relate to) and I love visiting teaching.

    For me, walking into a room full of women strikes me with panic, especially Mormon women. Hence a large part of my RS issues. I feel like I am being judged because I am not thin enough, not matronly enough, not righteous enough, not– everything. I have tried to sit by women in RS to be told “that seat is taken”, and have even been jokingly mocked for some of my feminist or just (I think) common-sense comments. It is painful and I am alone. Visiting Teaching, on the other hand– the message is an ice breaker, and it is a small group, usually 3 at most. Even if I don’t recite the message and don’t say a word, I am not ignored and there is a seat for me. I like the opportunity to go and meet someone in their home, see what they like (music, movies, art, etc.) and appreciate them for their differences (unlike DefyGravity’s VTers who seem to only understand the cookie cutter support system).

    I appreciate the formal message, but that is because I pick out parts that work for me. Plus, my interpretation of the message expresses who I am– for example, this December, I had no issue and did not hold back from saying I disliked Ballard’s quotes (and generally all of his talks), had no issue with ignoring his quotes in the message, and therefore focused on the segments of the message that work for me (I never, never, never focus on the entire message– although short, it is often VERY problematic). I personally believe that when I openly state “this doesn’t work for me so I am skipping it”, I am inviting the women around me to allow themselves to not fit the mythological Molly Mormon mould, just as me– who is no where near to the mythological Molly Mormon mould.

    Thanks for the post, Heather. Love it.

  9. Annie B. says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing this. It actually makes me want to be more like OMD in speaking up about what works for me and what I need. I have extreme anxiety when I go to church because of all the things that “don’t work for me” and I don’t visit teach for the same reasons. A lot of times I feel it’s just too emotionally draining to speak up. It’s nice to hear of others so bravely speaking up and being understood, it makes me feel like maybe for the others out there who feel the same way I do it might be worth the risk.

  10. alex w. says:

    I’m in a funny place with VT-ing right now because the younger women on my route are difficult to get a hold of (They don’t respond to phone calls or text messages. I wish they would just say they don’t want me to come by instead of ignoring me. I understand if they don’t want us to come over. ) and my teachers rarely contact me (I don’t care too much because I’d rather not hear the message, but at the same time, they are nice women to talk to). But! My partner is the best. We couldn’t be two more different women, but she is so kind and friendly and relaxed, so I enjoy being her partner. And she’s really helpful: my car has been in the shop a couple of times lately and she has been willing to drive me to the shop or take me to work, which has been absolutely priceless.

  11. Kris says:

    Well, I will comment that I have had someone as a visiting teacher in my home many times and her name is Carol Lynn Pearson. That was awhile back. Has anyone else had a famous v.t.?

  12. Caroline says:

    Heather, this is terrific, and so are all the comments. One way I’ve made visiting teaching work for me is to tell my visiting teachers right off the bat that I’d prefer it if they didn’t share the message. That way, it’s just friends coming over to chat for an hour, with no awkward insertion of a message which may or may not be good. I also don’t give the message when I visit teach, though I do sometimes hand them a copy of it for them to read later if that’s what they want to do. Removing the pressure of the message from the visit has made me feel pretty friendly about the program. I’m naturally not a super social person, so I like excuses to get to know other women better. That said, as heather’s post illustrates, I’m probably missing real opportunities for connection by always ignoring the message. Makes me wonder if i should reconsider my approach at some point..

  13. Fran says:

    Visiting Teaching is my favorite thing in Relief Society. As far as I am concerned they could just get rid of everything else. But visiting teaching I love. And believe in.

    However, it’s often been pretty frustrating for me as well. I do think that the friendship part, the loving part, the heart-to-heart conversation part, and noticing when help is needed and then jumping in to help-part is really crucial about visiting teaching.

    Often though it’s just checking off something from a to-do list, where you come, ask a few polite questions, present (read) the message from the Ensign, and you’re out again. I hate it. I hate when those are the visits I get. I’d rather not have them at all. I’ve contemplated in the last while to just not have my VT’s come anymore because it’s always the same lame stuff. They don’t even ask me questions about their little message. Urgh. I can’t take it. And in the 4 years I’ve been in my current ward, for the most part, my VTs were never aware or available when I was in dire need of help (like when we needed people to sit for my husband to practice school stuff, and just about everyone in the ward volunteered except my VTs, or when I had a miscarriage and was seriously depressed, or when you’re in the middle of a move, or similar stuff…) Bleh.

    Nonetheless, I love visiting teaching. I think it’s a great program, and a great way for us to learn to be truly christ-like.

    • Miri says:

      That’s awful, Fran. I essentially feel the same way, except that I guess I’ve had more of the checklist Visiting Teaching experiences, so I don’t have the testimony of the program that you do. If Visiting Teaching is done right–if it’s really about making connections, having meaningful conversations, being there for each other–then yes, it’s absolutely amazing, and I fully agree that we all need this kind of thing. I guess the problem is just that you can’t do anything about how people choose to approach it; that’s not something the program itself can do anything to fix.

  14. wendyl says:

    This has been interesting for me to read the original post and all the comments. I am in a period of enormous transition right now, and I am trying to decide if I am going to continue visiting teaching for the time -being. I sincerely appreciate all the different views and approaches to VT-ing (sorry, don’t wanna keep typing the whole thing out!)

    I feel much like Spunky does about RS in general, so I have been hanging out in Primary for the past few years. It is what is keeping me active right now. There is no way I would consider attending RS at the moment, and frankly VT-ing feels somewhat like an extension of that right now. We’ll see what happens!

  15. Mel says:

    My opinion of visiting teaching changed when the non-church-going woman I was assigned to visit lost her child in a tragic accident. I was grateful that I had a bit of a relationship to draw on so that I could more easily reach out to her during a period of intense suffering. There were not many in our ward who get a returned text or phone message from her, but I could. I was of service in a tiny way because I had tried to be a visiting teacher.

    And I don’t think this is a popular view, but I have sucked it up and gone visiting during times when I really didn’t “feel it” because I knew if I didn’t some poor over-worked woman in my ward would be assigned four or more women to visit. I see it as doing my part.

  16. rachel says:

    at first i hated it. then loved it (i have had some awesome experiences with it). now i just feel i don’t have time for it. i just feel my time could be better spent elsewhere. when i go vting or they visit me, usually it’s just a visit with no message….and i usually enjoy the visits. i despise the reporting. is it really necessary?

  17. MissRissa says:

    I do not enjoy VT. I think part of it is my introverted personality and part of it is my dislike of yet ANOTHER thing we have to do and report on. I like getting to know the sisters in my ward… I do not like reporting that I visited and talked to a sister for a certain amount of time each month while sharing the message that I was told to share. I wish there was a way to opt out of the VT program without feeling guilty or drawing unnecessary concern from the RS pres.

    • spunky says:

      MissRissa,
      I am an introvert as well, but that is why I like Vting: because I can just visit with someone one on one, on the phone, over email or otherwise. I think the key is just doing it consistently, even if it is not the perfect Molly-Mormon perfect message, cookies, testimony thing.

      Reporting is awkward. I just report on if I visited in person or not. I think anything beyond that is gossip. If one of the women I VT is having a crisis, I ask them if it is okay to share with the RS president as well as offer to help. The only time I contacted an RS president without the consent of the sister was when the sister reported that her husband was hitting her. That is a long story that I won’t go into here, but without VTers visiting her, I am not sure she would have told anyone.

      You can opt out of VTing. In my current ward, I told the RS pres that I did NOT want to be VT, but that I was happy to be a VTer. She seemed surprised at the request, but went with it. If you want out of VT, just ask for out. If the RS president gets freaked out, that is HER issue, not your’s. Don’t sweat it.

  1. August 24, 2016

    […] days as I found myself looking at my experiences and observations with a more thoughtful eye. When routine visiting teaching or shopping for a Father’s Day card took an unexpected turn, I knew I’d have to “blog it […]

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