Thoughts on Home and Visiting Teaching

Posted on January 25, 2013

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Liz, at Real Intent, today posted this question:

I’m a hermit. I freely acknowledge this. And for several years, I’ve not been a Visiting  Teacher (for a lot of reasons, but hermit-hood is on that list.) I’ve recently been praying about it, and have accepted a VT calling again. I don’t mind being cordial with other ladies at church, but I’ve never wanted the “insta-besties” that so many VT ladies seem to have with their companions and visitees. I feel really fake taking a message to strangers each month, and struggle with wanting my VT ladies to be more than strangers or polite, cordial acquaintances.

I want to do this well, and be a blessing, but my basic nature struggles against almost everything to do with the program! Advice on changing my attitude and making this work is welcome. So far, I’ve got a really sweet companion, a visiting list with semi-compatible schedules, dread, anxiety, and a nagging sense of distaste.

Now, how do I navigate a program that feels so intrusive and fake to me?

And not to leave out the men- what about home teaching?

I posted my thoughts in a comment, but it’s long so I thought I’d also post it here because it says what I’ve felt as well as if I’d just chosen to write a post for my site.

one by one by rane

I think that’s an honest question. There is no official program for home and visiting teaching in the scriptures. I think the Church, in all its many iterations through history, has always had some kind of organized way to care for one another, but I’m reading that between the lines. The Lord’s focus has always been the way we are mindful of and care for one another. When you look at the law of Moses, there are all kinds of guides for what you do for one another – rules for the kinds of behavior we should have for each other’s bodies, persons, and property. It’s quite a high bar, really, but that’s another discussion. When the people didn’t fulfill this law of hospitality, the Lord’s frustration was intense.

In the last dispensation, HT/VT evolved as we grew. Home teaching was officially begun in the 1960s although there is reference to the responsibility of the Teacher (in the Aaronic Priesthood) to ensure that teaching occurs in the home in 1952. The program was initiated by the brethren in 1963 and explained in April Conference by Elder Harold B. Lee – with charts. Before that it was called “ward teaching” and before that it was handled in less structured form. Before that, some time during Brigham Young’s administration, there was a focus on priesthood teaching in homes during one of his reformations. Rex Anderson in 1974 did a master’s thesis on the history of Home Teaching. You can find a historical overview of Visiting Teaching in Daughters in My Kingdom here.

I can tell you my personal experience with home and visiting teaching and you can take it for whatever prophetic authority I have (which is none!) I also don’t have a testimony of many programs for their own sake. Programs are a way to systematize the good works we have the capacity and responsibility to do, to make them organized, to eliminate duplication, and to ensure nobody falls through the cracks.

Sheri Dew once visited my Kansas stake and gave a talk as a member of the General Presidency of RS. She opened with a Q&A about what was causing people stress. People stood all over and shared their ideas – wayward children, financial woes, and, eventually, apologetically, church callings. She focused on that, and created an exercise. “Let’s start all over, sweeping away every bit of the Church structure. Let’s start over. How would you best fulfill your stewardships as outlined in Mosiah and the baptismal covenant?” People were energetically participating in the exercise. They offered all kinds of ideas, the discussion rolled from one issue people face to another, and eventually people came up with … what we have. It was a watershed moment for me. The problem wasn’t the programs; the problem was how we were implementing the programs. If we do the right things with the wrong spirit, forcing our actions to conform to something besides genuine care and concern and charity, it is not what we intended. If we do the right things with the right, relaxed, inspired spirit, it will work out right. We aren’t all there yet. I’ve endured VT visits rather than been inspired by them, but I’ve also recognized that people are growing, learning by doing, just as I have and will continue to evolve.

A few months ago my oldest son’s best friend committed suicide. It was wrenching in a way I can’t describe here. I prayed so fervently to understand, because I was wracked with survivor guilt of the mother kind. He had spent a whole lot of time at my house. I should have known. In fact, Real Intent is a very real outgrowth of my search to understand how to reach people better, and we launched a month to the day after his death. When I was praying to understand, once, I had what seemed like a little vision: I saw him walking, head down as was his habit, in the dark, as he was the night he hung himself. I saw two people beside him, brushing his hair with their hands, leaning around him, speaking fervently to him. They were filled with love, this man and woman, in bright white robes. He couldn’t hear or feel them there, but they never left him. Of a sudden I knew that we are never alone, and I personally believe that there is a home and visiting teaching program in heaven, where spirits are assigned to watch over us here.

A couple of months later I had an experience in which, of a sudden, I knew that my father was there, on assignment, to help me (he passed on a couple of years ago). I knew because I was seeking guidance and I knew someone was providing it (I thought some amorphous “the Spirit”). I recognized it was my father because only my father has ever felt that specific frustration with me that I suddenly felt. He was having a terrible time getting through to me, and in a moment I recognized him. We didn’t have a spectacular relationship in life, and it seemed to me that he was trying to rectify that, given the opportunity and the assignment that would allow that, and he had little more patience helping someone understand in the next life than he did in this one!

Spencer W. Kimball once commented that God watches over us and is aware of us, but it is usually through another person that he will meet our needs. I think this is an eternal principle, and I think our needs here in mortality are of such concern to him that he organizes both earthly and heavenly help. I think he does so in an organized manner by making assignments. I would imagine that we are only limited in our assignments by how faithfully we understand our role, learning, overcoming our fears, developing skills, and searching humbly to help people in the way God would have them be helped. We aren’t very good at it here, and my experience is that it isn’t going to magically be any easier later.

Sorry for the book response!

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Posted in: Real Intent