Not long ago a Relief Society instructor asked her class members to share a challenge they were worried about. Some were concerned about their children, others about failing health, and yet others about financial stress or other difficulties. After a number of sisters had participated in the discussion, a young woman in her early 20s raised her hand and said: “I have lived in this ward all my life, and these women who have been my teachers are now my great friends. When I see all of the challenges they have had in their lives, I can’t help but wonder if I will make it and if I will be able to deal with the challenges that come my way. Am I going to make it?”
Though our lives are different, we can each expect to face challenges and to encounter disappointment and even disillusionment. Where are the answers to our challenges and concerns to be found?
Sister Mary Ellen W. Smoot, Relief Society general president, has said that “in this monumental time in history … , everyone wants to find answers that will make a difference in their lives. As Relief Society sisters, we can help all of God’s children to see that answers are found where they always have been: in scriptures, in prophets’ teachings, and in obedience to both” (Sweet Is the Work , 56).
Indeed, help with our challenges, our worries, and our everyday problems and concerns can be found in obedience to the teachings of prophets ancient and modern. Is it any wonder, then, that Nephi read the writings of Isaiah to his family? “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning,” he explained (1 Ne. 19:23). Because there is safety in likening teachings of prophets unto ourselves, we, the Relief Society general presidency, desire all sisters in the Church to prayerfully search the scriptures and the counsel of latter-day leaders and to apply those truths in their lives.
Beginning in January 2002, the Visiting Teaching Messages found in each nonconference issue of the Ensign and Liahona will have a new format to aid sisters in this gospel study. Each message for this year is based on a theme drawn from the Relief Society declaration (see Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 92–93). Each message will include relevant scriptures, selected statements from Church leaders, and questions designed to prompt a discussion about the topic. As Relief Society sisters worldwide visit with one another, we will have the opportunity to consider a theme of importance to every sister and then to discuss it based upon what we learn from the scriptures and the teachings of worthy servants of God.
Why do we go visiting teaching? Since people are so busy today, requiring a visit may sometimes seem challenging.
The answer to this question is simple. When we desired “to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,” we were baptized. Through baptism, we also indicated that we were “willing to bear one another’s burdens” and “to mourn with those that mourn; … comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and … stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
Visiting teaching is a way to help us care for and about each other. It is a way for us to develop the characteristics of a follower of Jesus Christ. It is a way to make sure that no one in the Lord’s kingdom is alone.
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) said that Relief Society “is of the first importance. It has not only to deal with the necessities of the poor, the sick and the needy, but a part of its duty—and the larger part, too—is to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation of the mothers and daughters of Zion” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 185).
Through visiting teaching, we provide both spiritual and temporal watch-care. Sharing a message as a central part of that watch-care—especially a message grounded in the scriptures and teachings from Church leaders—can bring the Spirit of the Lord into the lives and homes of those we visit.
The four components of the new Visiting Teaching Message—the basic theme or principle; related scriptures; teachings from prophets, apostles, and other Church leaders; and questions to promote discussion and help us discover personal relevance—can work together to provide a visiting teaching experience that will help us teach and strengthen one another.
Without question, the most effective teaching is accomplished when both the teacher and the learner are involved and when they learn from each other. Sisters will be nourished by the good word of God, and our testimonies will be strengthened as we discuss what we feel when we read the scriptures and the words of Church leaders and when we apply these teachings.
Rather than reading others’ stories and experiences related to the theme, we can, when appropriate, share our own experiences and discuss how these insights apply in our lives. We can invite those we visit to do the same. We can ask the discussion questions of ourselves and, if appropriate, of those we teach.
Have you ever felt a particular scripture speak directly to your heart and help answer a current problem or question? Have you ever felt the Spirit as you learned a precious truth from the scriptures or a prophet of God? Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said that “the scriptures not only witness the truth about Christ and his relevance for mankind, but are, in a sense, like a songbook. There are many melodies that need to be sung and heard. … Only through personal involvement with the scriptures can we find the particular scriptural songs to meet our needs. … We must—ourselves—open the songbook and hear the music” (A Time to Choose , 52).
As we share our feelings and insights about the material found in the Visiting Teaching Messages, we will find personal revelation in the words of latter-day prophets and prophets of old. The scriptures are constant and eternal. The same is true of teachings from our modern prophets, for as the Lord declared, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
As sisters study the scriptures and insights from Church leaders together, we hope several things happen.
First and most importantly, the Holy Ghost will come into the homes of our sisters with even greater power. We would like to have experiences like the Savior’s disciples when they asked, “Did not our heart burn within us, … while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Second, our vision of our relationship with Heavenly Father will increase, for it is impossible to study holy writ on a regular basis without coming to understand more clearly who we are. We will be reminded that “because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called … his daughters; … ye are born of him and have become … his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
Third, as mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and aunts are strengthened, families will be strengthened. As we feel the Spirit and come to see that gospel study increases our ability to receive personal revelation, we will better know how to bring up our “children in truth and light” (D&C 93:40).
Fourth, we will find solutions to our own and our families’ problems, because as we “feast upon the words of Christ,” they will tell us all things that we should do (2 Ne. 32:3). We are not alone. The Lord will guide us if we seek Him diligently.
Fifth, we will feel greater peace and strength and comfort, for the Lord has promised to be on our right hand and on our left, and He has promised that His Spirit will be in our hearts and His angels will be round about us to bear us up (see D&C 84:88).
Sixth, our testimony of the Savior and our understanding of the power of the Atonement will increase. We will “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, … that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ. … Then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ” (Moro. 10:32–33).
Seventh, sisters will stay on the path that leads back to our Heavenly Father, where we may be raised to “dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness” (Alma 28:12).
As Relief Society visiting teachers study and testify of gospel truths, the cumulative outcome of this worldwide gospel study will be glorious. Through the word of the Lord, every sister, every family, and ultimately every person will be fortified.
This new format represents a marvelous opportunity to readjust our vision of visiting teaching. May we use this opportunity of personal contact with the sisters of the Church to build caring relationships and teach the word of God. As He said, “These words are not of men, … but of me; … for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another” (D&C 18:34–35).
May we recommit ourselves to teach and edify our sisters and rejoice in the opportunity we are blessed with: “And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77).
How will we make it through life’s difficulties, as the young Relief Society sister asked? We will heed the teachings of our Church leaders and hearken to the voice of the Lord communicated to us when we pray and feast upon the scriptures.
As visiting teachers, may we all go forward with renewed conviction to take care of each other and to be instruments in bringing the word and Spirit of the Lord into the homes of our sisters.