For many years I envisioned visiting teachers as older women who delivered casseroles to each other. Not eager to enter that world, I reluctantly accepted my first visiting teaching assignment to visit four sisters in my BYU ward. The sisters I visited seemed as uncomfortable as I was, and I was relieved when visits ended early.
Shortly after I was married, I again was called to be a visiting teacher. I wondered what I could teach these sisters, who seemed so secure in their families and homes. When my visiting teaching partner, a 65-year-old widow, asked me to give the message, I stumbled through it—my gaze never leaving the manual.
My attitude gradually softened as I watched my visiting teaching partner prepare for each visit by praying that we would be able to discern the needs of the sisters we taught. The idea that these sisters, so outwardly radiant and successful, might have problems intrigued me. Although I began to look at them differently, my ideas about visiting teaching remained relatively unchanged.
During my next encounter with visiting teaching, I was assigned to visit four sisters, and I was determined to be the “perfect” visiting teacher. I gave the prepared message, visited early in the month, and brought cookies and cakes, birthday treats, and Christmas gifts.
But the feelings of sisterhood I had expected didn’t materialize, and I blamed the visiting teaching program. If only I were assigned to visit women whose circumstances matched my own, if only the sisters appreciated the time and effort I spent in visiting them, if only …
These new feelings went unchanged for several years. I still tried to visit with promptness and enthusiasm. However, I paid scant attention to the needs of the sisters. All of my energy was devoted to meeting what I perceived as the requirements of a visiting teacher. I doubled my efforts—I remembered not only the sisters’ birthdays but also those of their children. I tended their children and arranged meals at the arrival of a new baby.
Again I questioned why I didn’t feel the promised rewards. Frightened by sisters with whom I had little in common, I avoided close relationships with them. Besides, I rationalized, visiting teaching took time away from my family. It required patience to juggle schedules and involved finding baby-sitters for my children.
When I was assigned to visit Ann, a widow in her sixties, I grumbled once more. After all, I thought, how could I expect to feel a commitment to someone who was so different from me? How could I possibly develop a lasting friendship with a woman who was twice my age and no longer had small children at home?
But I soon discovered that she and I shared an offbeat sense of humor, one that often baffled others. As we learned more about each other, our friendship grew. Both computer illiterate, we struggled to learn word processing together. We cried together when she was diagnosed with cancer.
I no longer tried to be the “perfect” visiting teacher—I was too busy being Ann’s friend. It was a friendship that endured until several years later when she died.
Through visiting Ann I learned what I had lacked in my other visiting teaching assignments—love. I now try to share love and sisterhood with those I visit. I no longer fear differences—I appreciate them.
I’ve learned that the composition of visiting teaching is much like that of a symphony. The common melody of the gospel allows us to harmonize. However, the differences among us create an exquisite counterpoint, one all the more beautiful for its occasional unexpectedness. As each strain of the symphony is heard, a common theme emerges—one of love and compassion among sisters, strengthening each other and bringing us closer to our Heavenly Father.