Visiting Teaching: Getting to the Heart


Three Latter-day Saint women share how visiting teaching has touched their lives.

Inspired Programs

President Ezra Taft Benson

“Home teaching and visiting teaching are inspired programs. They are designed to reach each member of the Church each month, both the active and the less active. Please give home teaching and visiting teaching an increased emphasis.” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), “Feed My Sheep,” Ensign, Sept. 1987, 4.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mitchell Heinze

[photos] Photography by John Luke

A Change of Heart

I first met Martha * at a ward social many years ago. Well into her 70s, she was spunky and quite outspoken. I became better acquainted with her about a year later when Duane, a young renter who lived in our home, was assigned as Martha’s home teacher. Martha didn’t hesitate to call Duane to chat or request rides to the doctor, so many of our conversations were conducted over the telephone—sometimes before 5:30 A.M. Frequently she would call when Duane was not at home. As silly as it may sound, I often had the uncomfortable feeling that Martha blamed me for his absences, and it was always unpleasant to explain that he was gone. In fact, one of our conversations ended abruptly as Martha told me, “You’re just stupid!” and hung up.

That was one side of Martha. It would take me a full year later to discover another side. Inwardly I was envious of the ward members Martha liked, those who made her smile. Still, I was wary of her. I was sure she just didn’t like me, and more than anything I was afraid she would embarrass me by stating her feelings publicly at Church gatherings.

For the better part of a year, we managed to stay clear of one another. Then, some of the visiting teaching assignments within the ward were changed, and my companion and I were assigned to visit Martha. Because I was still intimidated by her, I tried to have her name removed from our list, suggesting a “personality conflict.” But the visiting teaching leader felt sure of the match. How grateful I am now that she was so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord!

I wasn’t sure what to expect when my companion and I approached Martha’s apartment complex for our first visit. Several minutes later, as we wondered if she was purposely not answering her bell, she appeared at the door, warmly greeting us and apologizing profusely for the wait. How could I not love Martha? A change of heart was starting.

We spent our time discussing music and tatting (she absolutely could not believe I did not tat, let alone not know what it was). She proudly showed us a yellowed newspaper clipping about her volunteer work at a local school and politely listened to the visiting teaching message about our celestial potential. Then she expressed an interest in leaving this world and getting on with the next. “Does she always say what’s on her mind?” I wondered.

While I was thinking, out of the blue, Martha looked straight into my eyes and said, “You know, I thought you didn’t like me.” Momentarily taken aback, I responded with, “Martha, I thought you didn’t like me!” Very seriously she said, “Well, I like you,” and gave me a smile, the one I had yearned for. At that instant, I more clearly understood what Alma meant by a change of heart (see Alma 5:14). All my ungodly feelings of dislike and uneasiness were quickly replaced with love and understanding. Fighting back tears, I told Martha how much I liked her too. I left that day feeling our visit was more than a success; it was the beginning of a real friendship.

We never conversed face-to-face again. Within two weeks of our visit, Martha was admitted into the hospital for cancer surgery. She called me the night before the operation. She sounded unusually weak, not like the spirited little lady I was beginning to love. Not really knowing what to say, I wished her well and promised to visit during her recuperation.

In the weeks following her surgery, my companion and I went to the hospital to see Martha. I still remember sitting beside her bed in the ICU, stroking her arm, pleading for her to get well and go home so we could talk again. But she didn’t. A short time later, she passed away. I guess she really was ready to move on.

Without this experience, I would never have been able to catch a glimpse of the real Martha before she died. How grateful I am for the visiting teaching program and for the lesson I learned about looking on the heart. In doing so, my own heart was changed.Sheila Anderson Bruce, Minneapolis First Ward, Minneapolis Minnesota Stake

  1.   *

    Name has been changed

Call Loretta

For several years our young family lived in a student ward while my husband, Evan, attended school. That meant that at every semester break, about a third of the ward would move in or out, and I would usually be assigned new visiting teachers.

Each new set of visiting teachers would ask, “Are you and your husband in school?” I would tell them how much time Evan had left, and they would tell me about their husbands and their work or school. Most of them were newlyweds without children, and even though they were very kind, I often felt we didn’t have much in common.

They would give me the visiting teaching message and then hand me a little slip of paper with a cute sticker and their telephone numbers on it. As they left, they would say with a smile, “Call us if you need us.” I would smile in return, wave good-bye, and put the slip of paper on the refrigerator. Eventually I would get new visiting teachers, and a new slip would replace the old one.

When I was expecting our second child, I was assigned a new set of visiting teachers. This time we had so much in common! Like me, Ursula and Loretta had small children to care for. Sometimes they would come when I was giving lunch to the children I baby-sat, and they would sit at the kitchen table and laugh and talk with me as I spooned applesauce and cereal into little mouths. They always lingered because they seemed to realize my need for company.

Ursula moved after she had her second baby, and I missed her so much. The next time Loretta stopped by, she said, “Call me, please, if you need cheering up or something.” I was nearly in tears at the time and almost called her that same afternoon.

The months that followed were some of the most challenging of my life. We were poor, and Evan was going to school, working, and studying to the point where I rarely saw him. Being pregnant and doing baby-sitting to try to make ends meet was hard. The visits Loretta and her companion made were the bright spot in my month. I promised myself that when I got really depressed, I would call Loretta and we would talk and she would make me laugh and feel better. It was a treat I held out for. Many times I reached for the telephone, and then I would think, “I don’t want to bother her with my problems.” And I wouldn’t call.

That spring, Loretta told me she was moving. Her husband had finished school, and they were on their way. I was so happy for them. It wasn’t until after she left that I was saddened by the realization that now I wouldn’t be able to call Loretta.

I have had many visiting teachers since then: older women, students, and mothers with children in tow. I still try to be as self-reliant as possible, but when I genuinely need help, now I don’t hesitate to ask. Some sisters have brought me dinner after the birth of a child; some have been emergency baby-sitters. The older women have given me precious words of hope and comfort gleaned from their years of experience.

Not all of my visiting teachers have become good friends, but each of them has given me some special part of themselves. Those little slips of paper on the refrigerator have come to represent more to me than just a duty on their part.

It is important to serve, and there are many people who need our help and comfort. Yet I have learned that it is all right to need help ourselves sometimes. When I have let my visiting teachers serve me, our friendships have been strengthened, and all of us have recognized our need for each other.Ann Whitaker, Grandview First Ward, Provo Utah Grandview Stake

Following a Prompting

As a young newlywed—one of the few in my ward—I became a visiting teacher for the first time. I had visions of being inspirational, loving, and kind, and of doing great acts of service. In other words, I wanted to be the perfect visiting teacher. Yet when I received the names of the sisters on my route, I had feelings of trepidation. One was a sister with nine children and her own successful business. Another was a nurse who had six children and had remarried after the tragic death of her first husband. The third sister had four children and a wonderful marriage and was extremely talented. What did I have to offer these women? I was inexperienced in life, and I felt inadequate. I knew I could give them love, support, and service, but I was searching for something more.

I loved the sisters I visited, and I let them know I was available when they needed me. But other than our monthly visits, my grand dreams of service were limited to an occasional loaf of bread or a plate of cookies. It seemed their service needs were usually met by their extended family members, most of whom lived nearby.

One morning, about an hour before I was scheduled to go visiting teaching, I began thinking about Karla, one of the sisters I visited. It was a month when the visiting teachers were to choose a message from a general conference talk. My companion wouldn’t be accompanying me this time, as she had just recently moved from the ward, so I had scheduled the appointments and prepared the lesson on my own the night before. Yet that morning, my lesson didn’t seem right. I felt impressed to choose a different talk—one on overcoming adversity. I began to look up scriptures and resources pertaining to the topic, and I quickly made Karla a special handout with information I found in the Family Home Evening Resource Book.

As I was putting the finishing touches on my lesson, I questioned my choice of subject matter. Karla had seemed to be doing just fine the last time I talked to her. With some misgivings, I gathered up my materials and quickly left for my appointment.

Arriving at Karla’s door, I took a deep breath before knocking. She greeted me with her usual smile and invited me in. We began chatting, and from all outward appearances she seemed happy. “Why did I have the feeling she needed this particular lesson?” I wondered. “She seems just fine. How can I talk to her about overcoming discouragement?”

I feared my lesson might sound like a lecture or, worse yet, that Karla might think I assumed she wasn’t handling her life well. I hesitantly told her I had felt she needed to hear about a particular conference address, but after talking with her, I wasn’t sure it was relevant to her situation. I explained how I had been praying to be in tune with the needs of the sisters I visited and how forcefully the inspiration had come to choose this particular lesson. I related how, during the hour before my appointment with her, I had found scriptures and extra resources that seemed to open up in just the right places.

Karla asked me what subject I had been impressed to discuss with her. When I told her, the smile slipped away from her lips and tears welled up in her eyes. I listened as she opened up and told me how she had been struggling during the past couple of weeks. Her husband had been working out of town, and she was feeling discouraged and alone as she dealt with some challenging circumstances.

I shared with Karla the message I had felt impressed to give. Before I arose to go, we knelt in prayer, and she thanked Heavenly Father for knowing her needs.

I will never forget that humbling moment when Karla confirmed she needed to hear the lesson I had been prompted to prepare. I was ashamed that I had doubted the necessity of my message, yet I was grateful for the opportunity to learn the importance of listening to the Lord’s promptings, no matter how inadequate I felt. That day I came to better understand the importance of visiting teaching and of being an instrument in the Lord’s hands.Claralyn C. Sant, Laguna Creek Second Ward, Sacramento California Stake