A couple of years ago, the priesthood session of LDS general conference started being broadcast on BYUtv. Now, during each priesthood session I turn on the TV so my husband can watch it, and I get to listen as well. In order for my husband to fully pay attention, I tend to our home and kids by myself. (He hasn’t asked me to do this, I choose to because I want him to enjoy the session the way I enjoy the women’s session.) During the most recent Priesthood Session, Elder Jeffrey R Holland gave his talk, “Emissaries to the Church”. As he began talking, I immediately felt a strong impression to really listen and pay attention. Elder Holland spoke about home teaching, and much of what he said can be applied to visiting teaching as well.
Visiting teaching is a topic near and dear to my heart because I love it! I truly do. I love visiting with my sisters, I love my companion, and I love being visited by my visiting teachers. I wasn’t always that way, though. When I first turned 18, I rarely went and my companion always set up the appointments and gave the message. When I moved into a single’s ward, I never went visiting teaching. I always felt a little guilty because my home teachers came monthly without fail. When I got married and returned to a family ward setting, I tried to do better. My success, however, depended on my companions and their investment into visiting teaching.
After moving into our third apartment and third family ward since getting married, I felt inspired to truly become a part of this ward; the opposite of how I had been in our previous wards. One of the ways I felt inspired to do that was to improve my visiting teaching. Not just go every month, but truly befriend my companion, those I visit taught, and those who visit taught me. That was one of the best things I could have done for myself, and hopefully, the other women around me enjoyed it as well.
Of home teaching – that I’ll change to visiting teaching for this post – Elder Holland said:
“[Sisters], the appeal I am making tonight is for you to lift your vision of [visiting teaching]. Please, in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children. That means leaving behind the tradition of a frantic law of Moses-like, end-of-the-month calendar in which you rush to give a scripted message from the Church magazines that the [sister] has already read. We would hope, rather, that you will establish an era of genuine, gospel oriented concern for the members, watching over and caring for each other, addressing spiritual and temporal needs in any way that helps.”
Elder Holland called home teachers – or visiting teachers in our case – “emissaries of the Lord.” What is an emissary? According to Merriam-Webster, an emissary is “a person who is sent on a mission to represent another person or organization”. So, as emissaries of the Lord, we represent the Lord, and visiting teaching is one of the missions in which we represent Him.
How do we apply such a high level to visiting teaching in our lives? We need to truly get to know the sisters we visit and our companions. We need to truly love them, that is, see them the way that God sees them. When we know them and love them, we will be able to better serve them and provide for their needs. This can take time, and while we are getting there visiting teaching might feel like that frantic give-a-quick-message, but that’s okay. As long as you are trying and being diligent, one day you’ll walk away from an appointment and you’ll realize that it wasn’t rushed or awkward at all. You’ll think, “We had a great visit! I feel like I really know and love these sisters!” We have to start somewhere, and getting into the habit of monthly visits is the first step, and from there our love and friendship will expand.
My mom is a great example of this. Ten years ago, she got assigned to a lady who was inactive and had been all of her adult life. My mom was the first to contact her in years. She didn’t want my mom visiting, so my mom would leave treats and a card on her door. Over time she started answering the door and would talk to my mom on her porch. After more time, she started inviting my mom into her home and accepted scheduled appointments in place of spontaneous visits. My mom’s companion now comes as well. This sister knows that she has a true friend in my mom and also knows she can call on her for help when needed. She has called on my mom for help before and has received it.
Throughout our lives, we will start over with new companions and new sisters. Sometimes, these changes will be frequent, especially for those living in high turnover areas like apartment complexes. When that happens, continue to show love, interest, and friendship for your companions and sisters. That brief moment of friendship will be beneficial for all. Right now, this is the hardest part for me. In the last six years, I have had at least six companions and three times as many sisters to visit. Some of those changes have been very hard and emotional for me, but we must not wallow in sadness. We take the good from those sisters we no longer see and put that effort and energy into the ones we currently see. In contrast, during those same six years, my mom has had the same companion and visited the same sisters. Whichever visiting teaching boat we find ourselves in, we should love and care for our sisters.
Sometimes we will reach busy and stressful moments in our lives, and a traditional sit-down visit won’t work for that month. Will other means of reaching out to our sisters still count? The answer is, yes! Elder Holland said:
“Now, as for what ‘counts’ as [visiting teaching], every good thing you do ‘counts,’ so report it all! Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location. What matters is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment ‘to watch over the church always.’”
In my personal experience, this has been most common when the sister I am trying to visit simply will not call me back, or has a difficult schedule. I will spend the entire month trying to contact her before I tape a message to the door or count all of our texting conversations as a visit. Leaving a note on the door is what I do on the last day of the month after spending 29 days trying to see a sister.
One time, a sister I was assigned to visit ended up being in the same Zumba class as me. We would chat before and after class and would dance next to each other. One month she had a super busy schedule, and after several attempted appointments she said, “Just count Zumba as visiting teaching this month.” We both felt good about that because I had visited her in the past and she knew that I would continue in the future.
If you are not being visited and want to be, I would encourage you to contact the Relief Society visiting teaching coordinator in your ward. I know this shouldn’t be your job, but I did it once and it really helped me. My VT coordinator already knew I hadn’t been visited in awhile and was working on finding someone who would visit me. In telling her my specific needs – that I just wanted someone to visit and chat with me because as a stay at home mom I got lonely – she was able to pick someone who could best fill those needs.
Visiting teaching will bless your life. I testify of that from experience. There will be times that are awkward or frustrating, but those will be outweighed by the wonderful, spiritual filled times that make it worth the effort. We are entering a new year, and the goal to improve our visiting teaching experiences would make a great New Year’s resolution! Some ideas include: be consistent in scheduling appointments, find time to be available for those trying to visit you, make visits more personal, etc. Visiting teaching is a calling from our Heavenly Father. He has asked us to look out for, love, and befriend one another. As we do so we will emulate His love.
More information about visiting teaching can be found on the Church’s website:
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