August 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: Taking Action in Time of Need

Let’s just dive in here, because this message is a bit awkward. We all know this directive; at least once every conference, if not once every session of conference, a story is relayed about members jumping in to help out a person, family or community in sudden distress. The stories are beautiful and inspirational, and we can easily envision ourselves as serving each other in an emergency. As a result of our own humanity, most people share a sense of urgency when we hear of someone in crisis, but the thing is… I don’t think this message is best served with a side of crisis. Rather, I think common sense and positive habits are much more effective in performing “action in time of need.”

Consider the term “action”. relays that action is “the process or state of acting or of being active.” It is not a response; it is a state of being.  So here’s a big fat no-brainer, yet I think is important to address: Action does not equal REaction. Yet I think the formal message is worded in a manner that only addresses (teaches) reactionary service. Consider the message:

As visiting teachers, one of our purposes is to help strengthen families and homes. The sisters we visit should be able to say, “If I have problems, I know my visiting teachers will help without waiting to be asked.” In order to serve, we have a responsibility to be conscious of the needs of the sisters we visit. When we seek inspiration, we will know how to respond to the spiritual and temporal needs of each sister we are assigned to visit. Then, using our time, skills, talents, prayers of faith, and spiritual and emotional support, we can help give compassionate service during times of illness, death, and other special circumstances.

Hmmm. Action in time of need vs. reaction in time of need. How do we embrace action rather than reaction?

It is not always obvious how to respond in a crisis. Years ago, my visiting teaching companion gave birth to a stillborn son. It was a horrific shock; it was an otherwise healthy pregnancy with no note of strife until the week the baby was due. This family was well loved—to the point that they stopped answering and returning phone calls because the numerous incoming condolences were too emotionally exhaustive. In a depressive decline that was spiralling into isolation, even the bishop advised members to “leave them alone!” Because I knew she had relinquished her own visiting teachers, I ignored the bishop. I left a message that said a lot of people would love to bring them meals because we didn’t know what else to do. I said I’d love to co-ordinate it. She knew me; she knew my cooking. I knew her and knew what she liked. I sweetened the deal by offering to make a dish I knew her husband had especially appreciated. She agreed. Her doors opened. She shared with me some tender details that I feel are too sacred to disclose, and she allowed me to organize meals for her. All because I knew she didn’t have visiting teahcers and her husband had a preference for fresh salsa.

Action or reaction? That is the thing-this message is easily misconstrued as a direction for emergencies and crisis. But I don’t think that this is what it should be about in the least; the problem in the situation above was not that people were unwilling to help. The problem was that the generous, kind and loving offers did not hit the mark as intended. To be clear, others offered meals, but did not know or understand that there was no one to coordinate them. Without a coordinator, meal drop offs and organizing would have been unruly and uncomfortable. This is the kind of thing that only an insider would know. And sure, meals did not suddenly make the whole situation fine and dandy. But the meal roster was a small way for them to have an outside connection once a day. It also created an opportunity for others to do something, and for the couple to be hugged by someone at least once a day for a few weeks.

In this situation, Salsathe real action occurred in the months and years prior the the crisis in an mix of friendship that came of sharing salsa.

Which leads to my next point, which is the term “need.” Do we “need” salsa? I am going to say yes. Because I do! Really good salsa makes my day! Bad salsa makes me judgemental about the maker. But that is another discussion.

Need. I think that in this day and age of plenty, we convince ourselves that needs are really wants. For example, when we first moved into a new place, after the initial major move in, I was struggling to get some of the closets arranged in a way that I liked. Four months after the move the unorganized closets were really starting to bother me. The unruly combination food storage, board games, extra bedding, first-aid kits and overall haberdashery all mixed up was something I didn’t know how to start. In trying to make a joke of my discomfort with a beloved friend who happened to be a psychologist, he told me to get some help to organize the closest. “Just get help,” he said. “Get someone to do it for you. Someone else will do it faster, and even if you don’t like how they set it up, it will be neat so you can easily change it.” Good advice, I thought, so I arranged for a small army of friends to come and sort the closets that overwhelemd me. But as the day came closer, my embarrassment increased. My house is lovely, and neat.  It was just two storage closets for heaven’s sake! How dumb that I need help with that! I felt worldly, spolit and bratty for asking for help with something that just seemed so very basic. Ready to call the whole thing off after confessing my shame, another friend offered these words of wisdom: “If it is important to you, then … it is important.”

Whatever is psychologically, emotionally, spiritually or temporally important to us does not require explanation to others. If it is important to the individual, it is a need. No matter what it looks like. Thank goodness for that priceless information (permission?)! Because if it is important to me, it is important! My closets were organized in an hour and my need was met. And I gotta tell ya, I LOVE the women who did that for me.

Closet crisis? Probably not. But it was a need. Just like we need to indulge in ice cream, catch a movie or a show, have a laugh and paint our nails with a friend sometimes. Because that kind of thing is just as important of an action as is a meal in a crisis.

So- rather than take this as a “be ready to take a friend to the hospital” reactionary message, I think it is best applied as a “plan to go and grab a slurpee when the mood hits” kind of thing. Because when you build a friendship based on everyday actions revolved around simple needs, then you are doing the work of angels.

My friendships motivate me. They make me feel accepted and worth-while and able. My friends love me when they dont’ have to (not being relatives), so I must be loveable. They value me. I must be valuable. My love for them is a satisfying and joyful feeling. Knowing them gives me opportunities to serve them according to their needs and mine.         – Carrel Sheldon, Exponent II, Summer 1991, Vol. 7, No. 4, p 18.

So, rather that looking at this as a boy-scout “be prepared” sermon, go grab a slurpee with a friend. Better yet, grab a bag of chips, some salsa ingredients or salsa samples and pop in for an afternoon of taste-testing appropriate chili vs. onion levels.

Doctrine and Covenants 82: 19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.

What are some basic actions you can take in recognising your own needs as well as the needs of others? What is your food—salsa or otherwise- will you always open the door for? GIVE ME MORE SALSA RECIPES!! 😉


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

You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. spiderlady says:

    I had a somewhat similar experience several years ago when I was the Ward Music Leader. There was a lady in our ward who had two sweet boys, both with Down’s Syndrome. I noticed they always came up onto the stand before Church started to watch me post the hymn numbers on the board. So one day I asked them if they would help me do that. After that, they put up the hymn numbers for me every Sunday. Their mother told me she appreciated it so much, that it made them feel like they had a real Church calling that they could do. It was nothing so much–to me–but it meant a great deal to them.

    • spunky says:

      That is awesome, Spiderlady. It does mean a lot for anyone to feel like they have a responsibility and are needed. Good for you for helping those boys- and their mother.

  2. Caroline says:

    I love your thoughts, Spunky. You always find so much to think about in response to these little messages.

  3. CatherineWO says:

    This is so good, Spunky. I always love your take on the VT message, but this is especially inspiring. I like the idea of acting instead of reacting. I think it is so easy to react in a time of crisis. We sincerely want to help, but sometimes we just swoop in and do what we think the person needs and then walk away. Some of the hardest action is involved in day-to-day and chronic needs, those that don’t end with a meal brought in or a moving truck all packed or unpacked.

  4. Laura says:

    I love your thoughts here and it’s something I’ve thought about visiting teaching for a LONG time. I can certainly respond when someone has a baby or there’s an overt problem. But it’s the day by day, week by week, month by month interactions that build relationships so when there’s a problem that’s NOT overt we can and will go to each other for help and feel safe doing so.

  5. Karen says:

    Thank you for giving us another perspective on visiting teaching. You have reprimanded me on my lack of truly being a VT. Sometimes we get caught in the need to make our monthly visits. I know what you have said is true, I just need to be better about it. Thank you for refreshing my determination to not just be a VT, but a friend.

  6. Linda says:

    When the time comes, who are you going to turn to in your time of need? Your visiting teacher who comes once a month with a lesson and a plate of cookies, or a friend? Hopefully your visiting teacher will be your friend. Someone who knows you and your family very well and will know how to help you in the best possible way. Nobody can do that with a once a month visit.

Leave a Reply to Karen Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.