Sunny Smart returns…and this time, It’s For Real!
Sisters (and any men-folk who’d like to chime in), can we talk? I’m having a real problem with my testimony of visiting teaching. Namely, I don’t have one. So I’m going to tell you a bit about my story and then I’m hoping you’ll tell me yours. I know there are those of you who feel like me, and then there are those of you who really get a lot out of this program and feel it has great worth. I want to hear from all of you. Maybe somewhere in the middle we can figure out what this visiting teaching stuff is all about.
Six months ago at our bi-annual visiting teaching interviews I told my RSP that I wanted to stop receiving visiting teachers. It felt great. Really, really great. I had dreaded the monthly call, clearing out my schedule for the obligatory visit, the scented lotions for birthdays. Cynical? Probably. But truly, I hated the idea of these women, sweet as they were, having to show up simply because they were assigned. It felt like a waste of my time and theirs. I had felt for so, so long that I was getting nothing out of it, that it was more of a burden than a blessing, but I felt obligated to let them come. I wanted to tell them each month that they needn’t bother, I was fine, but I knew it would break their hearts. And they would feel like failures. What would they have to report if I didn’t let them visit? So, for a long time I danced the dance: I let you come over so you can give the visiting teaching supervisor a glowing report of your works this month, then you let someone else come to your house, on and on it goes, then promenade and dos i dos. Six months ago it stopped.
I felt immediate relief, but something still nagged at me. Though I didn’t have VT’s, I still was a VT simply because I know that while the program is in place it needs to be done and I am able and willing, so I should probably help out. However, I soon realized I disliked that part of it too. Beyond the regular stuff- the impossibility of getting schedules to match up and the fun of finding a babysitter (as many sisters do not want children brought along anymore)- I hated being the person that shows up because of an assignment. I felt that even the most sincere and genuine of offerings on my part toward the sisters to whom I was assigned felt tainted by that which had come first: Obligation. To me, obligation felt like an insurmountable wedge between us.
Yesterday we had visiting teaching interviews again. This time I asked to be taken out of visiting teaching altogether. My very wonderful RSP of course wondered (as she had six months ago) why. Here is what I told her:
To me, the program of visiting teaching has become a replacement for the very thing it was designed to inspire: True service and watch-care born of charity. Speaking in generalities, instead of keeping our eyes and hearts open for those around us who may be in need of a heart or hand, we keep our eyes once-monthly focused on those whose names have been assigned to us. Instead of feeling bound by covenant and charity to our ward family as a whole, we feel obligated by numbers and reports to a few whom we often care for just enough to make sure we can say, yes, we served this month. It feels contrived and, even when (as I think they often do) VT’s really do care about their teachees, I think there is often a wedge of obligation that keeps it from feeling completely sincere.
My RSP agreed, in her words, with about 92% of what I had just told her. She told me the reasons she appreciated visiting teaching, mainly, that she, the bishop, and the EQP could never be in all the homes they need to be in each month in order to ascertain and attend to needs. VT’s (and home teachers) are invaluable in this regard. Having been in her shoes before, I understand that sentiment completely. There is a need for watch-care. But to me, the way we’re doing it misses the mark. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like, as kind and wonderful as many of my VT’s have been, there ain’t no way I’m spilling the contents of my heart to them during our monthly chit chat. The program has replaced the principle and now the program feels obsolete.
Now, I know that many people find great value in visiting teaching and there are many wonderful stories to accompany those sentiments. I also understand there’s something to be said for organized watch-care when it comes to those who may have little to no association with the church (but don’t mind the visits/calls/letters) or those who really do look forward to the friendship and outlet they feel visiting teaching offers. I think that’s great. Truly. And I think it should be completely optional. Why not simply create a pool of sisters who want to participate in visiting teaching? They can all take turns visiting each other. Beautiful! Then it can be what it so often ends up being: Assigned friendship. And really, if that’s what we know it is, there’s nothing wrong with it.
As for the real issue, I think we need a return to truly watching out for one another. We need to be mindful of those whose heads are hanging a little low at church, who maybe haven’t made it to church in awhile, who have had heartache befall them. And then we need to act. We need to stop feeling like we’ve done our duty by visiting (or not) those simply assigned to us and instead assign ourselves to our ward family as a whole. I think we’ve buried our heads in the sands of a program for so long that we’ve forgotten how to be shepherds to one another. Does anyone else feel this way? Or have I completely missed the mark?