For the past two years or so, I’ve requested to not have anything to do with visiting teaching. I have a kind of meta-guilt about this, in that I feel like I ought to feel guilty for it. (I certainly hear plenty of exhortations on the subject calculated to prick one’s conscience.) But the truth is that I don’t actually feel all that bad. Not being involved in visiting teaching has been such an immense relief for me that it’s hard to summon up much regret for having made such a choice.
I don’t entirely understand why I have such negative feelings about the whole thing. It certainly hasn’t been all bad; I’ve at times had visiting teachers and teachees whom I quite liked. And unlike many people I’ve talked to, I haven’t had any truly awful visiting teaching experiences. But nonetheless, when I have participated in the program, it’s usually felt like far more misery than it was worth, a horrible weight hanging over me every month. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve generally viewed upcoming visiting teaching appointments in a similar manner to how I’ve viewed upcoming exams, with a combination of stress and anxiety and even dread.
Maybe part of the problem is my sense that in such a context I have to censor much of who I am. When church-related topics are discussed, I often don’t want to say what I really think for fear that it will lead to either a fight (which I’m guessing is probably not one of the Relief Society’s goals for visiting teaching), or that the other sisters will be concerned for my eternal soul and start trying to “fix” me. And it takes a lot of energy to come up with comments which aren’t dishonest but which also aren’t going to stir up unnecessary controversy. What do you say, for example, when you more or less disagree with the official message, and your companion and the visiting teachee are discussing how marvelous it is? It’s not that I think that all disagreement should be avoided, though I’ll admit to being a person who isn’t crazy about conflict. But visiting teaching doesn’t usually feel like the most appropriate setting to start airing my more heretical thoughts.
Part of this is probably also tied to personality tendencies. I’m very introverted, and I find engaging in small talk with people whom I don’t know well to be roughly as pleasant as having root canal work in the best of situations, let alone situations in which you’re visiting someone who would probably rather be doing something else but is doing their duty by allowing you to come by.
But this is one of the many areas in my relationship to the Church where I find it hard to delineate how much of the problem is me (my negative attitude? my lack of faith?) and how much is a legitimate mismatch between the program and myself. In other words, could I make it work for me if I tried harder, or would that be more akin to repeatedly banging my head against the wall and expecting it not to hurt?
The strange thing is that at least in theory, I rather like the idea of visiting teaching, of working to ensure that everyone in a ward feels connected to at least a few other people. I really can see its potential value. But when I’m confronted with the reality of it, my immediate impulse is to go into hiding. So I’m curious–how do other people feel about visiting teaching? Do you do it? What aspects of it have you found positive, or not-so-positive?
- 12 January 2006