Having served as a home teacher continuously since I joined the Church in 1966, I thought some months ago that I had finally mastered the technique of home teaching. My various companions and I always seemed to be able to establish a good rapport with our families by taking an interest in their activities; we remembered their birthdays, anniversaries, and other important personal events. Each month we brought a spiritual message or lesson into every home, adapting it to fit their individually unique needs. We encouraged our families to hold family home evening, family prayer, and to attend their various Church meetings regularly.
However, one evening a feeling of concern came over me as we visited each of our assigned families. The attitude and spirit of fellowship was still there, and all seemed well; yet something was not quite right. My companion and the family members seemed perfectly at ease and totally unaware of my discomfort, and even I was unable to identify the unpleasant emotion I was experiencing. But something was definitely wrong. I knew I was failing in my calling as a home teacher.
But how? I had served in two elders quorum presidencies and was well aware of how home teaching should be done. We established an attitude of trust wherein our families felt comfortable in confiding to us their feelings, problems, and desires. We accepted each individual as a worthy and productive member of his family, of the Church, and of society. We attempted to allow the Spirit to dictate our words and actions. So what was missing?
That Thursday night as we stood to say our final good-byes at our last family’s house, the thought struck me. My companion had just said those words that we always ended our visits with: “What can we do to help?” And as usual, the reply was, “Nothing at all. Everything’s fine.” At that precise moment, the Savior’s words came to me: “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions.” (3 Ne. 13:7.)
Vain repetitions! That was exactly what we were doing. As I drove my companion home that night, I pointed out that each of our families did indeed have need of special help. Brother and Sister Robertson, for instance, were a young and active couple in the Church who failed to hold family prayer or family home evening because “there are just the two of us.” We had presented lessons on these subjects and encouraged them, but to no avail. Didn’t they need our help?
Sister Bowers was a widow with an eleven-year-old son, Gary, to raise. Certainly special help was needed there. And what about Brother Dobb who was confined to a wheelchair because of a stroke. Didn’t he and his nonmember wife, Gladys, need our help?
By now I was sure that even Sister Shaw, a lively and energetic divorcee in her thirties, who always seemed so pleased with life, could use our help.
But we had asked, hadn’t we? Where did we go wrong? As my companion and I parted that night, we came away knowing that we had to do better, that we had to improve our home teaching.
During the next two weeks my companion and I met several times to discuss the possible needs of our families. We pinpointed those things that we felt needed our special attention. And then on our next visit we tried our new approach. To Brother and Sister Robertson it wasn’t, “What can we do to help?” but rather, “Won’t you meet with us next Thursday at my home and join us in a special family home evening?” To Sister Bowers it was, “May we take Gary to the football game Saturday?” To Brother Dobb we said, “Brother Sanders of our elders quorum is very handy with tools. Would you mind if he fixed that broken chair in your living room?” And to Sister Shaw it was simply, “My wife would like you to attend Relief Society with her this week. Would you like to go?” The most amazing change was not only what we asked, but also the replies we received: “Why yes, thank you!”
In the following months we began to recognize a few basic principles that arose from our newfound approach to home teaching—principles which we found to be essential in understanding the special needs of our families:
1. Be Perceptive. Look around the homes of your families and see if there are areas for assistance. Does the family need help in finding a job, painting the garage, cleaning the house, or understanding the actions of a teenage son? Are their material and physical needs cared for? Don’t overlook the obvious. Elderly people, teenagers, parents with small children, and others have many things—including problems—in common. Pinpoint them! Is there tension in the home? Is there over-permissiveness or over-correctiveness? Can the family members openly talk with each other? Is there real communication in the home? Trust? Confidence? Understanding? Is the family emotionally stable and satisfied? Are they spiritually edified and fulfilled? Be perceptive to their needs.
2. Be Sensitive. People who need help are often very reluctant to ask for it, and occasionally may refuse it. Be tactful! Offer assistance but don’t force it. If you make your offer in the spirit of friendship, talking with the person rather than down or at him, success is more likely. Be sensitive in your approach.
3. Be Imaginative. Of course it’s important to remember meaningful dates for each of your families, but how about sending a note or card just because you care? Or how about a gift, preferably homemade and wrapped with love, just because that family is special to you? Invite all your families to a “get-acquainted” picnic or party. Be creative in responding to their needs.
4. Be Specific. Don’t ask, “What can we do to help?” or “Is there anything you need?” Ask, “Can we pick Gary up for Primary Wednesday at 4:00?” or “May we show you a film that will explain the importance of family home evening?” Individuals respond to specifics.
These principles don’t replace the instructions to home teachers; they are inherent in them. As we have continued our new approach, we have sometimes met with failure and sometimes with success. However, we now feel the assurance that we are engaged in our home teaching in a manner pleasing to the Lord. We find the fruits of our labors in the spiritual growth of our families as well as in our personal satisfaction.
After a recent sacrament meeting, Brother and Sister Robertson came up to me and shared their sincere testimonies, telling me how the happiness in their home has increased since they have begun holding family prayer and family home evening. Such rewards leave no doubt that we are pursuing a righteous course. Home teaching is a vehicle which, when functioning correctly, is a blessing to the teachers and families alike.