Appropriate Requests

Yesterday we met our new home teachers. After they shared their message, and before they asked to leave us with a prayer, they asked the common question, “Is there anything you need that we can help you with?” We answered “No.” We then said a prayer together and they left.

When they asked that question my mind began to list all the things that we need or want- a grown up bed for our kid, someone to watch our kid this Thursday while I’m at the dentist, to figure out what is going on with my husband’s ear, help figuring out just exactly what sorts of things I should buy for food storage, advice on hiring a landscaper or doing the backyard ourselves, advice on refinancing our home, etc. I wonder what would have transpired if I had shared any of those things with our home teachers. Obviously it would have been a bit overwhelming for a first visit, but I’m sure they’ll ask the question again the next time they come.

Consider hypothetically, from among the things I listed, landscaping* (possibly a bad example since it falls more in the want category than the need category). We don’t want to do anything complicated- a paver path, a small retaining wall, and some grass- things we could do ourselves if we had access to a truck, a level, a wheelbarrow, a trowel and probably a few other things. If one of our home teachers had equipment and tools we could borrow it would be a huge help to us. If they offered to come help for an hour or so one weekend, that would be going above and beyond the call of duty. If they could point us to someone trustworthy that we could hire (a professional, a teenage son, etc.) that would be fantastic too. The part where I fall down is coming up with a way to make those ways to help us known without coming across as if we expect them to do it for us free of charge. It is a tricky line to walk, especially given the fact that we’re just getting acquainted. The whole situation would be even more tricky if one of our home teachers worked as a professional landscaper.

It would be very easy to just say, “Home teachers should be solicited for spiritual service only.” All of us know that such a statement isn’t really true. Recent articles in the Ensign have told of exemplary home teachers who provided extra services to single mothers and their children, even doing some routine house and car maintenance. Also we have the ultimate goal of living the law of consecration, where letting someone borrow your truck for a day wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary at all. In fact it seems more likely that we’d take a barn-raising approach to most any kind of problem or need.

I heartily dislike the idea of taking unfair advantage of friendly offers for help, and all of us have seen people abuse the Elders Quorum Moving Company, or the Relief Society Take-Out Dinner Service. On the other hand I have felt the desire for people I’ve been called to serve to open up and share their needs, giving me the opportunity to help them if I can. I especially hope for instances where I can share my unique skills or knowledge, hoping to be part of a miracle in someone’s life. On the other other hand I’ve never been in a position where people have expected or hoped for me to do for them, for free, the exact thing that I do for a living.

The only general guidelines I’ve decided on is this- if it is a want rather than a need or if you can afford to pay/hire someone to do it then you shouldn’t ask for help from home teachers or other members of the ward.
* As a disclaimer, since this is strictly a want and since we can afford to hire someone we are not going to even bring it up to our home teachers.

25 comments for “Appropriate Requests

  1. random me
    January 30, 2007 at 12:03 am

    i don’t see anything at all wrong with asking if they know of anyone with landscaping expertise or experience or tools or whatever. nor is it a problem to say, “hey, keep your ear out for a big kid bed!”

    as for someone to watch the kid or food storage, i don’t see anything wrong with asking your vt’ers or someone in the rs if they know of anyone in the ward able to watch a kid for a few hours during the day or what the heck you should be storing. i think those are all totally reasonable requests along the lines of networking, not begging for favors.

    none of that compares to the fully active, married, ward missionary sister who, when the missionaries asked if she needed anything, piped up with, “yeah! can you scrape the window tint off our car windows?” they were moving to a state where the tint was illegal and she was too lazy to do it herself. poor guys couldn’t say no and spent three days on it. man, i was irked!

  2. January 30, 2007 at 12:08 am

    There’s nothing wrong with bringing up your household projects and asking for advice or tips. You never know, maybe they _are_ pros that can give you some great tips or suggest local resources. Or maybe they love working in a yard and would be happy to help out when you’re ready to start digging up yours. I wouldn’t ask them straight out for help beyond advice, but by letting them know what you have going on, they’re better prepared as your home teachers to know what your needs are. And you’re giving them an opportunity to volunteer to serve you, even if they don’t, or if you end up not feeling right about accepting their help and turn it down.

  3. January 30, 2007 at 12:24 am

    When we asked this of one of our families earlier this month, they said their washing machine was broken. I offered them the use of our washing machine, and my companion told them he had a spare one in his garage they could have. Another family (less active) requested we give their daughter a blessing.

    Our HT families do not normally takes us up on our offer, but we tried to honour them in whatever way we can when they do. One of these times, they’re going to need help real bad and we want them to feel comfortable asking.

  4. January 30, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Actually, I just thought of something. One of our families had a baby last spring, and they phoned me up at 6:30 in the morning to see if we’d watch their three-year-old daughter while they went to the hospital. Of course, I said yes.

  5. Mark B.
    January 30, 2007 at 2:04 am

    One time I asked our home teacher for help hauling the air conditioners up from the cellar. It was the best service ever from a home teacher.

  6. January 30, 2007 at 2:17 am

    One of the families I’m home teach is a clean and pretty family — way active, life-time members, leadership track, etc. — and they never ask for help, even when they had a baby a few months back, and we explicitly offered to help watch their other kids. Home teaching is about building connections and relationships, and that’s very, very hard to do in a 20 minute visit once a month.

    I have called my HT to help me with hauling things because he has a truck and that’s helpful sometimes. It gives him something to do, and that’s a good thing.

    I’d suggest giving them a call and letting them know that you do have things that you could use their help with, even though some of them aren’t urgent or even all that important. It will give them an opportunity to help with those things if they wish, and that can lead to a closer relationship between you and them, and that’s a good thing. You learn a lot more about somebody working side-by-side in grubbies than you do sitting next to each other in perfect clothes with everybody trying to look perfect.

  7. Norbert
    January 30, 2007 at 4:09 am

    I find this a little odd. Isn’t that the point of having a HT?

    I HT an immigrant living on a pension and state assistance with no family outside of Iran, and they are legally restricted from contacting him. I visit him every week and we go grocery shopping together every other week. Last night he admitted that his flat is too cold and he is burning a camp stove (yes, an open flame) next to his bed to keep warm at night. So I’m pricing second-hand space heaters, and I’ll talk to the HP leader and/or bishop about using FO money to pay for it. I also HT a shut-in who needs weekly grocery delivery. My wife is my companion, and I know we have been given these assignments because they know we’ll do it. Which is OK, I guess. The fact is, despite the fact that they can be difficult and it takes us away from our kids more than we like, we love these people.

    When Bro J asked for specific help in dealing with social services, we said clearly we didn’t have the time or knowledge to deal with it. A HT/VT has to be honest enough to say that, then offer to ask pass it on to the EQ/HP/RS presidency. The EQ president put together a small committee to deal with Bro. J’s issues and similar situations. They have been running clinics for ward members on how to deal with the social services system, which I think is agreat function for a ward in a place where people need to deal with the system on a regular basis (while keeping the principles of welfare in mind, of course).

    I have been asked to tutor ward members in English to prep for various exams (TOEFL, SAT). I do, or easily could, make money doing this. I have to asess, and ask the bishop to help me assess, whether this is a real need or just someone looking for a shortcut. I have said yes and I’ve said no, I’m afraid I haven’t got the time right now. My wife, a wel-regarded interior designer, won’t do freebies for ward members. She’ll give advice when solicited, but no drawings.

    My HT volunteered to help me change my winter tires, which I accepted and deeply appreciated. He also takes me to sauna, which is fantastic, and ice fishing in the winter, which is a mixed blessing. On a much more meaningful note, a close friend was in an abusive marriage, and it was her HTs who helped her move out. She says that she could not have taken that step without them, and they really helped her ex come to terms with things after she left.

    In the end, isn’t this the point? Not just of HT/VT, but the gospel.

  8. January 30, 2007 at 6:27 am

    As a VT, I’d much rather know something that one of my sisters really wants or needs, rather than guessing or doing something just to be doing something. And my HTs are going to be doing *something* because that’s the kind of men they are, so it might as well be something that makes life easier for me (fixing the porch light when a bulb broke off in the socket was virtually nothing for one of them who had the right gadget, but was a major headache for me). Nothing you mentioned is out of line, as long as you’re asking for help and advice rather than expecting them to assume responsibility for doing it all themselves. And, of course, you have to be “paying it forward” as well as you can by contributing whatever your talents are to your own neighbors and assigned families.

  9. Norbert
    January 30, 2007 at 7:16 am

    When the missionaries come and they ask if they can do something, we often ask them to take the sack of dirty nappies to the rubbish bins outside . . . a task we refer to as ‘taking the smell-evator.’

  10. January 30, 2007 at 8:19 am

    I love it when my Visiting Teachees let me do work with them! I find that when we share work, there’s a great feeling of accomplishment and sisterhood, and real friendships just naturally form. I think it should be a regular part of every VT visit. Work first, then a treat, then the message. It makes it real, instead of feeling fake. I admit, though, that it’s very hard to ask my own VTs to help me do work. I prefer to have my own work done, and play hostess in a clean house, so they don’t think I’m a charity case. I really think we should collectively get over that, though. It makes having VTs on the way into a chore, something that I don’t have time for, and that I want to put off, if possible, instead of a joy and blessing and relief. =)

  11. January 30, 2007 at 9:27 am

    All I can say is that, since buying our first home, we have happily made use of the expertise of several people in our ward for fixing lighting, figuring out where our wiring ran, helping us repair a frozen pipe, laying down some quarter-round in the kitchen, and much more. We have offered to pay each time, and only once has our offer been accepted. I’m sure it’s possible we’re being obtuse, but honestly, we haven’t detected any signs that anyone feels we’re abusing our relationships with them. Being part of a ward community means people are supposed to share talents, and I think most members are committed enough to be willing to do so regularly (like Norbert, I’ve also reviewed college applications and essay projects for ward members). There are, to be sure, members whose problems are such that you could easily end up in or contributing to a codependent relationship, and that can become sticky. But it’s worth it, if the alternative is just showing up and sharing an Ensign story that, frankly, probably isn’t nearly as meaningful to the people you’re teaching as helping them out in some project.

    Be shameless I say–shameless in making requests, and shameless in offering one’s own service. I’m not much for handling tools, but I can always shovel walks.

  12. Tona
    January 30, 2007 at 10:17 am

    I think you should have shared that entire list with your HTs. Esp if they’re new to you, it would help them to know what your concerns and needs are. They might be able to help with some, and they surely should be given the chance to care about them with you. If I, as new VT, were presented with such a list, I would take it as evidence of your trust in my ability to care. I agree with Ardis, knowing is better than guessing. If they’re going to ask that pat question, they deserve a real answer to it. At least your specific needs will be on their mind and in their prayers if they know what they are. That said, my own VTs asked the same question just yesterday, and I said “nothing.” Was that a cop-out? Maybe.

  13. Ivan Wolfe
    January 30, 2007 at 10:38 am

    To use the landscaping analogy because it fits with me:

    I may be studying to be PhD in English, but because I worked for my father’s landscaping business basically my entire life (I still do – it’s how I earn my summer money to pay for the rest of the school year), I’m a rather skilled landscaper. I know that as a home teacher, I would love it if my home teachees asked for advice. If they asked me to install their two acre lawn for free, I might balk, but otherwise I wouldn’t mind coming over a few weekends and helping out, giving advice and lending some equipment if they were doing the work themselves but needed some help. Or, perhaps (as in your case) if they were looking to hire a landscaping company, I would be qualified to evaluate which companies are actually worth hiring. (I guess, as an English PhD and writing tutor, I could also give out writing advice or hep them analyze Moby Dick if they wanted it as well.)

    But really, I don’t see any problem with asking them. Most good Home teachers won’t be offended, even if they feel your request is a bit out of bounds. They’ll let you know if your request is too much, but they’ll likely be pleased as punch you actually asked them for some help. Most faithful HTs I know are more than willing to help their families out.

    Of course, my view may be colored by my father, who was a home teacher par excellence. Nearly all his families were inactive when I started going on visits with him by the age of 12. But he helped them out in any way he could – I recall helping families bail hay, move to a new home, even overcome problems with certain verses in the scriptures. By the time I went too college, all the families were starting to attende church again. My father’s service was a huge part of it – and they all said so.

    So, really, my advice is feel free to take advantage (in a good way) of your Home teachers.

  14. queuno
    January 30, 2007 at 11:15 am

    I have made deals with my home teachers: “If you could mow my lawn while I’m on vacation, you can count it as 2 months’ worth of visits” (that was eagarly accepted by one guy who asked how he could help while we were going to be out). We also had a front door that had a huge glass panel that slid out. One home teacher helped me put it back in, in lieu of a visit.

  15. Ryan Bell
    January 30, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Funny– just this past Sunday I got the first request for actual help that I’ve ever received as a Home Teacher. THe sister we were home teaching asked if I could help her work out a kink in her back. It’s an odd request, made more so by the element of physical contact, but in the presence of my companion and her sister and kids, I grabbed her around the shoulders and lifted her up and down a few times to pop her back.

    I was glad she asked. Though it was definitely an unconventional service.

  16. Kristine Haglund Harris
    January 30, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Hey, Ryan, if you want to do something more conventional, can you make sure my grandma’s walk gets shoveled? Thanks!

  17. manaen
    January 30, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve had a HT tune my car in college — didn’t know how then and another store our few things in his basement while on my summer internship in Dallas. I fondly remember these more than any soul-stirring lessons — except when I was a child our family’s home teacher, Bro. Wurzbach (sp?), an elderly German immigrant who remembered watching the Kaiser’s troops march, always impressed me with his gentle but firm view of the importance of living the gospel. His wife always came as his companion.

    All in all, I tend to view as good the HT’s that actually come see me.

  18. Kevin Barney
    January 30, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    This reminds me of the Grondahl cartoon where as the home teachers are leaving, they ask this little old lady if there is anything they can do for her–and her house is literally falling down around her.

    As an elder I don’t usually get the widows and such, who in our ward are almost always assigned to the high priests. But the most satisfying home teaching experience I ever had was when a young 30-year old brother–a friend of mine–I home taught unexpectedly died, leaving a wife and three children. It was a huge challenge to try to help that little family, and the whole ward really pitched in. I probated the estate pro bono—not my field of law, but it was simple enough that I could handle it, and I probably saved them $5,000. I listened and counseled and gave advice and put beds together and played with the kids and on and on. It was nice to really be needed, as opposed to the normal situation where the visit is pro forma and the family would just as soon I not come and take up their time. (She is now happily remarried with another child, living in Utah. It is a great success story, and I honestly don’t know how she would have survived it all without the ward rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.)

  19. Ryan Bell
    January 30, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Oh Kristine, I really would, but you know, she’s not in my ward. I really don’t feel comfortable horning in on someone else’s home teaching jurisdiction, you know?

  20. Jay S
    January 30, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    You should always ask – you never know what hidden talents someone may have. Plus I much prefer swinging a hammer or a paintbrush to giving a lesson. I guess that is just me. I had one HT help me build a shed, and fix a shower. (He said he knew how to do the things before we started, but didn’t really know how to do it, but at least it got me started on it). You never know that your seemingly sissyfied lawyer HT knows how to replumb a shower or the balding accountant may know the best place for camping, or someone may have the bead on extra furniture or whatever.

    I think that one of the downfalls of the church today is that in the process of the emphasis on spiritual development (which I think is great), that we have left behind the physical and material. Stake farms, ward work projects, etc.

  21. Kaimi Wenger
    January 30, 2007 at 6:14 pm


    Agreed, that it’s sometimes hard to tell how much one can ask. If I can make one suggestion, I think that one problem comes from waiting until the “is there anything your hometeachers can do for you?” moment to discuss these things. Ideally, you’ll have an open enough relationship with your home teachers that these needs will come up in conversation ahead of that.

    So when they start out the visit with, “so, how have you been?” or the like, you don’t just say, “fine, how about you?” You say “we’ve been busy, thinking about refi, possibly landscaping, juggling schedules to get dental work done, blah blah blah.”

    And then when they ask what they can do to help, they’re aware of what your life is looking like. In fact, if they’re doing their job, they follow up at that point — “you mentioned that you were doing landscaping. . .”

  22. Costanza
    January 30, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    We recently got a new EQP who outlawed the “is there anything we can do for you” line. I guess he is trying to make the point, as Kaimi did, that this should be an integral part of the home teacher/teachee relationship. Also, it can seem a bit hollow–not really seen as an honest question requiring an honest response (not unlike asking someone how they are, or what’s up).

  23. Left Field
    January 30, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    When I was a teenager, I was assigned to home teach a man who ran a successful business working on cars–doing paint jobs, I think. He had been working for a few years out of his garage, but was just starting work on constructing a shop nearby to house his business. While my companion and I were visiting, the man asked if I would like to come over and help with the construction. Being a dutiful home teacher, I said I would. I really didn’t mind helping when asked; that’s what home teachers are for.

    The next day I came to the construction site. He had several hired hands there to help and appeared to be serving as his own general contractor. We got the ground ready for the foundation, digging trenches for the plumbing that would run underneath. It was hard work, to say the least. He kept giving me stuff to do, and I ended up staying most of the day, which was more than I had expected. Still, I was glad to help, but finally, I figured I’d done my bit as home teacher, and told him I needed to go home.

    “We’ll start at seven o’clock tomorrow,” he said. Huh? He wants me come back tomorrow? I’d already done nearly a full day of back-breaking labor and figured I’d already gone above and beyond the call. I felt good about being able to help, but it did seem like I was approaching the threshold of being taken advantage of. I didn’t come back.

    Next month, my companion and I came back for a visit. The man handed me a check for a day’s wages. I was stunned. It suddenly hit me: I wasn’t a volunteer; I was an employee. When he asked if I would like to help, that was his way of offering me a job. I wasn’t really looking for a summer job, but I might have considered one if it had been offered. But I had been hired, put in a day’s labor, and summarily quit before I even realized I had an offer.

    Moral: when you ask your home teachers for help, be really clear about what you have in mind.

  24. Marjorie Conder
    January 31, 2007 at 12:21 am

    We have a HT line that has moved into the “famous family quotes” category. My good husband has always been a dedicated HT. About 25 years ago the elderly husband of one of his families suddenly died. My husband spent a lot of time with the widow over a period of months helping in lots of different ways. One time she said to him, “Oh, I just love to have you come, Brother Conder, because I feel so good when you leave.”

  25. February 6, 2007 at 5:06 am

    Wow. An incredible thread. Thanks for sharing.

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