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.
We went to a new land, 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 was prevalent, 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 children with Ruth or 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 your duties in many ways must be 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, 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 of the numerous things that could be done in the ward that people might find reason for questioning or criticizing. How glorious is the privilege of two sisters going into a home, de-emphasizing anything that could be detrimental, and instead, building up all the authorities of the Church, the Church itself, its doctrines, its policies, its practices.
There can be no force used in this program as I understand it. It is a work 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.) This could be nonmembers as well as members.
To be successful, a visiting teacher should have a high purpose and remember it all the time, should have great awareness, a terrific enthusiasm that cannot be overcome, a positive attitude, 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 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. Friendship, of course, is important, but how better can you make a friend than to teach somebody everlasting principles of life and salvation?
Your testimony is a terrific medium. Nobody can answer nor destroy your testimony. 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.
Visiting teachers must excel and give leadership to the women into whose homes they go. They must excel in energy, and awareness 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 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 here—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 38:23–24, 26–27.)
There are many sisters who are living in rags—spiritual rags. They are entitled to gorgeous robes, spiritual robes, as in the parable. We talk so much about duty, but it is your privilege to go into homes and exchange robes for rags.
We talk about duty—but we have already lost the enthusiasm, the discernment, and the objective when we say, “I must go this morning and do my visiting teacher.” 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. 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 … 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.
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 impressive 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 understanding. 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.
“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 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,” (1 Cor. 9:26) and not making any progress. We need to go forth and do our job as we should do it.
I suspect that in almost every district 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.
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.” (Matt. 17:21.)
You know the Lord has intangible methods and means and ways and forces that can affect people. 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 affected”. Of course she can be influenced. 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 there, 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 things which he commanded them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)
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 Relief Society president called you? Now if only your ward president called, 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 mustn’t 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 great enough for the job, the job, of course, will be completed.
We must always keep in mind a deep sincerity, a great humility, and a total dependence upon the Lord.
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 could not pay. 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 thing. It is as I said before—anything can be done.
Author Lloyd C. Douglas (1877–1951) 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 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 influence people and break them away from their moorings that are not good and bring them to total activity. It can be done!
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.