Sunday, March 24, 2013

Visiting Teaching Message for March

I'm actually really new to visiting teaching. This month has been the first month that I've had good experiences with both the women who come to teach me and the women I go to teach (and teach with. That's a confusing sentence, sorry!). It's been a very good visiting teaching month for me.

But being new to teaching, I mostly kept my mouth shut. For one, even though I felt very strongly about a certain thing, the topic of discussion wasn't going in that direction. For another, I didn't want to spend all day at this woman's house talking about the finer points of what is supposed to be a short thought.

This message for this month can be found here. It's theme is "activation," which centers mostly around service and charity.

I want to start out my thoughts by saying I don't have a problem with the message or with the things the women I spoke to have said about it. All of it was well-meaning when it was said or written, and all of it is a good message.

My companion would read the story about the woman in the bathrobe. I think she may have been the one to say something along the lines of "obviously, we don't have the same problems with people being inactive here." Yes, we live in Utah, specifically in a ward that is mostly made up of BYU students. There probably aren't a lot of inactive members. But I felt odd, sitting right next to her, when I consider myself to be "hactive" (half + active. Yes, I think I'm really funny). Also, most BYU students are probably not going to stay in Utah; many are going to go to states or stakes where there is a much smaller LDS population, and many will be inactive.

So the first thing you should think about when trying to do service for someone who is inactive (or anyone): We never really know who is inactive or why. We don't know who is struggling with their testimonies or not. We don't know why someone hasn't been coming to Church or other activities for a while. Going into a teaching/service moment with any assumptions is going to be a turn-off for whomever is your subject of attention. Going in with lots of questions, compassion, and sympathy will work the best.

There is also this quote by Brigham Young:
“Let us have compassion upon each other, … and let those who can see guide the blind until they can see the way for themselves.”
I think what Brigham Young meant by saying this is that you have to have higher ground before you can pull someone up. You cannot be someone's spiritual guide if you are lacking in testimony or spiritual knowledge. That makes sense.

But I'm still bothered by this quote. I think there are people who see "activation" as being morally superior. This have this attitude of being a savior, of helping a lowly poor person. This view is very condescending, and a huge turn-off for anyone you are trying to help.

For example, when I was a teenager, there was a girl in our Young Women's program who was not active in the Church. She didn't come to very many activities, despite her family being well-known and having been part of the ward for some time. I felt it was my duty to try to talk to her during the few activities she did come to. I didn't really want to, and would rather have spent time with my friends, but I felt like I had to. A few weeks later, I noticed she had part of an Emily Dickinson poem up on her MySpace page. I messaged her, saying something like "Hey! I like Emily Dickinson, too!" This time, I was not trying to communicate with her out of a sense of duty. She messaged me back and said "Stop trying to fellowship me."

I think that was the first time I ever put 2-and-2 together and realized that someone like her, who was a member of the Church, knew that we were told to fellowship, and would recognize my hollow efforts. That time I was being sincere, but she was already turned-off by me.

So the second thing everyone should remember is that we need to actually love the people we serve and have a genuine desire to serve. Blitz attacks of paper hearts and cookies feel impersonal and like pressuring to many less active sisters. A lack of personal effort and trying to get the know the sister can be easily transparent. In those instances, it is probably better for them that you didn't even bother at all. The solution is gentle phone calls, texts, or emails that are not intrusive or pressuring, and that respect the wishes of the sister. If the sister lets you get to know her, you can begin to do real, sincere service that actually reflects her needs.

Those are just some of my thoughts on this great lesson. I'd love to hear what you think about it, or any other thoughts you might have had about March's visiting teaching message.


  1. So spot on. I think it's hard to really approach people with compassion rather than worrying about the "goal" of reactivation. I'm pretty much completely inactive here at BYU and when people reach out from the ward I do appreciate them but I often roll my eyes at the same time. They don't know me. I don't want to share my actual struggles with them because we haven't shared anything else together (other than their obligation to reach out).

    I tend to feel like there's nothing more that church members can or should do for me, (I'm okay! Or at least I have other support networks...) but I totally wouldn't mind having more friends in my ward or letting them serve me. Or even serving with them, maybe.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, rose! I'm sorry that you're having those experiences. It's wrong when people start treating you like less of a human and more of a goal. I'm glad you've got other support networks, but if you ever need it, I'm in Provo too! And hang in there!