I call, I text, I stop by, and I follow her on social media. But even when I feel my level of friendly “watch care” is teetering on the edge of stalking, I get nothing. Time and time again, I fail. Has the sister I visit teach dropped off the face of the planet? I’ve experienced this feeling frequently throughout my years of visiting teaching. At first, I thought it was me. But, in talking with friends, I realized this kind of reception is common among sisters. So, what’s a woman to do when she gets rejected time and time again?
Here are just a few tips I’ve learned through my colorful history with visiting teacher dodgers.
Think Outside the Box
After cultivating a wonderful friendship with one of my visiting teachees, she simply stopped associating with anyone in our ward at all. She wouldn’t come to any church activities—let alone church on Sundays. This worried me quite a bit because only a couple months before, she had decided to receive her endowments and had gone through the temple. I had hoped that because we were such good friends, she would tell me what the problem really was and what was troubling her. But it was no use. I tried everything. Texts, facebook messages, facebook wall posts, treats on her doorstep, and never so much as a text to tell me that she still acknowledged my existence.
I decided to think outside the box and not even try to entice her to church events anymore. One day I posted on her Facebook that I was dying to get a pedicure, and I wondered if she wanted to come with me sometime. I thought she would jump at the chance, since I know she loves getting pampered.
Thinking outside the box can mean anything from a new way to contact your sister to a new topic to engage her in conversation with. Leave a note on her car one day to let her know you’re thinking of her. Mow her lawn or shovel her driveway without waiting to be asked. Little bite-sized acts of service will make her remember whom she can turn to when she needs a friend one day.
Learn About Her Life
Sometimes visiting teaching requires a sister to whip out her detective skills and put them to good use. I’m not condoning anything that could lead to a restraining order—that won’t help your visiting teaching record any. Besides, you should always remember visiting teaching is about what your sister needs and is best for her. Sometimes, that could include space. All I’m saying is a little extra knowledge obtained through friends or over the ward directory, Facebook, or Instagram can go a long way.
These tools are a great way to discover commonalities and find ways to introduce yourself to your teachee in a natural way. If you're not plugged into any social media, but you know your teachee drops her kids off at school most mornings, hang around after you drop your own kids off and try to strike up a conversation. Ask her friends in the ward for ideas of activities you can do together. If you are unfamiliar with social media, this could be the perfect push you need to learn how to put it to good gospel use. Check her Facebook wall to see what’s new in her life or learn when she might need a simple, uplifting text or a little extra help.
If you're not very inclined to sign up for any type of social media, try becoming friends with sisters nearby who are already friends with your visiting teachee. If you haven't met your teachee, ask these mutual friends to introduce you in a non-invasive way. If you already know your teachee, ask these friends for an update on her life, and maybe coordinate a girls' night out together.
Don’t Make Her Feel Like a Project
No one likes to feel like a project that needs fixing. And no one likes to feel like her visiting teachers are condescending to grace her with their presence. For inactive or new sisters, it is especially important that we don’t make them feel like we are only visiting them because we are told to or feel obliged to.
One of my first visiting teachers was a popular girl in my ward who I would see at activities on occasion, but a girl I never spoke with. I didn’t even know her last name. But, when our Relief Society began really stressing visiting teaching, this sister suddenly found a new interest in me. She began approaching me at church and sending me texts, but it was always during the last week of the month, and it was always blatantly clear this was for an assignment.
While I respected this sister for stepping up and performing her duties, I dreaded these little chats. They were always so artificial and oozing with awkwardness. Not to mention, I usually came away feeling guilty or self-conscious for wasting her time. But, I soon realized, it wasn’t my fault these visits were so uncomfortable. It was simply because we knew absolutely nothing about each other and couldn’t move past common courtesy questions.
From this I learned that visiting teaching isn't a one n’ done rodeo. It should be about developing the kinds of relationships that take time, work, and constant communication. But don’t worry; the friendships you develop are well worth it. Try and make your visits something that you and your teachee can both look forward to. And, if your sister is someone who is intimidated by formal visits, invite them to simply spend time together. Another tidbit of advice: you don’t need to tell your sisters that you’re stopping by for visiting teaching. Sisters are much more accepting and approachable when you show them you were thinking of them, not just performing a duty.
It can be extremely awkward trying to generate a new friendship out of thin air, but the only way to get over that awkwardness is to just do it. Make those few awkward visits and phone calls until you become familiar enough with your new sister you can find things you both enjoy. And, if she won’t return your phone calls, stop by and get creative with your visits.
I was recently given the assignment to visit a sweet woman who just graduated from high school. For months, she wouldn’t return my calls, texts, or Facebook messages. Finally, I got up the gumption to just go over and knock on the door. The conversation was halting and uncomfortable at the start until I found out the reason she wasn’t responding to any of my attempts to contact her: she was completely swamped rehearsing for a new musical.
Luckily for me, I happened to love musicals. Our conversation took off and before I knew it, I had spent ten minutes gabbing on her front porch. This small, shared interest gave us enough to create a memorable connection. Plus, it gave me a wonderful idea for next month’s visit—bringing her flowers on her musical’s opening night.
Even though one of my visiting teachees pretended like her phone just couldn’t receive my texts and calls, I kept trying. I commented on her Facebook and Instagram posts. I sent her a message on social media about how I was so happy that she had received her desired promotion at work. Little things. But she never responded. After what seemed like months of this sister not only dodging me but blatantly ignoring me, I found out through Facebook that her brother had suddenly died. I knew that she was hurting. I went to Deseret Book and found a picture frame that had a lovely saying engraved on it, hoping that she would put a photo of her and her brother in it. I just left it on her doorstep with a card, expressing my love for her and my testimony of the plan of salvation.
Only two days later, she texted me to thank me—the first time that I had heard from her in months. I know that because of my persistence in trying to stay up to date on her life, I was blessed to know when she was in need. And because I had been persistent, she truly knew that I cared about her.
Keep It Simple and Don’t Get Overwhelmed
I know how hard it can be to always have your texts, calls, and messages ignored—by someone you really care about and by someone you’ve never met before in your life. So if your visiting teaching sister continues to dodge you, remember to just keep your efforts simple. Remember that you alone are not responsible for her spiritual progression—although you can definitely help.
Your efforts to contact her or serve her don’t have to be groundbreaking, monumental, or even creative. If you don’t have time to think outside that box this month, do it next month. Remember, we should not run faster than we have strength. Keep your efforts simple, but consistent. Don’t give up on her. And don’t give up on yourself either—keep trying and you’ll both be blessed!