Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Visiting Teacher

In our church we have a women's organization called the Relief Society. All women over the age of eighteen who belong to our church are members of the Relief Society. Within the Relief Society there is a program set up called “Visiting Teaching.” Women are paired up and assigned other women to visit on a regular basis. Ideally, each woman in the church receives an in-home visit monthly from her visiting teachers (and most serve as visiting teachers as well). The visiting teachers offer friendship, support, and a religious-based message when they come. It really is an incredible concept, if you think about it. Consider that there are around twelve million members of the church worldwide. Maybe about five million of them are women over the age of eighteen. That's a lot of visiting going on. And a network of built-in friends for everyone.
Some women have a problem with the whole “assigned friend” idea. Nobody wants to be someone else's obligation. Admittedly, it would be nice if we were all friends by choice, rather than by assignment. It would be nice if every woman in the church felt like she had someone she could count on for support in her times of need, loneliness, or even when she was bursting with great news. Unfortunately, that isn't the case for every one of us. Sometimes women slip between the cracks. The Visiting Teaching program, if carried out effectively, can do much to fill in those cracks.
I happen to like the Visiting Teaching program. I guess I'm not proud; since I'm not naturally a girlfriend kind of person, the assigned friend thing works pretty well for me. Through Visiting Teaching, I have had opportunities for friendships that I may never have had otherwise. I have one friend in particular, an older woman whom I originally got to know through Visiting Teaching, who has been a real treat in my life. And I love it when those in charge of assignments mix things up once in a while; it's like playing “musical friends,” only no one's ever out. Enough chairs for everyone.
Of course, sometimes Visiting Teaching can be a bit awkward, too. First of all, we're calling each other up and inviting ourselves over, which must seem a little intrusive if you're not used to the idea. And sometimes, unavoidably so, we're partnered up with someone with whom, although we share a common faith, we may not have a whole lot else in common.
At one point, a long time ago in a visiting teaching district far far away, I had assigned to me a partner who intimidated the heck out of me. She was tall, thin, beautiful, well-spoken, and had much more life-experience than I did. And somehow, I didn't seem able to contribute a single thought to any conversation that wasn't worthy of her correction. One afternoon we made a visit to a woman in our congregation. We knocked, were invited in, courteously left our shoes by the front door, and sat down in her living room for a nice little chat. When we got up to leave, I remember thinking “Wow, that actually went pretty well.” I had even managed to pipe in with one or two comments that had stood uncorrected by my partner. I was feeling pretty good about myself as we stood in the entryway preparing to leave. Maybe this arrangement was going to work after all, I thought.
Then, “Melinda,” my partner condescendingly spoke my name, “you're wearing my shoes.”
Oh well. For the most part, Visiting Teaching has been a real positive in my life. I continue to enjoy the sisterhood and benefit from friendships with all types of women. I have recently been assigned new Visiting Teachers. They called and invited themselves over just last week. One is a woman close to my age whom I have admired for several years but haven't had the time or opportunity to get to know as well as I'd have liked to. The other is a young mother of boisterous three-year-old, red-headed twin boys. Maybe I can play the role of the wise, older friend. Could be kind of fun.
A little advice for anyone new to the program: relax, have fun, make good friends, and when it's time to go, make sure you're putting on your own shoes.

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