Ask any member what they want from their home (or visiting) teacher, and you might get a variety of answers.  Some would be happy if they would just show up.  Others would be happy if they just quit showing up.

I’ve read some stories in the ‘nacle that are far worse than any of the experiences I’ve had, such as:

  • A Home Teacher who simply refuses to talk to the wife to set up appointments, always asking to speak to the husband, and even avoiding eye contact with the wife during the visit.  Holy man crush!
  • My personal favorite, home teachers showing up without an appointment, even when told not to do so, resulting in coitus interuptus en flagrante, if you know what I mean. Then cluelessly asking the robe-clad couple what they were too busy doing that made it a bad time for a visit.

I have a real mental block when it comes to visiting teaching, or being taught anyway.  No matter what is going on, I can never remember I have an appointment.  I am usually home fairly punctually and predictably (except when I’m traveling), but there’s some kind of universal guarantee that if I have a visiting teacher coming over, something will happen that causes me to walk in late, finding Hawkmaaan and the Hawklings entertaining my guest.

I’ve also had a few times when I’ve read the message and thought “Yuck.”  Either I’ve disagreed, found it treacly or maudlin, or just otherwise disliked it.  Or I’ve had a partner whose interpretation of it seemed completely off to me.  When I don’t love the message, I try to find what I do agree with and focus on that, or I just disregard the message and figure I need to listen this month rather than teach.

When I think about personal experiences where a Visiting Teacher or companion has been a mismatch for me, it’s usually things like this:

  • It’s all about her.  She’s got her schtick, and this is what you are going to get.  There’s no focus on what the actual sisters need or want.  She assumes you need a hug when you aren’t a hugger or she gives advice based on what her own preferences are.  Or she’s got a judgmental or political axe to grind and has interpreted the lesson so that it supports her views.
  • Not listening when someone doesn’t want contact or a visit.  I am the sister who always gets the inactive sisters to visit or reach out to, which is my preference anyway.  But sometimes I get a partner who just really wants to get that name checked off, and insists on it being a “proper” visit (opening prayer, message, closing prayer) even when a sister is hostile to the prospect.  I’ve told plenty of my own visiting teachers “this counts as a visit” when we stop to chat in the hallway; for me, that’s sufficient at times, especially when my travel schedule gets crazy, and I relish my free time at home with my family.  Insisting that it doesn’t count unless we do it the standard way just seems like a recipe for giving offense or bothering someone needlessly.  It’s not respectful.  When I was about three years old, my mother was assigned to visit teach an inactive sister.  She was not interested in the church (she had become Unitarian), and she didn’t want any fake friends.  She told  my mom that if she wanted to be friends, that was fine, but she didn’t want to talk about the church.  My mom said that was fine with her, and they became friends despite a pretty big age difference.  But I became best friends with her daughter, and it’s a friendship that is still strong.
  • Someone who is ham-fisted and pushy or socially awkward.  Visiting teaching can be a bit awkward anyway.  This is a person who was asked to be your friend.  And they are in your home, where you normally get to be yourself (which may or may not be the same Sunday face they see).  Sisters who push their political views (rather than asking about yours) or who tell you what you should be doing (unsolicited advice) or who express judgments about people (not knowing you might be one of the ones they are judging) make an artificial situation truly awkward.

The best visiting teachers (or home teachers) are obviously those who:

  • Adapt to the needs of the sister.  To do this, you have to become aware that one size does not fit all.  Not everyone’s a hugger, a crier, loves kittens or whatever.  But some people really do.  People come in all shapes and sizes.  You have to listen and realize that people have their own thoughts in their head.  On my mission we visited a family whose uncircumcized young boy would run around the house with no pants on.  We were sitting on a couch with wet spots on the cushions.  I had to conclude we were sitting in that boy’s urine.  I am pretty sure we were.  But they were OK with that.  It was their home.  Should I lecture them about hygiene?  I didn’t feel it was my place.  If they were OK with a pee couch, I was OK with a pee couch.  I visit taught another sister who was a chain smoker.  She really couldn’t go the entire visit without one, even though she was apologetic and said it kept her from going to church.  Her house, her rules.  I stayed and chatted with her as long as she wanted.  I think that’s what we are supposed to be doing.  You can’t uplift people while wrinkling your nose in disdain.
  • Offer service and actually mean it.  My mother’s personal history includes the story of her visiting teacher coming by after my mom had broken her neck and hip and was using crutches.  The sister asked if my mother needed anything, and mom said “Yes, my kitchen floor is getting very sticky.  I can’t use the mop while I’m on crutches.”  The sister ignored the request, continued to offer the lesson, and then said cheerily, “Well, if there’s anything you can think of we can do to help, let us know!” as she gathered her things and left.
  • Are a real friend.  Friendship isn’t conditional on them coming to church, listening to the message, being sweet tempered, or even liking the church.  My friend’s mom was fairly hostile to the church at times and undergoing a bitter divorce.  She swore, smoked and drank.  She was a feminist.  But friendship doesn’t see differences as a threat.  It’s about respect and trust, and while it goes both ways, it usually starts one way.

What about you?

  • What’s the best or worst visiting or home teaching experience you’ve had? 
  • What partnerships have worked or not worked? 
  • What about those you visited?