Thursday, February 03, 2011

More Than an Assignment

A friend of mine, who I desperately wish I'd gotten to know better before she moved, asked for some experiences with Visiting Teaching that she can use in a lesson on Sunday. I'm writing mine here.

Quickly, for my non-LDS readers, I will give a description of Visiting Teaching. The women's organization for Church members is called Relief Society. Visiting Teaching is a program in Relief Society designed to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the sisters. In an average sized congregation, sisters are paired into companionships and are assigned 2-4 sisters to visit. It is recommended that a formal visit is given monthly to each sister, to check on that sister and to bring a Gospel message. Then, throughout the month, any care or assistance that the sister may need is taken care of either by her Visiting Teachers personally, or if extra help is needed, the Visiting Teachers can let the leadership of the Relief Society know, and the help will be provided.

That's the ideal standard. It doesn't always happen that way. Humans are humans, and sometimes they get busy, distracted, uninspired, embarrassed, sick ... you get the picture ... and then the program doesn't run the way it ought. I will freely admit that I am not the world's best Visiting Teacher. I usually get my visits done, but I am not as great, in general, about that continuing support that I am supposed to be for the sisters I visit. There have been a few exceptions to this.

I have had some phenomenal visiting teachers, and I have had mediocre visiting teachers. And as I think back, the biggest difference has been whether or not these women have been my friends to begin with. I have had four in my life who were my good friends before the assignment was made. They loved me to begin with, they knew trials I was facing anyway, and I was willing to call on them when I needed help. These were also women who instead of asking, "How can I help?," would say, "I'm coming over to do this for you." Visiting Teaching at it's finest.

I did have one Visiting Teacher who was exceptional right from the start without knowing me previously. Not only did this woman come by for a monthly visit, she acted like I was her friend at church. She'd sit next to me during meetings. She'd smile when she saw me in the halls and ask me how things were going. She'd call occasionally to check up on me.

We had just moved to this area. It was a really hard time for our family. The bottom was falling out of our business, our house in CA was not selling, we were building a house and a warehouse which we were suddenly unsure we could afford. We had some stresses with our extended family. Larry was travelling to CA about twice a month. And frequently when he'd go, he'd give me some piece of bad business news, and take off, leaving me alone in a new place with no friends and no follow-up information about how maybe things weren't quite as desperate as he'd feared until he returned home several days later.

I was depressed. When Larry was gone I started to fall into the following routine: Get the kids up, make lunches, send them to school, go back to bed, wake up in time for them to come home, make dinner, help with homework, go to bed. If ever I was up when the kids weren't home, I was on line. That was the time that I had started to blog very regularly. It was a safer way to make friends and feel connected, and I love those friends I made, but the fact is that there is only so much comfort to be had through a computer screen, and much of what was really happening in my life I wasn't really sharing with the blogging community anyway.

One month, my Visiting Teachers were at my house, making their monthly visit, and this sister asked me if there was anything they could do for me. (This is pretty standard, and the standard answer is "No, we're just great. Thanks for asking.") Well, this sister had made enough of an impression on me about how much she really cared for me in just a few short months that I actually told her what I needed. It was a true first for me during a visit like that. I told her that every time Larry left I got stressed and depressed. I didn't tell her about the sleeping all day, because I was embarrassed. I DID tell her that it would be really great if we could get together and do something the next time he left. And we did. We made some cinnamon/applesauce ornaments at her house together, she made me lunch, and we talked about EVERYthing, including some things I'd not been able to share with anyone here. It was great. I still crawled into bed on other days, but at least that one day I was out and socializing and actually felt happy.

Yes, it's easy for me to come up with great examples of wonderful things that Visiting Teacher/Friends have done for me, but what I learned from this particular experience was that one of the best things that a Visiting Teacher can do is to become the real friend of the women she visits whether the relationship started that way or not. It takes time. It takes effort. And for people like me it takes reaching out of a comfort zone. It can be done. But it can't be done in just 30 minutes a month.

I wish I could report that I've taken this example to heart and have become that type of Visiting Teacher. I can't. But I think this month I may try a little harder to start being friends with the women I teach. I want them to know that to me they are more than just an assignment, and they won't feel that until it's true.

4 fishy comments:

The Gibbens said...

Oh Mina! Thank you so much for sharing this with the world- and with me... You are an amazing woman, I choked up at the end of this post- you've hit the nail on the head- we have to not feel that it's "just and assignment." Wish we could go for a walk and talk... you are a kindred spirit (Anne of Green Gables) and I wish we'd been able to grow our friendship more before I left dodge- thank you again for posting this!

Jen said...

I'm so glad there are people like you who are "real" when they post. It makes us feel "hope" and realize we aren't the only ones who feel that very same way. And to know that you were able to pull out of it, is an even bigger example of hope. You have an amazing visiting teacher who listened to the spirit and became the person you needed in your life at that time. Thank goodness there are people who follow those promptings and are there to lift another's load. She deserves an award! - Tink

Mina said...

Hey, Tink! Thanks for checking in with me again. I apparently have WAAAAY outdated info for your blog, and I can't access your profile. send me an email with your link, and I'll stop by now and then.

clan of the cave hair said...

My attitude about VTing is in need of a serious adjustment. I have never had a good set of VTers (the one set that would have considered themselves to be good VTers drove me NUTS) and I have never been a good VTer. BUT, I was saying just last week to somebody else, that I feel as though I feel that role quite capably in the lives of at least 4 women whom I have come to know. I would love to tell the RS president, here is my list of people I check in on, care for, do service for, and otherwise love in my life, please consider me 100%. But alas, if they are not ward members, or even church members for that matter, it "doesn't count"...and that's where I take issue. Idealy, it should be so much more than an assignment, but when push comes to shove, the assignment is made, and meant to be reported on, and it doesn't sit well with me.