The truth is, ministering is awkward.
On the giving side, it feels presumptuous to interject yourself into someone’s life. “Hi! Look how magnanimous I am to come seeeerve you!” When someone feel’s like your “assignment” there is almost always an immediate barrier. Even when you were friends beforehand. So it’s hard to really get to know someone, let alone perceive their needs. It’s uncomfortable wondering if we are bothering them, or feeling like we may not be doing enough.
On the receiving side, there’s a natural tendency to be courteously closed-off “I’m good. I’m fine. Carry on with your day! Thanks for thinking of me!”
Don’t get me wrong, Visiting Teaching was awkward too. But at least after a formal visit you could check it off your list for a month. The bar was low – MAKE CONTACT. Whereas now the bar is scarily high – REGULARLY RECEIVE REVELATION ON HOW THE LORD WANTS YOU TO SERVE THEM.
Therefore, it’s just a little bit awkward.
Now you may be wondering why they asked ME to speak about ministering. I’m sure those I’m assigned to minister would be completely baffled. Honestly, I currently feel like I’m failing at ministering. So let me assure you it’s not because I’m overly affective. I think it’s because I have been deeply blessed by ministering.
The most impactful visiting teacher I ever had was (and still is) inactive. It was about 10 years ago. She and I didn’t know each other at all, but she called me up and invited me to dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. It was a quirky place and it was so fun to get to know her in that setting. I have no idea what we talked about but I remember laughing, and I remember her making me feel good about myself. The next month we did a hot yoga class together. We burst out of that stinky, sweaty, sauna-like class into snowy January weather and talked, shivering, in the parking lot for an hour.
She wasn’t steeped in the formal traditions of visiting teaching, and so instead she did what came natural to her. She ministered to me by simply doing what friends do. To this day, interactions with her on social media make me smile. This visiting teacher was a minister a decade before that was a thing, and she changed the way I approached it – Like a friendship not a duty.
Fast forward seven years, and I moved into this stake from Maryland. I was fulfilling my calling as a primary teacher, attending Relief Society activities, and consistently making visiting teaching visits each month, though they had, for whatever reason, reverted back to the formal visits we all know. Sometimes at the park, or on the trail, I’d meet another mom and we would chat for a bit, but still I couldn’t shake a very unnerving feeling of loneliness.
For the first time in my life, I longed for a friend. Not a friendly acquaintance or a best friend far away but someone whose physical life could overlap with mine – sharing leftover soup when I made too much, or complimenting me on how I handled my two year old suddenly stripping naked at the store.
Most women wanting a friend would have probably have done something like schedule a playdate, or ask someone to lunch. But nothing that practical occurred to me. Instead, I prayed every day for a friend.
My companion was very pleasant, and I admired the women we visited, but a few minutes together once a month was not exactly causing us to link arms and spontaneously sing “As Sisters in Zion” together.
One sister that we visited requested quite a bit of help with her house, her children and then a move. Over time, as my companion and I worked together to meet her needs, we discovered that under our proper Visiting Teaching facades was a compatible (i.e. snarky) sense of humor. A spontaneous playdate happened. A friendship was born. Two years later, we are close enough that her entire family attended my daughter’s TEDDY BEAR’s birthday party. Yes, you heard that right. The lord answered my prayer for a friend abundantly, through my visiting teaching companion.
Another sister we visited talked about wanting to start exercising more. She was someone who, frankly, intimidated me a little bit. She seemed to have her act together a lot more than me. Basically, I thought she was out of my league. But I invited her to join my kids and I on our daily trail walks. To my shock, she took me up on the offer. Two years later, we have walked and hiked hundreds of miles together. We have discussed the mysteries of the universe, tips for potty training, and everything in between. God heard my prayer for a friend and answered it abundantly, through my visiting teachee.
These two relationships have blessed every aspect of my life – Even though they were assigned. In fact, I believe because they were assigned by inspiration. Our assigned friendship, over time, led to true ministering back and forth. Some other sisters on my ministering list have also proven to be significant and welcomed blessings in my life. Some still don’t return my calls. But I have been truly blessed as I’ve tried to minister.
With prayerful consideration I’ve come up with four simple takeaways to encourage our ministering efforts.
- Be consistent: I believe that CONSISTENCY is the evidence of SINCERITY. As we consistently make contact, whether its a text, a spontaneous or scheduled visit, an invitation to lunch, or something else, those to whom we minister will see our sincerity and eventually open up to us. Even if they don’t see our sincerity, there’s validity to the “exposure effect”! The more you are exposed to something, the more comfortable you are with it! Consistency wears people down. They’ll have to love us if we keep coming around.
- Be Yourself: With the new direction emphasizing that we should receive revelation on how to serve them, it’s daunting. Sometimes we think we need to discern their deepest needs or take on some major role in their life. That is not what we’ve been asked to do. We would be wise to do a prayerful inventory of what we have to offer, time-wise, skill-wise, and heart-wise. The Lord wants us to use WHO WE ARE to minister and He is aware of our time and skill limitations. Ministering efforts don’t have to meet their deepest need, it just has to bless them. It doesn’t have to look a certain way. It doesn’t have to be conventional. But if it is conventional, that’s okay too! We just need to be sincere. In spite of our limitations, if we do what we can, the Lord will magnify our efforts.
- Fill your day with tiny kindnesses: Let someone ahead of you in line, compliment a stranger on anything, wave to a little child, give someone a hug, leave a piece of candy on a coworkers desk, write a thank-you note… As we create the habit of tiny kindnesses we develop a generous spirit – the kind that is receptive to inspiration on how to serve others.
- Give it Prayer: As I pray for people by name it fills me with love and concern for them. My prayers show God (and myself) that I’m ready to serve them. Propelled by God’s love, ideas and inspiration will pop into my head.
For the upcoming primary program, my little sunbeam daughter has memorized Mosiah 2:17 “And behold I tell ye these things that ye may learn wisdom. That ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” Part of that ‘wisdom’ is that as we serve and minister to one another, we aren’t just serving God, we are actually coming to know Him – And is their anything sweeter in this world than that? I submit there is not.
I bare testimony that ministering is a holier way, wherein our priorities are purified, our hearts are filled with charity, and as we willingly do it, those to whom we minister will become blessings in our lives.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.