Thursday, October 22, 2009

For those of you who missed the Visiting Teaching Conference:

Unfortunately, I can't replicate the wonderful camaraderie that was present or perfectly relay the input that the sisters gave who attended the conference, but I can post most of the lesson, some helpful tips and great quotes. If you didn't have a chance to attend the conference, please take the time to read this over and pray to have your testimony of visiting teaching strengthened.

“The bishop, who is the ordained shepherd of the ward, cannot possibly watch over all of the Lord’s sheep at one time. Every bishop has a Relief Society president to depend upon, [and she is dependent on] visiting teachers, who know the trials and the needs of every sister. She can, through them, know the hearts of individuals and families. She can meet needs and help the bishop in his call to nurture individuals and families.” (“The Enduring Legacy Of Relief Society” Elder Henry B. Eyring, General Relief Society Meeting, Sep. 2009)

“[Visiting Teaching] is one duty we have in the Church where we are certain to have the help of the Lord if we ask for it. This is one responsibility that is certain to increase our faith and personal righteousness and strengthen our own homes and families as we become partners with the Lord. A sister in this Church has no other responsibility outside of her family that has the potential to do as much good as does visiting teaching.” (“Relief Society: A Sacred Work” Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society Meeting, 2009)

In our ward we have, on average, 26 visiting teaching companionships who have stewardship over 90 or more sisters. Even if I was able to visit one or more sisters every day of the month I still wouldn’t be able to see everyone. I often don’t know of the needs of sisters and their families unless their visiting teachers have been faithful in visiting and caring for them, and then let me know when there’s a problem. The Bishop depends on me and I, in turn, rely on you to be the eyes and ears of our ward, to help us be aware of the spiritual and temporal needs of our sisters and their families. It takes every one of us doing our part.

Sister Beck has said: “Visiting teachers minister in behalf of the Savior. Our hands are His hands, our love is His love, and our service is His service. Good visiting teachers know the sisters they visit. They love them, serve them, and help them learn the gospel by the Spirit. They focus on fortifying homes and lives. There is no greater privilege than to watch over and strengthen another person—it is truly the business of salvation.” (Julie B. Beck, “Focusing on the Lord’s Work of Salvation,” Liahona, Mar 2009, 26–30)

Being a visiting teacher is a vital part of our membership in Relief Society and is a necessary service if we are to live up to our baptismal covenants. But it’s often not easy or convenient.

I’m assuming that all of you have had struggles with visiting teaching. Do you ever ask yourself “How can I be a good visiting teacher when I have so many challenges?” Do you ever feel like you’re alone in the challenges you face in visiting teaching?

Tonight I’d like to discuss some of the challenges we face as visiting teachers and hopefully come up with some solutions or at the very least some inspiring thoughts to help us overcome and learn from these challenges.

Everyone was asked to write down their top 3 challenges in visiting teaching. The answers were very telling. Out of the 30+ responses, 11 were directly related to time issues, 5 were about fears, 5 were about companions, and others were about laziness (I love the honesty!), difficulty contacting sisters on a route, etc.

I think it was important for the sisters to realize that they weren't alone in the challenges they face with visiting teaching. But I also think it’s important to know that we are each entitled to help from Heavenly Father in following the commandment He has given us to love and serve one another.

I think that most of the challenges we’ve listed can be grouped together under these 6 headings:

The first challenge is: Children.
How many of you have children that you need to take with you when you do your visiting teaching? What solutions have you found that work for you?
Here are a few solutions:
Bring along some of your children’s favorite toys, special ones that will hold their attention.
Invite the sister (and her children) to meet at your house.
Meet and visit at a park or at a food place with a play area.
Arrange for a babysitter for all the children and go out to lunch WITHOUT the kids!
Swap babysitting with other sisters in the ward- take turns watching the kids while the other goes visiting teaching.

The second challenge is: Lack of Time
How have you fit visiting teaching into your life? I thought it was interesting that this was one challenge that almost every sister had, even if she didn't write it out. But what's amazing is that these busy women are also the ones who usually make the time to do their visiting teaching. They may not be able to visit every sister every month, but they make an effort to contact them.

The main solution I’ve found to the time problem is to prioritize and make sure Visiting Teaching is near the top of the list at least one week a month! We can't make more hours in the day but we can change what we do with some of the time we've been given.

Sister Bonnie D. Parkin once said: “Wouldn’t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options.” (Bonnie D. Parkin “Choosing Charity: That Good Part,” Ensign, Nov 2003, 104)

I love this quote from an article titled “Selfless Service”: “... many things, in fact most, are interesting, and many are enticing. But some things are important. The limits of time dictate that we must prioritize what we do. The divinely given and heaven-protected gift of agency allows us to determine to what degree we will serve others and allow them to serve us. The depth of involvement in that which is important, rather than just interesting, is our own choice.
As we make these choices, we might consider that the glitter and excitement of festive, fun-filled projects are interesting, but the shut-ins, the lonely, the handicapped, the homeless, the latchkey kids, and the abandoned aged are important. ….The meetings and materials and planning are all interesting, but the doing is important.” (William R. Bradford, “Selfless Service,” Ensign, Nov 1987, 75)

A handout was passed out that contains the following time management tips:

1. Set aside a quiet, prayerful time each morning for planning. (Or do it the night before if that is when you have quiet time.)
2. Establish your priorities: Seek Heavenly Father’s guidance as you set your priorities. Each day and week consider what you have to do, then decide which items are most important. Number them if you need to and then do the most important things first.
3. Eliminate unimportant things. If you find that some of your activities only waste time and don’t add much to your life, eliminate them. This goes back to finding balance and simplifying your life. Re-visit those principles by reading articles on them to help motivate you.
4. Use your time wisely to accomplish the most important items.
5. Avoid procrastination. Do things now. Even when you don’t feel like it. Do it anyways!

The third challenge is: Fear
You need to recognize that most people have some fear associated with Visiting Teaching. It may be fear of contacting someone you don’t know, or fear of being rejected by someone who isn’t active. Maybe you’re shy and afraid of seeming awkward or not knowing what to say, or are afraid to bear your testimony or teach a lesson.

The solution to fears, first and foremost, is to turn to the Lord for help. As it says in 2 Timothy: “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7.)
President Monson had this to say “Now, some of you may be shy by nature or consider yourselves inadequate to respond affirmatively to a calling. Remember that this work is not yours and mine alone. It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” (President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency, “Duty Calls,” Ensign, May 1996, 4.)
Visiting Teaching isn’t just an assignment from the Relief Society President or the Bishop, it’s a call from the Lord and we are entitled to the Lord’s help in accomplishing it.

“Through the gospel you learn that focusing on yourself and your weakness is not the answer. If you look outside of yourself and focus on others, your problem diminishes.” When we worry less about what someone else thinks or how they might react to us and focus instead on loving them, we will find that it becomes easier to make the phone calls or to go and visit.
One thing to remember when overcoming fears is to be Persistent! “President Heber J. Grant, known for his willingness to practice a difficult task until he mastered it, often said these words: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” 3 Almost every person who has overcome [fears] would agree with that principle.” (Rebecca M. Taylor, “Beyond Shyness,” Ensign, Jun 2001, 56)

A practical way to help overcome the fear of talking to someone you don’t know is to use ice-breakers or conversation starter questions when you meet someone for the first time. On the handout are 25 questions that are just about guaranteed to get some sort of conversation going!
(**The handouts are still available in the RS basket. If you don't have access to the basket, please ask for a copy and we'll get one to you!)

You can also do simple acts of service that will help you to get to know the sister better and help you overcome any fear of visiting teaching her: Ask her to sit with you in Relief Society; Go out of your way to greet her by name, Pray for her specifically, and If you don’t see her at church give her a call and let her know she was missed.
You’ll find that many of the sisters you visit will freely open up and share many details of their life with you, or that you have things in common and conversations will come easily. But you can also end up with someone like me: I’ve always been shy and often don’t give details about my life unless I feel that I can trust someone, or feel that they are genuinely interested. I hope that you don’t end up with many sisters on your route like me, but if you do, please be patient with them and persevere!! As you build trust you’ll usually find that even the shyest sisters will open up and the visits will become easier.

The fourth challenge is: Health Issues
This is a hard one to deal with on a regular basis. Often our options are limited. But there are a few things you CAN do: Pray to the Lord for strength, Be willing to ask for and accept help and know that it’s okay to lean on someone else, Make sure to take care of yourself so that you can help take care of others. If you can’t make it out for a visit, make a phone call, send a card, do the same things for the sisters on your route that you would like to have done for you…

The fifth challenge is: Companion problems (scheduling, can’t contact, doesn’t help)
What challenges have you faced with the companions you’ve had, and how have you overcome them? Have you found any strategies that work well?
Some of the suggestions I have would be: Pray for your companion and try to befriend her. Be the example for her. Show your companion that you have a testimony of visiting teaching and that you love the sisters you visit. Be supportive and help teach your companion about what it means to be a visiting teacher. Refer her to the RS president to learn more about visiting teaching if she doesn’t understand it. Report problems with your companion during your visiting teaching interview, or directly to the RS president if it’s urgent. Let the RS Presidency know if there are serious scheduling conflicts between you and your companion. Practice the principles of simplifying and keeping your life in balance so that you are available, and hopefully your example will inspire your companion to do the same.

The sixth challenge is: Finding the motivation to do it.
The only real solution to this one is to gain a testimony of it through prayer, fasting, and just plain DOING. Often we don’t gain a testimony of, or even a desire to do something until we actually start doing it. Sometimes the testimony doesn’t come until after much effort and sacrifice, but I can promise you that it does come. And when you have a testimony of visiting teaching, it becomes much easier to make the calls and go visit. It’s no longer just another chore- it becomes a recognizable blessing.

Sister Beck shared this with us: “Visiting teaching becomes the Lord’s work when our focus is on people rather than percentages. In reality, visiting teaching is never finished. It is more a way of life than a task. Faithfully serving as a visiting teacher is evidence of our discipleship…. If our watchcare were primarily about reporting that every sister in the ward heard the Visiting Teaching Message printed each month in the Ensign it would be much more efficient to read it aloud to everyone in a sacrament meeting. Our reports are most helpful to the bishop and the Relief Society president when we inform them of the spiritual and temporal well-being of sisters and how we have been able to serve and love them.” (“Relief Society: A Sacred Work” Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society Meeting, Sep. 2009)

Elder Eyring said: “…each time you and your companion prepare to go visiting teaching, you just need to remember what success will be. It will be more than getting in the door. It will be more than giving a message. It will be more than asking how you can help. Success will come perhaps only after many visits. And you may not in this world see the evidence that you have succeeded. But you can feel by the Spirit if you are on the way. (“The Enduring Legacy Of Relief Society” Elder Henry B. Eyring, General Relief Society Meeting, Sep. 2009)

I’m living proof that sometimes you won’t know that you’ve had success. I was inactive or just on the fringes of activity throughout most of my 20’s and was also dealing with depression, social anxiety and word of wisdom problems. During that time I was blessed with several loving, faithful visiting teachers who taught me, motivated me to improve myself, and helped me to feel more comfortable when I did come to church. The process of becoming active again was very slow and I often took only baby steps. I also moved every few years and often had to leave behind the sisters who had befriended me. But there were enough times that Heavenly Father sent me loving visiting teachers that didn’t give up on me, and that helped me to not give up on myself. I’m sure that none of them had any idea that their efforts would help me get to where I am today, but they played an important part in my life and I’ll be eternally grateful for their love, friendship and example.

You also may never know the results of your visiting teaching efforts. But if you are faithful and strive to truly love each sister you have stewardship over, you will be a blessing in their lives. You never know what a difference you might make in someone’s life just by being a faithful visiting teacher.

(We were then blessed to hear the testimonies of 4 sisters about visiting teaching. I can't even try to replicate the spirit they brought. It was a wonderful experience.)

Sisters, my goal isn’t to motivate everyone to attain a 100% on their visiting teaching. Having each sister receive a visit would be great, but my main concern is that you come to understand and gain a testimony of the importance of visiting teaching. As Sister Allred has said: “We have divine promptings encouraging us to do good. Let us commit to effective visiting teaching. We can provide temporal and spiritual nourishment. We can and should offer understanding and be able to teach doctrine. We can relieve spiritual hunger and feed the sheep.” (Silvia H. Allred, “Feed My Sheep,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 113–15)
We can do this great work! I hope that each of you will be filled with a greater desire to more deeply love the sisters you visit. You can make a difference in someone else’s life, and visiting teaching can give you that opportunity.

*Although this can give you a good general idea of the spirit of the meeting it really can't replace the feeling of unity and strength that came from meeting with other sisters who have the same struggles and were willing to share their solutions and their testimonies. I'm very thankful for everyone who participated and helped make the conference successful.

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