Even Angels have Errands — tips for Visiting Teaching
“I’m not the type to come over and try to give you a sit-down lesson.” my new visiting teacher explained after we had just walked around my neighborhood for our first visit, “We can talk about anything you want. But if there’s something on your mind and you think I could help in any way, I want you to feel comfortable in opening up and asking me.”
She was new in the ward by a few weeks and I had been excited to get to know her. This visiting teaching walk was our first time to really connect, and I found her to be a kindred spirit right away, the kind of sweet sister connection you always hope for in a visiting teacher. I could feel my inner wisdom nudging me to tell her all my heart’s deepest secrets, assuring me that she had created a safe space to share my vulnerability.
I said, “Sometimes I really struggle to feel the love of God in my life in any sort of regular interval. It makes it hard for me to keep going.”
She responded with utmost compassion and we shared a moment of understanding. From that day on, we became very close friends until the veneer of “Visiting Teacher” rubbed off and we were just BFFs. We’ve remained close in spite of a cross country relocation and 3,000 miles separating us today.
A few weeks ago, the Relief Society President told me, “I remember the feeling I got when I assigned her to be your visiting teacher. I just knew you two needed each other.” I startled when she jogged my memory that one of my dearest friends started out as my assigned visiting teacher! That kind RS President was inspired, and we did need each other. And we still do.
Last week, I posed these questions to the Exponent II Facebook group:
“If you said what was really in your heart when the visiting teachers ask, “let us know if there is anything we can do!” What would you say? What would you ask for?
What type of help beyond a hot casserole* are you really in need of, but may be too uncomfortable in asking?
Also — what types of unique service are you able and eager to give?”
The responses ranged from heartrending to hilarious. These crowd-sourced comments illustrated a few perspectives: We want kind, nurturing friends, not assigned busybodies. We want to be helped in certain, particular ways when we’re in crisis, but it can be hard to ask for what we need, so we want to be asked the right questions about our situation. When we’re not in crisis, we want relationship building. Stronger relationships will help us turn to our VT when we are in crisis.
*please note, I am a BIG FAN of the hot casserole. I wrote here about how special and wonderful it is to be fed (literally) by caring friends. This is just to help us think outside our normal “go-to” ministering ideas.
Visiting Teaching in times of crisis, emergency or acute stress
What types of crisis or emergency are common to a woman’s experience? Death of a loved one, injury, surgery, issues with pregnancy, birth or post-partum period, infertility, physical or mental illness, disability, emotional fatigue, divorce, single-parenting, loss or lack of employment, children struggling, caring for aging parents, stressful deadlines at school or work, loneliness, abuse, marital strife, and on and on ad infinitum.
What are some possible challenges when a woman or someone in her family is in crisis?
Temporal: The house will fall into disarray, the fridge will be empty, the children will be going stir-crazy, the care-giving spouse will be over-loaded, and the never-ending task list will seem longer than ever. And there will be mountains of dirty dishes and laundry.
Emotional: Stress will mount and feel overwhelming, depression may increase, coping mechanisms or strategies may fail or be insufficient. Feelings of hopelessness amplify, not knowing what to do or where to start. Brain fog, lack of motivation.
Physical: trouble sleeping, loss of appetite or too much appetite, neglecting exercise or personal hygiene, fatigue
Spiritual: doubting God’s love or involvement in daily life, feeling unduly burdened (“why me?”), anger or resentment toward God, skipping prayer or meditation time
The Problem of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do!”
Visiting teachers want to help, that’s why we sometimes chime out this less-than-helpful phrase about wanting to help. But we place our sister in a difficult situation when we require that she think of the thing that we can uniquely contribute to her situation and then give her the added pressure of asking us for that thing.
Instead, we should follow President Burton’s advice, “First observe, then serve.”
- Use your own eyes to observe her various temporal, emotional, physical and spiritual states.
- Use your own deductive reasoning to think of something that might need to be done in her circumstance that you’re uniquely capable of doing for her.
- Ask or offer specifically to help with a particular need you perceive.
“When I was heavily pregnant with my second and my first was only one, I had two very nice VT. One was always dressed to perfection, makeup on fleek, and never a hair out of place. They would always ask ‘what can we do,’ I always say ‘nothing, its all good.’ This woman got up and went into my bathroom and cleaned my toilet. It has been 14 years and I still remember how wonderful that made me feel.”
“One time, in a different country long long ago, I had glandular fever/mono . I didn’t like one of my VTs at all. I’d known her for years. One day they visited, and when her companion went to the bathroom, the one I disliked said to me “if you could have us help you with one thing, what would it be?” And I felt so weak and horrid, I just sobbed “I haven’t washed my hair for 2 weeks”. So she took me to the bathroom, sat me on the floor, and washed my horrid greasy hair with such gentle kindness, by holding the shower head above my hair. My tears got all messed up with the water. Then she dried it, wielding the hairdryer with love. What a lesson I learned.”
“I’m really bad about asking for help, and I think a lot of women are. I remember when I was 8 months pregnant, scrambling to get a big work project done before the baby came, looking after my 2 year old, husband out of town, just sort of drowning – my VTer emailed asking if they could visit, I explained how slammed I was, and they said ‘oh, we’ll leave you alone then!’ Ack! Yes I didn’t really have time for a visit and short lesson, but babysitting my son for a couple of hours would have been awesome. Anyway, I should have just asked, I know. It’s on me, not them, but still- I hate the vague “we’re here if you need anything!”
“I’ve thought about this often. Every time my VT say that I think, ‘oh my. If you only knew. Can you give me advice about my son who I think might be doing drugs, or the problems in my marriage, or my issues with my mom and sister?’ (or, insert whatever heartaches I was having at the moment.) I usually feel like the kind of “help” I need can’t be found just anywhere; where visiting teaching fails for me is that the real help I need can only come through closeness and trust, and when it’s a revolving door of new people being assigned to me, or people not coming (which, honestly, whatever!), having visiting teachers usually just feels like an obligation.”
Beyond the lesson — Ideas for Visiting Teachers
“I always said “nothing, I’m fine,” when really I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I finally had a VT who didn’t ask what I needed, but instead simply asked what day she could come over and clean my house. When I said she didn’t need to, she insisted…THAT was compassionate service. I was a single mom with a fractured foot, a special needs daughter in the ER at least 1-2 times a week, and working full time. I was collapsing, but too proud to ask for help.”
“Last year, my baby was in the hospital for a week. The ward brought meals, which was very appreciated, but it’s not like the family couldn’t have survived on canned chili while I was with Baby. What I needed was: help with laundry. Eight people make for a lot of clothes and diapers. Play dates for my healthy kids. They feel the stress and needed a chance to just be kids. Someone to come sit with my baby for an hour so I could get out, go for a walk, see something besides those four walls. Those are the things I needed, but that I would not have asked anyone to provide.”
Do you sincerely wish to help a sister in need, but don’t know where to start? What do you have to give: time? Money? Resources? Emotional energy? Talents or skills?
After observing some of her needs, offer your unique talent or ability!
- Help with childcare
- Help with meals
- Give a call, write a letter, send a text or email
- Invite them to lunch or on an outing
- Send a book recommendation
- Help with yard work
- exercise together
- drop by visit with hot bread, garden produce, fruit or groceries
- enable them to have alone time for a nap or to get something done
- offer to run an errand: dry cleaning, post office, school pick up or drop off, grocery store
- make them a meal
- share your professional skills (taxes, law, massage, doula, tutoring for their kids, music lessons)
- give rides in the car
- loan equipment they might need (tools, sewing machine, supplies)
- hire a professional cleaning service to clean her house
- order in food from a restaurant to be delivered
- with her approval, hire a teen from the ward to go over and be a mother’s helper for the afternoon
- listen without judgment
- empathize without trying to solve their problems
- calm, quiet, physical contact (like a hug, or holding hands, or a massage)
- be a friend
Visiting teaching when things are mostly okay
Not everyone is in crisis mode all the time. What can visiting teachers do during periods of relative calm to build relationships of trust so they can be called on in time of need?
- spend time together doing an activity you both enjoy (exercise, shopping, gardening, crafting, book club, going out to lunch)
- volunteer or serve together, either someone in need from the ward or in the community
- get to know each other’s family and kids. learn their names, ages, and interests. support their hobbies or extra-curricular activities
- help a sister new to the area find local resources: doctors, schools, library, stores
- be sensitive to time constraints — sometimes a quick door drop off is all we have time to receive
- Ask them how often they like to be visited, and in what ways
- Sit together at church and in classes
- stay friends even if the assignment to be a Visiting Teacher changes
- Get kids together for playdates
- Share family meals together
Scripts for Visiting Teachers
When offering help, try some of these:
“I’d like to bring you dinner. What night is good for you?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d love to take your kids out for dinner so you can have a long bath to yourself.”
“For our visit this month, I’d love to come over and help you with something for an hour. Is there something you need that we could do together? I love organizing cupboards.”
“I’m headed to the grocery store. Can I pick up some bread, eggs and milk for you?”
“I’ve got an hour to spend at your house today, can I help you with any projects?”
“I’d like to take your kids for a play-date. What day do you need some quiet time to get things done?”
Responses for all of us to use
“That would be so helpful. Thank you.”
“We’re pretty well covered for meals and food, but what I really need is ____________.”
What experiences with Visiting Teaching would you like to share? How have you offered or asked for help in unique ways?