Zelophehad’s Daughters

Quantity vs. Quality: If you could only have one on a spiritual desert island…

Posted by Apame

I have this weird relationship with visiting teaching.

I really like it, actually.  I like it for its ultimate point: to make sure everyone has, if not a couple of friends in the community, at least someone who is making sure you’re okay.  I’m all about making dinners, babysitting kids for bedridden sisters, or sending off a “how ya doin'” kind of card if I notice someone seems down.  I really like getting visited and getting to know people I’m generally too shy to get to know on my own.

But.

I have a tough time with how such a conceptually awesome system has pigeonholed itself into making care cumpulsory, monthly, and statistically obsessed (sorry, Ziff).

I’ve noticed that the visiting teachers I’ve had that I felt the closest to were by far and away not the ones that scheduled a hard and fast “first Wednesday of each month” appointment.  They were the ones who I’d see sporatically and in situations that seemed more organic–once every 4 months or thereabouts.

There’s a huge difference in my mind between getting a phone call from someone that sounds like an air traffic controller (“Alright, can we come and see you from 4-4:30 because we’re going to see three other people at 5, 5:30, and 6.”) and someone who seems to just be calling because she just thought of calling (“Hey, just wanted to say hi.  I remembered you liked cooking and I just made such and such and wondered if you’d like some.”)

The same thing applies to the way I visit teach.  My partner and I seem to be in the same boat–we did a “formal” appointment the first month we were together, but since then we’ve adopted a more laissez faire style.  Casually having a chat before or after church.  Dropping by with excess baked goods. Keeping up with facebook status updates.

So, as I’ve considered these preferences of mine, I stumbled upon the question: What is more important in the church, if you had to pick one over the other–quantity or quality?

Which is better:

1.  Visiting teaching every single month with a plate of cookies and a couple quotes, but never really knowing your teachees? or

2.  Only going once every three months, but really listening and learning.

Which is better:

1.  “Studying” scriptures every day, even if you can only read one verse or one sentence? or

2.  Studying scriptures once every month, but supplementing it with cross-referencing and getting through the entire book of Job?

Which is better:

1.  Praying every morning and night in a sleepy stupor, often falling asleep mid-sentence? or

2.  Praying when you feel sincerely moved toward expressing your gratitude, longing, hope, or need?

Which is better:

1. Bearing your testimony every month, repeating your beliefs almost verbatim but with verve? or

2. Bearing your testimony only when you feel something huge has manifested itself in your life and when you feel it is important to share it?

I find that I consistently answer “2,” but I wonder how many others are more “1” kind of folk.  I think I could round up a few acquaintances of mine who would say that quantity is more important in that it develops things like commitment, devotion, and a certain sticktoitiveness.  I think all those things are important in their own right, but maybe I think others things might be more important.  These people value the routine and consistency of their membership and find great spiritual satisfaction in it, while I might value a more “touchy-feely,” “wait till the power moves you” kind of spiritual life.

So, what do you think?  Quality or Quantity?

18 Responses to “Quantity vs. Quality: If you could only have one on a spiritual desert island…”

  1. 1.

    Apame, I’m totally with you here, I love your style of Visiting Teaching, and I’m picking #2 across the board. But just to be the Devil’s Advocate here, if you had to pick only one, then which is better?
    1.) Being there consistently on time to pick up your child every day after school, or
    2.) Taking your child on an extended quality time vacation, during which you give them lovely individual parent interaction once every couple of years.

  2. 2.

    I like the feeling behind #2, but being a responsible type I can’t give up #1. I think the ideal is the combination–still doing your duty, but with a heart full of song :-) Because sometimes when you drop off the daily schedule, it’s hard to return. Others’ needs are important too–what if your VT-ee feels neglected if you don’t come monthly? (But definitely spare the ward the monthly verbatim testimony.)

  3. 3.

    In my opinion Visiting teaching isn’t about friendship, it is a pastoral relationship. If a genuine friendship springs from what was initially a VT relationship then that’s great. I’ve had people who do the style of visiting teaching you do, but then it rankles when what I perceived as a ‘friendship’ abruptly ends once the VT get assigned to someone new.
    Keeping the relationship formal helps me know that, really, the only reason they were doing any of those nice things was because they were my visiting teachers. It’s still great to have nice things done for me even by people who aren’t my friends, and are only doing it because they ‘have’ to.
    I like it better when people don’t pretend that formal, assigned relationships are natural friendships.

  4. 4.

    I think it depends on the person. On the lines of “Love Languages” I think there are “Worship Languages” and for some people, going through motions, a little at a time, might help them stay close to God. In your examples, think 1 can lead to 2.

    It’s hard to jump in and suddenly have a deep meaningful relationship with someone, so maybe those monthly, tiny visits are a stepping stone for a person who needs time to be develop a lasting VTing relationship. I know that if it weren’t for daily 1-verse scripture study, I wouldn’t know what is available for the deep, intense scripture study. If I had never come across it, I would never have been able to set it aside for serious study. Sometimes I need the forced sleepy prayers to help me step aside from a busy life, but when life gets under control, my prayers can be more purposeful. As for bearing a testimony- I know that I spent years as a youth bearing my testimony every Sunday as a way to help myself get over my fear of public speaking. I was the first one up there for years. Yeah, my testimony wasn’t deep and meaningful every month, but it was an important part of my development as a person. Practice makes perfect.

  5. 5.

    @Starfoxy: I actually think that it’s *all* about genuine friendships. Call me anti-feministic, but I think that as women, there’s a magical sisterhood that we get to have, and I’d like to focus on that and leave that pastoral stuff to them men in HOME teaching.

    I am a little torn myself. I love the VT program. I think it’s inspired and I have felt love and made friends through it when the program was executed, but in my new ward, I’ve been very good at fellowshipping, making sure that I have been talking to and getting to know the sisters and keeping up with their lives, but have yet to coordinate well with my companion to make a personal visit to their home.

    I actually think that it’s *terribly* important to visit sisters in their home, but I don’t like pushing to just “get it done” at the end of the month. I think it makes the sisters feel like they are just a checkbox on a list. I really hate the pressure to have to concretely make that visit in order to have done my duty and be a good person, ya know?

    At the same time, as Anita mentioned, I do have to ask myself: what if making that monthly visit is what helps my VTee feel loved?

    I guess the bottom line is this: am I helping my VTer feel loved? Each will have different needs. Some really are too busy to visited when you have time. They don’t need it. Some crave the socialization. I think that the real task is to meet their needs, not to have a 100% report.

    @Bored: Which is better? Being consistently on time picking up your kids from school or always making an unscheduled/uncalculated effort to make them feel loved?

  6. 6.

    My wife, who hasn’t had a meaningful relationship with VTs for about a decade, would tell you it’s both #1 and #2. Why can’t you have meaningful interactions once a month? Why excuse a lack of attention by saying that it’s not quality?

  7. 7.

    Er, why excuse the lack of regular attention by saying it’s of higher quality…

  8. 8.

    I agree with Starfoxy that visiting teaching should be kept formal so people don’t mistake the relationship for a friendship. It’s better never to have thought you were friends to begin with than to discover, when your visiting teachers’ assignment changes and they no longer speak to you, that they were never really your friends to begin with–they were just doing their duty. At least if they’re mechanical about visiting you they’re conveying to you that they have no interest in you as a person, which has the virtue of being honest. Real relationships that are awkward and rote are better than fake relationships that are warm and caring.

  9. 9.

    @queno: Oh I completely think that the ideal is both #1 and #2! I’m more or less posing a thought question here though– if you HAD to only have quality or only quantity, which would be more important to you?

    @ everyone: That’s why I wrote out my “1 or 2″ situations the way I did. I don’t think most people who study their scriptures every day only read one sentence or that people who visit teach every month aren’t ever coming with love in their hearts. I just tried to figure out how to present a situation that was only quantity and another similar situation that was only quality for comparison.

    Carry on!

  10. 10.

    My best VTs are the ones who aren’t my VTs anymore, but still call me up and want to have lunch. One of them was a 1 type, and one of them was a 2.

    It’s hard to have VTs come every month though. I feel like I’m doing them a favor if I let them come that often. You know, there’s the whole cleaning-up-the-living-room issue. I like it better if they just come once in a while or we meet at a cafe like real friends do.

  11. 11.

    On VT: When I was a full-time SAHM with three preschoolers I had a visiting teacher who would breeze by once a month with a plate of cookies and a cheery, “Gotta run!” At that point in my life I would have gladly taken an hour of conversation as a Christmas present, and I nearly cried each month at the proffered visit that was snatched away so cavalierly.

    A few years later I was the insensitive VT to an older woman who explicitly stated that she didn’t want us to come every month and didn’t want a ‘message.’ I did learn to leave the Ensign at home, but after a few months of regular visits she asked for different visiting teachers.

    I guess you can put me in the camp of #1. How can you know what a person’s needs are if you only see them quarterly? Sporadic and intense scripture study is the reason everybody’s familiar with I Nephi but nobody knows where Obadiah or Galatians is. When I kiss my husband goodbye every morning it may not be with a kiss that’s asking him to drag me back to the bedroom, but those kisses are nonetheless important in maintaining a relationship.

  12. 12.

    @Debbie: Of course scheduled appointments and daily kisses strengthen and maintain relationships. I think I’m more interested in how you’d answer the question: If you had to choose between only having a morning peck every day or only having a “drag me back to the bedroom” kiss once every two weeks…for the rest of your life…which one would you choose?

    Quantity or Quality? They both are important, but if you could only have one…?

  13. 13.

    Depends on the activity. With some activities I think consistency is more important, which is why we brush our teeth for two minutes a day instead of 15 minutes once a week. Personally, I think a little prayer and scripture study every day is more beneficial than a mega-devotional every once in a while. But hometeaching and visiting teaching strike me as someting that would be better to do well less often than half-assed every month. I can’t really explain why. Just my feeling.

  14. 14.

    Interesting question, Apame. I’m probably echoing other commenters, but I think that the decision-makers in the Church figure that measuring whether visits are of high or low quality is so difficult that they’re better off just measuring (and therefore emphasizing) quantity.

    I tend to agree with you that I’d rather have less frequent quality, certainly given that in many cases it takes a pretty good home teacher to be better than no home teacher at all (considering the hassle of scheduling a visit, picking stuff up so they don’t think you live in a pig sty, etc.).

    I have a tough time with how such a conceptually awesome system has pigeonholed itself into making care cumpulsory, monthly, and statistically obsessed (sorry, Ziff).

    Why you heretic! ;) No, actually, I completely agree that statistical obsession with largely useless data is a bad idea. In such a case, it might be better to simply have no data at all, just to avoid the obsession over it (although the idea of no data brings a tear to my eye!)

  15. 15.

    I’m pretty much in the #2 quality camp in almost every one, with perhaps a #1 with the V.T. question. A plate of cookies every month like clockwork can go a long way! :-)

  16. 16.

    I’ll take quality over quantity every single time. Including BiV’s example. I think quantity without quality is wearisome at best, offensive at worst. I’d rather meet a smilodon than a cookie-wielding visiting teacher who neither knows me nor wants to. (Idahospud, that was for you!)

  17. 17.

    This made me think of a discussion we had in an institute class once where we were talking about the Law of Moses. Someone suggested that we are living the lesser law when it comes to home and visiting teaching — that the focus is often on the numbers and the performance of the duty rather than the true purpose behind it, but that is because as a body we are not (mature/committed/righteous/etc) enough to live the true purpose of those programs (which would be the higher law). It made me think of VTing in a different light.

    I think in the examples above the decision isn’t really between quality or quantity, because quantity implies accruing something. But you don’t accrue VT visits –despite the fact that we count them, the numbers don’t accumulate*– and especially with scripture study and prayer the main point of the activity isn’t always what you get out of it but that you do it. In these activities at least (and probably with the exception of the testimony one, though that applies in some cases), I think main issue is consistency… and I have found that consistency has a big influence on quality. The quality of my scripture study and prayers (and even VT visits) may be hit or miss, but at least I’m shooting every time (or trying). The quality ebbs and flows, but hopefully over the course of my life my aim gets better and I hit more often than I miss. So I guess I say that I choose “quantity,” with the caveat that I don’t believe it precludes quality but rather promotes it.

    *As far as I know. I’ve never been in an RS presidency or a bishopric so I don’t know really how the numbers work or how they’re used, though now that I think of it it seems to me that their main purpose is for the RS pres and the bishop to be able to say, “Is the flock being tended to this month? Are there any holes we need to fill?” rather than patting themselves on the back for achieving 100%. At least that would be the ideal.

  18. 18.

    […] couple months ago, I wrote a quick post about Visiting Teaching and my relationship to it.  In it, I emphasized that I didn’t feel like a forced, monthly visit was spiritually or […]

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