This change in how we minister allows us to really focus on the individual and personal needs of the sisters we are stewards over. But how can we know what their needs are? I posed this question during the recent Relief Society class discussion. A sister raised her hand high before I had even finished speaking. “Ask her,” she said plainly.
It seems like an obvious answer, but many of us are afraid to ask our sisters what they need. We might feel like we don’t want to intrude or feel like we are overstepping our bounds. But, one of the best ways, truly, to find out how the sister you minister to is doing is to ask her. Sit down with her at home or somewhere else, look her in the eye, and say, “How are you . . . really?” A text or email can work as well, but there’s something about seeing their eyes. We can see things otherwise blinded to us via social media and phones.
The caveat here is that we are honest with our sisters when we are asked how we are doing. I don’t mean we need to overshare with anyone who asks. But, when we are with the Relief Society sisters the Lord has asked to be in our lives, perhaps we can lower the defenses and let them in. By doing that, we let Him in a just a little more.
► You'll also like: Do What She Needs: The Amazing Change from Visiting to Ministering
Another way to get to know the needs of the sister is to simply get to know her. Sometimes we don’t outright say what we need. And sometimes we don’t even realize what we need. As we get to know our sisters, we can discover needs they have, and offer help without waiting for them to ask. And when I say offer help, I mean, be specific. It’s become the norm to say, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” We all know that most times, they aren’t gonna call and say, “You know what? I was thinking about your offer, and yes, there is something you can do for me.” Women are independent. We often feel it’s our job to take care of others, not ourselves. So, for us to reach out and ask for help—barring a life-threatening emergency—it’s pretty rare.
Rather than leaving the asking for help in your sister’s hands, why not try a slightly different approach? Try saying, “Please tell me one thing I can do for you.” I've done this before. It can sometimes take some cajoling, but I can nearly always get an answer. Most times it’s a simple, “Well, I guess you could pray for me.” And I take it! I love that answer and fantastic expression of charity!
Another way to get to know your sister is to friend or follow her on social media. It allows us to discover their interests, celebrate their successes, and get to know them in a different way.
One of the best ways we can know what our sisters need is inspiration. Heavenly Father knows what His daughters need, and if we are actively seeking and listening for inspiration, He can tell us.
A Beautiful Ministering Story from My Life
In 2001 I had a medically-necessary hysterectomy. It was a hard time for me. I developed an infection in my stomach and needed emergency surgery 12 days later. The recovery was slow, and I was struggling with some very tender and deep feelings. I had had endometriosis since a teen. They side-effects were painful irregular cycles and higher levels of testosterone. I would pluck my whiskers and cry to my mom about how I struggled to feel feminine. And now, I had no “oven” in my stomach. In fact, the whole kitchen was gone. And so was my identity.
I wept one day as I wondered if I would feel feminine again. When I had recovered enough to take a bath, I soaked in the hot water for a long time. I’d lit a candle a sister in my ward had dropped off for me a few days before. She wasn’t my assigned sister, simply a woman who followed an impression and reached out to me. “It’s really nothing,” she’d said as she handed me a candle and some lotion. “I just felt like I should drop them by.”
► You'll also like: What My Relief Society Learned About Ministering Long Before the Program
After the bath, I dried and put on my new lotion, then began to weep again. With the smell of flowers on my skin, something happened inside. For the first time in weeks, I felt like a woman again. I felt whole. I prayed and felt my Father in Heaven tell me I didn’t need all the physical parts of me to be whole and that I am a beautiful daughter of God—always have been and always will be.
This sweet sister had no idea of my innermost struggle. She simply listened to the Spirit—as strange and small as the thought was—and brought me a gift. But the real gift was healing. She ministered to me. How grateful I am for her and sisters who listen to inspiration!
If we seek for inspiration, the Lord will give it to us in a way we can understand. I love Nephi’s words, “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto (wo)men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). He will speak to you in a way that you will understand. Trust Him and trust your ability to hear. He knows what your sisters need and what you can give them, and will work through you if you let Him.
Without the structure of the visiting teaching program, we are freer to follow inspiration. Sometimes, however, following the inspiration we receive can take us out of our comfort zone. If this happens, trust that God will give you the courage to follow through on the inspiration He gives you. The sister who brought me that lotion recently told me her side of the story. She said the random thought came to her to bring me a gift. She didn’t have much money, but she went to the store and found something she could afford—inexpensive lotion and a small candle. She’d never been to my home before and didn’t even know me that well, so she was feeling strange about it all. In fact, she kept walking around the store, going back to the lotion aisle a few times looking at the lotion. She felt had second and third thoughts because the gift was cheap and small. What would I think? But the feeling remained. She finally purchased it and drove to my house and my life was changed. It was no cheap gift to me. It was an answer to a deep and tender grief-filled prayer. I’m forever grateful for our courageous following of the Spirit.
► You'll also like: A Powerful Lesson on Ministering from Mary, Martha, and Jesus
Me or the Spirit?
I’ve had people ask me how to tell the difference between the Spirit and their own ideas and thoughts. In a live, worldwide event for youth, Elder David A. Bednar was asked this same question. His response: “I think we overcomplicate this. All good emanates from Christ, so if you have a thought to do something good, it’s prompted by the Holy Ghost.” He went on to say, “If it invites and enticed to do good, it comes from Christ, and we ought to do it” (Bednar, 2016).
I love this! Don’t spend time debating whether it’s inspiration or not. I’ve done this before, and it usually goes something like this:
Good idea/inspiration comes.
Me: Hm. That’s an interesting thought. Or was it inspiration. I’d better pray.
Prays. Nothing more comes.
Me: Okay. Maybe it wasn’t inspiration. I probably just thought of it on my own. But then, maybe it was. But then, why would that sister need me to call her? I mean, that’s just weird if I call her out of the blue and say I’m thinking about her. She might think I’m creepy. God doesn’t want me to look creepy. So, yeah, it was probably just my own mind giving me a bad idea.
Good idea/inspiration comes again.
Me: See, now I’m either really getting inspiration or I’m overthinking it. I do tend to overthink things. That’s probably what it is.
Walks into the kitchen while talking to myself.
Me: Oh look. The dishes didn’t get done. I’ll just do them really quickly, and if the thought is still there, then maybe it really is inspiration and I’ll go.
Does dishes and forgets about the inspiration/thought as I get caught up in my day.
► You'll also like: Ministering: How to Be Given Love for Someone Else
Yes, this has happened to me before. Perhaps you’ve had similar conversations with yourself as well. I would have done so much better if I would have simply picked up the phone and called the sister! The lesson here: If it’s a good thing, it came from God. So, let’s follow it, shall we? And let God take care of His daughters through us.