May 2014 Visiting Teaching Message: Teacher’s Choice From Conference
The Visiting Teaching message the month following conference is always a freebie of sorts, where each teacher or pair of teachers can choose which talk to highlight.
I would likely choose Elder W. Craig Zwick’s talk, “What Are You Thinking?” simply because it is the one that resonated with me the most.
He begins by sharing an intense story about driving in a semi-truck with his wife and infant son before the days of car seat regulations. Accordingly, his wife held their babe on her lap, which was well and good until they made their “descent over historic Donnor Pass, a steep section of highway,” when the “semi suddenly and unexpectedly filled with thick smoke.” It was hard to see and harder to breathe. With such a heavy truck, it would also take time to slow down and ultimately stop. Elder Zwick did all he could by “using the engine brakes and gearing down.” He described what happened next:
Just as I was pulling to the side of the road, but before we had come to a full stop, my wife opened the door of the cab and jumped out with our baby in her arms. I watched helplessly as they tumbled in the dirt.
As soon as I had the semi stopped, I bolted from the smoking cab. With adrenaline pumping, I ran through the rocks and weeds and held them in my arms. Jan’s forearms and elbows were battered and bleeding, but thankfully she and our son were both breathing.
He continued holding them tight “as the dust settled there on the side of the highway.” Then, when he was able to calm down a bit, he exclaimed, “What in the world were you thinking? Do you know how dangerous that was? You could have been killed!” She answered in the only way she could: “I was just trying to save our son.”
The answer pierced Elder Zwick, among other reasons, because it opened the door to his wife’s perspective. She “thought the engine was on fire,” and feared that “the truck would explode and [they] would die,” when he knew that it was only “an electrical failure–hazardous but not fatal.” The circumstance remained the same, but now he understood that instead of acting rashly, his wife had actually acted bravely. Additionally, both parents shared the same concern for the safety and wellbeing of their child.
This terrifying incident taught Elder Zwick about the importance of understanding other’s perspectives. He suggested we try to do so by asking a question similar, but crucially different from the question he first asked his wife. He had blurted out, “What in the world were you thinking?” from a place of fear and with a tinge of accusation. Instead we may ask simply and sincerely, “What are you thinking?” If we listen as simply and sincerely as we asked, we may learn that the other person was not acting or speaking in a way to hurt, but in a way to help.
This talk and lesson resonated with me because it is very hard for me, and because these types of situations happen all of the time (though I hope less drastically than Elder Zwick’s initial example). One happened to my husband and I just the other evening. I accidentally made him feel unwelcome in the space where we are very slowly moving from, when I just needed a few moments by myself to mourn and feel. It was the space where I birthed my babe, and it is very painful for me to leave it. After both of our feelings were hurt, we were able to explain how we experienced the situation to the other person, and while it didn’t solve the ache, it helped.
Asking “What are you thinking?” can also be a valuable tool when we disagree with other members of our shared faith. We may still disagree afterward, but I believe that our understanding and love for one another will grow, and that we may come to realize that we each come from a good place.
A few other conference talks to consider sharing are President Uchtdorf’s “Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration?” and “Grateful in Any Circumstances.” In the first, he explicates that the restoration is still continuing. In the second he suggests that we try to develop grateful attitudes, which he sets apart from simply being grateful for things. I am still mulling this over, because the only way I know how to be grateful (including in difficult circumstances) is to be grateful for.
One of the most difficult months of my life was August 2012. Luckily for me, it was also the month that Jana Riess instigated a gratitude challenge on facebook in conjunction with her book, Flunking Sainthood. Being mindful of the things I was grateful for saved me. Still, I appreciate this talk because Uchtdorf acknowledges that “Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances.” We can be as unpleased as we want to be, and sometimes rightly should be. Being grateful “does mean that through the eyes of faith we” also “look beyond our present-day challenges.”
Lastly, I would invite Visiting Teachees to share their favorite talks or messages from conference.