“A Vision of Visiting Teaching,” Ensign, June 1978, 24
My beloved sisters, I think my first awareness or consciousness of the existence and the importance of the Relief Society came very early in my life.
My family left Salt Lake City for Arizona when I was three years old. My mother then had six children, and during the time that she went through five more pregnancies and five more births, she was president of the ward Relief Society—in a time when compassionate service had a little different meaning perhaps than it does today.
We went to a new world, where water was drawn out of open wells; where flies were so thick you could hardly see out of the screen door in the evening; where typhoid fever ran rampant, and many other diseases, too; where medical help was extremely limited—there were no hospitals, no nurses, and no trained people except the country doctor who had more than he could ever do.
I read in my mother’s journal not long ago such expressions as these: “I left the little ones with Ruth [or with Delbert, or with Gordon] and went to Sister Smith’s home where the second twin had just died and where there were other children desperately ill with typhoid fever.” Again: “Today I spent the day with other sisters making burial clothes for the two children of Sister Jones,” and on and on and on. That was my introduction to Relief Society, and I am sure that to some degree that kind of work is still going forward, for as I understand your work, it includes not only the spiritual and the moral, but also the physical well-being of the people of the ward.
Whenever I think of visiting teachers, I think of [home] teachers also, and think that certainly your duties in many ways must be much like those of the [home] teachers, which briefly are “to watch over the church always”—not twenty minutes a month but always—“and be with and strengthen them”—not a knock at the door, but to be with them, and lift them, and strengthen them, and empower them, and fortify them—“and see that there is no iniquity, … neither hardness, … backbiting, nor evil speaking.” (D&C 20:53–54.)
What an opportunity! But so many would like to talk about other things—the weather, or politics, or to talk about something that was just done in the ward, the division of a ward, the reorganization of a bishopric, the reorganization of the Relief Society presidency, or any other of the numerous things that could be done in the ward and that people might find reason for questioning or criticizing. How glorious is the privilege of two sisters going into a home, soft-pedaling anything that could be detrimental, and instead, building up all the authorities of the Church, the Church itself, its doctrines, its policies, its practices—“And see that [they] meet together often, and … do their duty.” (D&C 20:55.)
There can be no force in this program as I see it. It is a matter of encouragement and love. It is amazing how many people we can convert with love and inspire with love. We are “to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite … to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59), as the Lord said in his revelations. This could be nonmembers as well as members.
To be successful, it seems to me that a visiting teacher would wish to have high purpose and remember it all the time, would want to have great vision, a terrific enthusiasm that cannot be worn down, a positive attitude, of course, and a great love.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said, “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.) Assuming that your work is closely allied to that of the priesthood, you shall “teach the principles of [the] gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 42:12)—not mere ethics—and you always have the liberty to turn to them, and to interpret them, and bring them to the point where your inspiration leads you to give it to that particular sister—a different message to every person, a different approach, a different conclusion, a different approach to testimony.
The teacher, of course, must be living all that she teaches. That goes without saying, though we sometimes forget it: everything she teaches, she lives.
The Lord has said, “And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.” (D&C 88:77.)
Don’t let us be satisfied with just visits, with making friends; that, of course, has its place. With our missionary program, we constantly have that to consider. Sometimes a missionary gets it in his head that he has got to build a great bridge, and so he builds ten or twenty or thirty miles of approach to get over a quarter mile of bridge. He is worn out by the time he gets to the bridge, and then he has difficulty doing his job. Friendship, of course, is important, but how better can you make a friend than to teach somebody everlasting principles of life and salvation?
Karl G. Maeser once said, “I would rather trust my child to a serpent than to a teacher who does not believe in God.”
Your testimony is a terrific medium. As we tell missionaries, nobody can answer nor destroy your testimony. There are many smart people, just as we are, who know the scriptures just as well as we do, and who can debate, and probably quote the Bible even better than some of us. Many scripturalists spend all of their lives in studying the Bible, and they can know and debate the scriptures and turn to them better than many of us; but none of them can ever answer your testimony. It leaves them dumb—without rebuttal. You don’t always have to bear it in the most formal manner; there are so many approaches. Your testimony can take so many different angles.
Charles Bernard said, “He then who would command among his fellows must excel them more in energy of will than in power of intellect.”
I would like to add to that, for visiting teachers must excel and give leadership to the women into whose homes they go. They must excel in energy, and vision, and thoroughness—and in testimony, for above all things, their testimony is unanswerable.
The thirty-eighth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, starting with the twenty-third verse, appeals to me:
“But, verily I say unto you, teach one another according to the office wherewith I have appointed you;
“And let every man [and I think we can say women, too] esteem his [her] brother [sister] as himself [herself], and practice virtue and holiness before me.
“For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
“Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:23–27.)
There are many sisters who are living in rags—spiritual rags. They are entitled to gorgeous robes, spiritual robes, as in the parable. It is your privilege more than your duty. We talk so much about duty, but it is your privilege to go into homes and exchange robes for rags.
We talk about duty—“I must go and do my [home] teaching”; “I must go and do my visiting teachers work”—but we have already lost the enthusiasm, the vision, and the objective when we say, “I must go this morning and do my visiting teaching.” Rather it could be: “Today is the day I have been waiting for. I am happy to go into the homes of my sisters and help lift them to new heights.”
You have a responsibility. You have been called of God, through the properly constituted authorities. You just can’t go to homes if you have “blood” on your skirts. It says in the eighty-eighth section, “Purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean;
“That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood [and sins] of this wicked generation.” (D&C 88:74–75.)
You cannot miss a home with impunity; you must not pass a sister by, even if she is a little uncomplimentary, or not too happy for your visit. “I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting,” the Lord has said. (D&C 88:76.)
In Matthew, the twenty-first chapter, we have a beautiful example. The Lord asked:
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
“He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
“And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
“Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt. 21:28–31.)
That is a bit harsh, isn’t it? It would be if it came from any other source than the Lord’s own voice.
He, or she, who accepts a responsibility, and fails to magnify it, ignoring it—well, you heard what he said, didn’t you? “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
For a [home] teacher or a visiting teacher to accept a responsibility of four, five, six, or seven homes, and leave them in their spiritual rags and tatters is without excuse; and when you go into the homes, there should be no vain babblings or swelling words. You are going to save souls, and who can tell but that many of the fine active people in the Church today are active because you were in their homes and gave them a new outlook, a new vision. You pulled back the curtain. You extended their horizons. You gave them something new. Maybe they will never tell you about it in all their lives, but you did the work just the same.
You see, you are not only saving these sisters, but perhaps also their husbands and their homes. If a sister is a little inactive or a little careless, quite likely she has a husband who is a little more so, and she has children that are only dabbling at the program, perhaps. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just hitting at it a little bit here and there. They are not absorbed in the kingdom, so you have a great work to do.
It was Ezekiel who said something about the parents who “have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezek. 18:2.) That is what happens if you miss the mother and the mother misses the children. Their teeth are on edge because the mother is eating sour grapes, but if you can give her sweet grapes, if you can give her good food, if you can nourish her, if you can lift her, then, of course, the children have a better chance.
There is the old story you have heard so many times of the question asked of three builders of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, “What are you doing here?” The first one answered, “I am working eight hours a day. I am putting in time. I am earning my living this way.” The second one said, “I am putting brick on brick and I am building a structure here.” The third, when asked, raised himself to full stature and said, “I am building a great cathedral.”
So it seems to me that visiting teachers who must go and do their teaching, who must get in their reports, who must answer to a call, who must do anything, are just time watchers, clock watchers. I guess there could be some of those, the clock watchers, in the Church. Then there are those who have a little better vision, “Why, it is part of the work of the Lord and, therefore, I guess I should set aside my own interests and go.” But I am sure most of the sisters in this Church are “building a great cathedral.” I am sure they are the majority.
“He which soweth sparingly,” said Paul, “shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6.) We don’t get anywhere by just saying words. We have to put our heart in the words, and we have to plan and prepare our minds. I wonder if there are any sisters that ever fast, maybe the morning they are going visiting teaching. I don’t know that it is required. There are a lot of things in the Church that are not required, a lot of things we would like to do. The one who goes just to visit homes, to knock on the doors, to pass the time of day, and then goes back to make the report, is a little bit like the one whom Paul speaks of who is fighting as one that beateth the air, and not making any progress, like one whose wheels are spinning on the ice. We need to get out and put some gravel on the ice. We need to get some tires that have good treads upon them, and then go forth and do our job as we should do it.
I suspect that in almost every district there probably are difficult cases. There are women who will not let you in. There are women who do not want you to come in, but they let you. There are women who wish you would go before you do. Any like that? You remember the Savior had troubles like that, too. A man came to him and said:
“Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
“And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
“Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
“And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
“Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:15–21.)
When you have a woman who won’t open her door, and you know she is in the house; one who opens her door and does not want to; one who admits you and wishes you did not come; it would be well to follow the advice of the Lord, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
You know the lord has intangible methods and ways and means and forces that can touch hearts. Remember Alma? Alma, persecuting the Church one day, and the next day he was a great advocate of it. (See Mosiah 27.) Remember Paul? One day he was persecuting the Saints or imprisoning them and in a few days here he was preaching the gospel in the synagogue with great power. (See Acts 9.) What was the difference? It was some intangible force that had been brought to bear by the Lord in his wisdom. He touched their hearts. He did something else, too; we know what it was, of course.
Now you say, “Well, that woman can never be touched.” Of course she can be touched. She can be brought in. President John Taylor said there is none who cannot be converted if the right person makes the right approach at the right time in the right way with the right spirit. He didn’t put all those rights in, I have added them, but don’t you think that it is impossible.
Go back to your first book of the Book of Mormon and read it again. You remember when Nephi said:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)
The seventeenth chapter and third verse is practically a repetition of it:
“And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.” (1 Ne. 17:3.)
It can be done! We must eliminate entirely from our vocabulary the word can’t.
If the Lord called you, do you accept that, or do you think that your ward president called you? Now if only your ward president called you, then it may be that it can’t be done, but if God called you through proper channels in the way you know you are called—if God called you, then it follows that you cannot fail if you do your full part.
It is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to quit, but you must not fail. You remember how Nephi went into an impossible situation and couldn’t get the plates. His brothers couldn’t. They couldn’t buy them. They couldn’t bribe them out of the hands of Laban. They couldn’t force their way in, and their lives were hanging on a thread. In spite of all that, here comes one boy, unarmed, who walks into a city through a wall that was closed to him, through gates that couldn’t be opened, into a garden that was impenetrable, into a vault that was locked, among soldiers that couldn’t be bypassed, and comes out with his arms full of records to keep his posterity and others from perishing in unbelief. (See 1 Ne. 3–4.)
He did the impossible. But nothing is impossible to the Lord. Anytime we have him on our side, when he has called us, given us a commandment, then, if our energy and our efforts and our planning and our prayers are equal to the size of the job, the job, of course, will be completed.
A monk is said to have built a tower sixty feet high and three feet wide. On a certain day he would climb up to the top of the tower and pray, and the words of his prayers were generally about like this, “Oh God, where art thou?” No answer. “Oh God, where art thou?” No answer. Finally when he had exhausted someone’s patience, there came a voice and it said, “I am down among the people.” You have to be humble. Our wealth, our affluence, our liberties, all that we possess must never make us feel above anyone. We must always keep in mind a deep sincerity, a great humility, and a total dependence upon the Lord.
Most failures are made by those who have found that “good enough” satisfies them. You remember the story of Antonius Stradivarius, I am sure. He died in 1737 at age ninety-three. When he was about seventy years old, he created the greatest violin, I guess, that has ever been made. He had had some training before, but the vision came to him long, long after he had left all his teachers. He made a lot of changes in the traditional structure. He gave his violin a greater curvature in the middle ribs; he made the four corner blocks more massive; he lowered the height of the center arch, and he made the scroll larger and more prominent. He reached perfection in his violin when he was about seventy.
When Sister Kimball and I had our little girl, and thought she would be a great violinist someday, we bought her a little violin. I think you would call it a fiddle, because it cost us only $15.00, but it had all the earmarks of a violin. As far as I could tell, it looked just like any other violin—like a Stradivarius, perhaps. If she had happened to become a great violinist, we would have probably spend a little more for her. I inquired one day at a music store and they said that Stradivarius violins sometimes go up as high as $200,000.
Well, I tell you that each one of you can be a fiddle or you can be a Stradivarius, when you go into the homes of the Saints to teach them the gospel.
Remember that love is the greatest law. When the Lord was asked which were the two greatest laws, he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.” “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37–39.)
He told us who our neighbors were. They were the ones that were away; that were on their journeys; that were injured; the ones that were not up to paying. Everybody is our neighbor, and the sisters you visit in their homes are your neighbors. If you go to fill assignments, that is one thing, but if you go to bring your neighbor to a full knowledge of the gospel, then that is another story. It is as I said before—anything can be done.
Author Lloyd C. Douglas wrote: “Nature was always in revolt against things that thwarted her blind but orderly processes. For many years a tree might wage a slow and silent warfare against an encumbering wall, without making any visible progress. One day the wall would topple; not because the tree had suddenly laid hold upon some supernormal energy, but because its patient work of self-defense and self-release had reached fulfillment. The long-imprisoned tree had freed itself. Nature had had her way.” (Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe, Boston, 1947.)
You can do that. Like the little vine, the little root, that can topple a wall or split a rock, you can touch hearts, and break them away from their moorings that are not good and bring them to total activity. It can be done!
In conclusion, let me quote one of my favorite little verses.
Let me do my work from day to day
In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
In roaring market place or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
‘This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
Of all who live I am the one by whom
This work can best be done in the right way.’
Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
To suit my spirit and to prove my power;
Then shall I cheerful greet the labouring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.
(From “The Three Best Things,” by Henry Van Dyke.)
God bless you sisters in your glorious work, in your sweet personalities, in the extended influence you can pass to others, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.