“Well, yes, actually, there is.”

That’s not the answer you expect when you toss out the standard home/visiting teaching line asking if there is anything you can do to help your teachee.

But I was thrilled to hear it. I usually detest visiting teaching because of my sense that I am not technically helping anyone but just making small talk so I can check off a box. I’m not sure which feels worse: to sit across from a sister whose problems are so wide and deep that I cannot bridge them or the sister who smiles and says, “Nothing. We’re fine. But that’s nice of you to ask.” In both cases I feel incompetent, an imposter. I’m wasting her time–and mine.

So when this sister, new to my route, said, “Well, yes, actually, there is,” I learned forward. She began to explain a situation at work: a co-worker who fit every irksome stereotype and brought out a side of her that she knew she needed to tame. And then she asked me to pray for her.

I could do that. I did that. I am doing that. I don’t know if it is helping her, but it is helping me. I do try to pray for those whom I visit, but it makes all the difference in the world to have something specific to pray about. I’m honored that she would trust me–on the first visit!–with this personal struggle and would seek my help. And I’m pleased to be of service in a way that involves communion instead of a casserole.

I’ve decided that from now on when I get tossed The Eternal Question by my own visiting teachers, I’m going to share with them something that I am struggling with and ask them to pray for me. I think the humility and honesty required in this exercise would do me some good even independent of their prayers. I also suspect that knowing they might ask me about my challenge during our next visit would motivate me when my resolve slips.

18 comments for ““Well, yes, actually, there is.”

  1. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 11, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    This underneath shyness as pushed into the fake friendliness through assigned position of greeter or whatever level of ministry, has always irked me about Christianity.

    I prefer the mystics’ route: The seeker entreats the adept. But they’re rebuffed at first as someone who’s perhaps not truly possessed of the natural inclinations and the forebearance or what have you, for the mystics’ path. But the seeker is still drawn, still accosts the adept. Finally the adept agrees to take on the seeker as an acolyte or whatever — but the novice must shut up and listen — and not think to “teach the adept” with their incessant babble as they uncover for themselves the ineffable mysteries under the adept’s tutelage.

    And, Julie, it seems to me in general that’s what you’re often about here: sharing wisdom you yourself have received from your experiences within your assigned, Christian discipleship responsibilities as a way to set up guideposts upon this mystics’ track.

  2. Mark IV
    June 12, 2006 at 12:02 am

    Julie, thank you.

    Other people have strong testimonies of the scriptures or temple work, but the foundation of my testimony is home teaching and visiting teaching. For me, those are the distinguishing features of God’s True Church. I take it as a given that God wants members to be accounted for – where they live and and how they are doing. What other church even attempts this? I also believe that the burden of accounting for one another should be spread out over the entire congregation, as a way of bearing one another’s burdens.

    And you are right, our visits often seem unproductive, but your example demonstrates that we really can make a difference.

  3. Adam Greenwood
    June 12, 2006 at 7:50 am

    This is excellent, Julie Smith. If we ever get hometeachers who visit, we’ll do this too. It seems pretty clear from the scriptures that there are blessings that can only be recieved if certain people pray for them. I’m betting that for some of those blessings, it has to be the hometeachers and visiting teachers. What a great idea, really. Made my day.

  4. Wilfried
    June 12, 2006 at 8:20 am

    Wonderful post, Julie. Simple but powerful.

    At the same time, the thought struck me that the routine question “Is there anything… ?” sometimes takes on other dimensions in other cultures. There are places were such a question is not understood as polite rhetoric, but as an actual offer to come and do work, or provide concrete assistance, or lend money… Yes, social and lingual differences in the international church.

  5. It's Not Me
    June 12, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    My wife is not one to ask for help. After a recent tragedy, a sister in the ward offered some much needed help. When my wife uncharacteristically accepted, the sister backed off and said she was too busy.

  6. meems
    June 13, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I love it when people say what they really want! It’s taken me my whole life to come to realize this is the way to go, and the “no. no. I’m fine. Really.” route does no one any good. Personally, I’m still working on being more direct, because I’m very shy and don’t like to bother people, but I love it when people give me something concrete to work with. And it doesn’t only have to be a visiting teachee!

  7. Katie P.
    June 13, 2006 at 10:40 am

    I had a bishop who exhorted us to ask our home teachers and visiting teachers to actually do things. It was great – everyone felt needed, and things got done. I had one home teacher who came and mowed our lawn for us with his own mower, which we did not have and the landlord was ignoring us.

  8. Mike
    June 13, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Some threads inspire hundreds of comments. This one less than 10 so far after two days. Why?

    Normally, I excuse myself from this topic, but since so much institutional importance is placed upon it and I am curious about what people on this site think, I will hazard to submit what I know is a disturbing alternate viewpoint. I don’t ask you to agree with me, or to refrain from changing my view or even cussing me out if you desire. But only to accept that this is the way I feel, at this point.

    Over a decade ago after much struggle, wrestling with the Spirit, I felt compelled to REPENT OF HOME TEACHING. I had been a diligent home teacher for over 25 years (EQP X 2 for 5yrs.) and I knew the social stigma this would heap upon me (and has) by the faithful in my ward. It took me three years and many terrible experiences after this revelation before I mustered the courage to fear God more than church leaders and to repent of home teaching. I have composed a 20+ page rational explanation of my position which I do not want to drag into here. And that all came later as a response, to years of discussion with all manner of concerned church leaders, friends, and relatives.

    I felt lonely for a long time. But one day it occurred to me that many people actually do what they believe, in spite of what they say. I know for a fact that in 1997 when I tried to disorganize home teaching in my ward (as EQP) that there were only 11 men (with a couple more maybes) who actually believed in home teaching to the point that they would oppose me and ask to continue to home teach when I released them from this burden. About another 30 or 40 guys, who were variably but at least partially active, seldom went and they required constant floggings or they would quickly lapse into the status of 100% not home teachers. They might verbalize support. But their feet were closer to their hearts than their lips and they made few if any visits. And our ward roster bulged to nearly 1000 with less than 180 at any meeting.

    I may have a unique way of expressing my feelings and we all have unique experiences that bring us to our current station in life. But I submit that I more closely resemble 90%, maybe even 98% of the members of the church than all those who expound firm convictions about the centrality of this practice of home teaching. I know that 98% could be wrong and this doesn’t prove one thing.

    I will try and refrain from arguing and just listen. Any comments?

  9. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 13, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    (Ah, ‘twarn’t six-six-six we were to fear, but apparently 06 16 06! Oh Wandering Planet of the Morning Sky: You have finally arrived to take charge of your minions!)

  10. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 13, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    Hm: Oops!: 06 13 06. (But that’s not as good huh.)

  11. Mark Butler
    June 13, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Non-controversial posts rarely garner comments. Just spiritual affirmation. A moment of silence. Why sully a thing of beauty?

  12. June 13, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Mark Butler is absolutely right: the number of comments that follow a post indicate the controversy of the topic, not the beauty, goodness, or edification of the post. Wilfried’s posts are good evidence. They are, in my opinion, the best things that T&S has to offer, but they rarely get very many responses because there is nothing to argue about in them.

  13. June 13, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    I don’t ask my visiting teachees (is this not the world’s most awkward grammatical construction ever??) what I can do for them. I just tell them what I’m going to do for them. I had one lady who had a baby. I told her there was a casserole in my freezer with her name on it and WHEN (not if) she had a day where she got to dinner time and had run out of time to cook, she was to call me and I’d bring it over, because all mothers with new babies have days like that. There’s a reason they send women to do this job, because women (by and large, with exceptions, void where prohibited, must be 18 or over to win) are more sensitive to people’s real needs. Ladies KNOW when “I’m fine, thanks” means “I am in the bottom floor of a two-story outhouse and the rest of the world is upstairs.”

  14. aletheia
    June 13, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    It seems from the post and the comments that the question, “Is there anything that we can do to help?”, has become almost a dead letter, purely rhetorical or purely courteous. Are there any real-life answers to the question that can’t be solved by prayer or a casserole (not to imply, by any means, that these are mean or insignificant responses)? Anything like, “You can help me escape from this horrible marriage”? Are people not that forthcoming? Does this sort of need get met somewhere other than hometeaching and the helpp teachers offer there? Just curious…

  15. Julie M. Smith
    June 13, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    aletheia, my guess is that requests for Serious Stuff are usually made to the bishop or to close friends, not to the visiting or home teachers.

    Maybe some of the angst coming out on this post (and similar posts) is that there is a lack of clarity as to what precisely the role of HT/VT is: real friend, teacher, casual help (“can I have a ride to the airport?”), etc. The fact that routes change frequently hampers serious relationships from forming, but with people moving in and out all the time, there’s no way around that.

  16. gst
    June 13, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    Oh man, I’m going to bust out “Can you help me escape from this horrible marriage?” on my home teachers this month, just for kicks. I’ll report back here on the 1st of July.

  17. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    June 13, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Julie, I appreciate your post. Very insightful.

    I have a real testimony of VT. When it works right, it can make a huge difference. Ask any RS president who is overwhelmed what it means to know that VTs are available to help when someone has a known need. Also, if the VT really reach out enough to have a relationship where the person feels comfortable opening up, the RS pres. can have more of her finger on the pulse on how the sisters are doing. If VTing is approached as something to check off a list, then it is never utilized to its full potential.

    There is a flip side to VT and HT as well. It’s being willing to be visited, and being willing to open up and ask for help. It’s hard, because nearly anyone would rather serve than be served, but sometimes those who visit need a little guidance to know how to help.

    When done right, VT and HT, in my point of view, can really be the gospel in action, and can really make a ward work the way it should…with each of us having a stewardship and each person having people they know they can call upon in times of need.

  18. Julie M. Smith
    June 14, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Wacky, comments like yours confirm my suspicion that I was out back having a smoke with Deborah and Huldah when they were handing out femininity. What you describe bears no relation to my life.

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