"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 25, 2012
Visiting Teaching Lite
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

I enjoy visiting teaching, and I visit all of my assigned sisters every month.

I try to visit each sister in a way that meets her needs. Sometimes that means an in-home monthly visit. Sometimes that means a visit every six months, and sending emails in between. Sometimes that means driving her to the grocery store every month because she doesn't have a car. Sometimes that means tending her kids so she can run errands in peace.

Personally, I dislike receiving a monthly in-home visit. It is just one more thing I have to make happen. I prefer a friendly conversation at church, an email, a phone call, or even a lunch out. I once had a visiting teacher who came to my office once each month to eat lunch with me, and I loved it.

Each time new sisters are assigned to visit me, I explain at our first visit that although I very much appreciate their willingness to visit me, I prefer a non-traditional visit, such as a call. I tell them I can accept an in-home visit every few months, but monthly is just too much for me. I tell them that evening visits are impossible due to my husband’s schedule. I also explain that if I need something, I will not hesitate to ask. Most of the time they comply and serve me as I'd like to be served, which I greatly appreciate.

But I've recently been assigned two new visiting teachers who refuse to hear me. They want to come to my home in the evening, stay for an hour, and give me a prepared lesson. I have now explained three times that I cannot meet with them in the evening, and they will not take no for an answer. Each time I decline an appointment they respond with, "Well, how about next week?"

I like these sisters, and I support the visiting teaching program. How can I help them understand that they are making visiting teaching miserable for me because now I feel the need to avoid them rather than embrace them as my new visiting teachers?

Answer:

Visiting teaching is intended to meet each sister’s individual needs (see Handbook 2, section 9.5.1). For many sisters, this means something other than monthly in-home visits. The Handbook anticipates, accepts, and even encourages this. So from a technical point-of-view, your request for mostly non-traditional visits is perfectly reasonable.

But visiting teaching is not just about getting what you want out of visits. It is also about supporting other sisters in their efforts to minister. Therefore, although visiting teaching should not be a burden for the person being visited, it does sometimes require that person to be more flexible, patient, and understanding than she would be in normal social interactions.

This does not mean ceding your calendar to your visiting teachers. Nor does it mean sitting through multi-hour gossip-fests or allowing their children to destroy your home. It is up to you to manage the timing and duration of the visits you receive.

In your case, you clearly want a good relationship with your visiting teachers. But you don’t want monthly sit-down visits. You might not get what you want! Remember that you can’t control them or their visiting teaching agenda. You may never persuade them that non-traditional visits are how they can best meet your needs.

But you can respond to them in a way that shows love and a willingness to develop a relationship with them.

It’s true that if you said something harsh like, “I’ve told you three times that I don’t want you to come over! Why can’t you just respect that! Don’t ask me again!” they may never approach you again. But this, although direct, is the cheap way out. Even if it is rude of them to pester you for a visit, it is not right to repay their rudeness with rudeness of your own. And it is miles away from charitable.

Instead, the next time they ask to come, say, “No, I can’t ever do evening visits. Could you just email me this month?” If she asks about next week, repeat yourself.

Your tone should convey that although you like her, you are perfectly serious about the “ever” in your refusal. So don’t squinch up your eyes as if to say, “I wish I could!” That is insincere. Instead, keep your face almost cheerful, and use a pleasant but no-nonsense voice.

And don’t explain why you cannot meet in the evening. You’ve tried that three times to no avail. Just say that you “can’t.” “Can’t” is a perfectly acceptable reason. “Can’t” is also the polite way of saying “won’t,” “don’t want to,” and “no way.”

Now, in the sample answer above, I proposed an email visit this month. In fact, you can propose any activity you like. For example:

If you know she walks for exercise, “I’d love to go walking with you some morning.”

If you both work downtown, “Let’s meet for lunch.”

You might email her, “I have a really big performance this Thursday, and I’d appreciate your prayers.”

And every few months, “A visit this month would be nice. Can you come on Monday or Tuesday morning?”

Finally, do a little sleuthing to learn about your new visiting teachers. It is entirely possible that one or both of them was assigned to you as a learning experience. Is one a new or newly active member? A prospective missionary? An eighteen-year-old who is new to Relief Society? Was visiting you supposed to be an easy and uplifting experience?

If so, make an extra effort to meet with them, even if you don’t particularly care for visits. The big picture of visiting teaching is love.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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