December 2012 Visiting Teaching: Visiting Teaching, a Work of Salvation
One December years ago, I asked my supervisor if I could work on Christmas day. I was working as an administrative assistant at the time, in an office that was officially closed on Christmas Day. It was an unusual request. But it made perfect sense to me.
In that period of my life, Christmas had a problematic history. I was on the tail-end of the Young Single Adult spectrum; the majority of my siblings, both older and younger, were married and had children of their own. All of them also resided in Utah, whereas unmarried me had chosen to move to Southern California (I was young and unattached- why not move wherever I wanted?). In previous years I had driven or flown to stay with the family, but felt progressively edged out. The final straw was after flying in on Thanksgiving mid-day only to be told that the meal was changed to lunch, and that I had missed it. They were serving dessert. “Sorry, we didn’t think to tell you,” was the only explanation from an uncle; no one else uttered a word. Additionally, I felt the Christmas gifts I gave to siblings, nieces and nephews were expected, yet unappreciated with nary a thank you. Gifts were rarely reciprocated, usually only from my mother, even when I asked for simple artwork from nieces and nephews.
I liberated myself from that experience in my mid-twenties. I stayed at my home, rather than traveling to spend the day with relatives. That Christmas day began uncomfortably. I was unhappy with the only gift I received that year—it was reflective purple running suit my mother had purchased and posted from a discount warehouse that was shutting down. However appreciative of the thought, the odd gift choice made me feel justified in not spending the holiday with people who seemed to know so little of me.
Being utterly bored before the morning was over, I took stock of what I could do. I could go for a walk…. in shorts and a tee shirt (sans purple suit). So I did that. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not the only one out that day. I enjoyed the “Merry Christmas” calls of the other walkers and runners. My endorphins rose, and it turned into a really fun and free day. Within a week, I found a grateful, elderly recipient who loved the reflective purple running suit.
The next couple of Christmases were similar, but better. In the weeks before Christmas, I spent time with friends. We shared shopping, meal preparation for their Christmas feasts (I was happy to help but not be at the main event), exchanged gifts and baked and/or delivered plates of cookies. I sought this, enjoyed it and revelled in it. This filled my soul, was nearly anxiety-free and left actual Christmas Eve and Day all to myself to do as I pleased. I cleaned house, watched movies and delighted in not having the burden of running around on a day off. It was bliss.
Four years after the discovery of my Christmas bliss, I decided to purchase airfare to Salt Lake for a huge LDS singles New Years Eve dance. Yes, I enjoyed a private Christmas. But I didn’t want a wholly private life. Not one for “meat market” activities, I thought a New Years dance could be okay, even fun. It was the costs of holiday airfare and car rental lead me to the conclusion that it would be better for me to work on Christmas Day, then take the extra day off around the New Year.
But my supervisor balked. He was also Mormon, and I explained to him that I preferred to have the time off at the New Year to go to the Salt Lake singles dance. But he could not let me do it. “Not on Christmas,” he had said passionately with every intention of being Christian and considerate. I didn’t push it partly because I didn’t want to break his heart, but also because I didn’t want to be compulsed to spend Christmas day with his family. Lovely as they were, I preferred my solitude on Christmas. I had grown to love it, and wanted to protect it from long, repressed, days that left me feeling lonelier than if I was in actual physical solitude.
I didn’t make it to the Salt Lake New Year’s Dance that year. But I was still happier than Christmases past. That year’s Christmas miracle was going to a movie on Christmas Eve by myself, something I had shunned in the past, feeling too awkward about being alone. After, I picked up my favourite quesadilla from Alberto’s drive-thru just as Jars of Clay’s redition of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ came on the radio. It was just what I wanted; and before this post, only my Heavenly Parents knew that was my very favourite rendition of my very favourite Christmas hymn. Ever. With that, I had peace. Comfort. Good music. Privacy. I felt powerfully blessed…. and perfectly un-alone.
I suspect that most of you reading this might feel sorry for me or for that period of my life. Single, alone, without family, on Christmas. The thing is, I was happy; and now, I think back to those Christmases and miss them. But at the time, I kept this happy secret to myself because I wanted to avoid the feeling that my solitude was an illness that friends, co-workers, or family were obligated to cure. I hid my healthy Christmas light under a bushel because I wanted to spare them of lofting wasted pity and uncomfortable Christmas invitations on me. Some people are like Mr. Kreuger. I was not. And that is okay.
So what does this have to do with the Visiting Teaching message? The key word for me in the title is salvation. Sure, the formal message is laden with ideologies of religious salvation aimed at devout covenants and families which lend to the idea that we “should be” out doing all of the traditional things that Mormons do to engage others on the path to salvation. But salvation is not a cookie-cutter-shaped Christmas tree; it is not taught, shared or understood in a single, universal model. Though Christmas-tree shaped cookies are delightful, for some women, emotional, psychological and spiritual salvation is found in brownies. Or in making baked Ziti rather than a Christmas ham. Or attending a movie with a friend on Christmas Day. Or spending the day alone. Or in ensuring a diabetic child eats a banana before becoming wholly engaged with Santa’s surprises. Or baking a roast turkey. Or giving cookies to neighbors. In short: The process of recognising the personal path to salvation, just like the celebration of Christmas, is not one-size fits all. Our testimonies develop individually, yet as influenced by those around us. Just as Christmas is individual, yet influenced by those around us. Either way, this testament of salvation is personal, individual and simply not a perfectly cut cookie.
Consider these points from the formal message:
Doctrine and Covenants 84:106; And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.
“Let us have compassion upon each other,” said President Brigham Young (1801–77), “and let [those who are] strong tenderly nurse the weak into strength, and let those who can see guide the blind until they can see the way for themselves.”
We don’t know who is strong or weak among us. I believe we are conditioned to try to label our spiritual strength (a la “less active”), just as we are conditioned to believe there is a “right” way to celebrate Christmas (with extended, extended family!). In doing this, we fail to see the light that individual have, an the path that couple be right for them- to find the joy of salvation. Consider:
“Christ’s message to us was not only that we should be doing the right things but that we should be doing them for the right reasons, and that is, in truth, an enormous assignment. He is preparing us for perfection.”
–Beppie Harrison, A Day at a Time: A Woman’s Look at Perfection, Bookcraft, 1994, 65.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, Haper Collins, 1949
It doesn’t matter if you perceive yourself to be strong or weak in testimony, nor does it matter if the sisters you visit teach are strong or weak. None of us are “mere mortals.” Teaching salvation for the right reasons- to edify, and show love– is what counts. The formula of “should” does not apply in teaching salvation, expressing testimony or celebrating Christmas. So discover (admit?) what brings you salvation- real, daily salvation, so you can emotionally, psychologically and spiritually thrive. Then ask the women you visit teach what their salvation is. A moment alone? A fresh shower? The scent of gardenia? Reading scripture? Checking email and facebook threads? Just ask. Do not judge. Do not try to change them.
Then, as it is Christmas, ask what brings them personal joy at Christmas. Understand that they might not tell you (I would not have told a soul back when I was single and happy that being alone on Christmas Day was my joy.) Don’t try to understand it– try to feel it, just like spiritual salvation must be felt. No matter what it is, love them for it. Then love yourself for whatever quirky thing makes you happy at Christmas.
And try an Australian White Christmas.
What quirky things do you love at Christmastime? What quirky things bring you emotional salvation on a daily basis?
Spunky’s White Christmas Recipe1 lb. white chocolate (bar or melts) 2 Tablespoons cream 2 Tablespoons butter (more, if needed) 1/2 cup sultanas (or golden raisins or raisins) 1/2 cup sweetened, dried cranberries
heaping 1/2 cup chopped glacé cherries
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots 1/3 cup blueberries
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup powdered milk (full fat/cream works best)
1 cup chopped almonds (optional) ½ tsp Vanilla
Prepare a 9 in square baking pan with waxed or non-stick baking paper.
In a saucepan, slowly melt white chocolate with cream and butter. Add other ingredients when chocolate is liquid. When all combined, pour into prepared baking pan, pressing down. Place in refrigerator for about 4 hours. Turn out on a cutting board and cut into bite-sized squares.