Friday, July 26, 2013

Home Teaching Sucks

When I was in the Aaronic Priesthood and my dad was the bishop, I was blessed with the opportunity to join in my ward's home teaching effort.  And over the course of my six-year home teaching career, I'm not sure I ever had a really positive experience with it.

The first "family" that my dad and I were assigned to home teach was an ancient woman who lived alone.  She had limited mobility but insisted on living in her house for as long as possible.  She was sweet and funny and the whole ward loved her--seriously, I don't think anybody could have hated that woman.  My dad and I did some occasional yard work for her in addition to our monthly visits.  When it was my turn to give the lesson during our visits, she would listen attentively and offer a few helpful comments, sometimes going off on one of her famous stories from her childhood in Sweden.  But I always got the feeling that she was humoring me.  My dad was the expert home teacher, the scriptorian, the spiritual giant, and I was the trainee.  She patiently allowed me to do my thing so that I could learn to become like my dad.  I often felt silly and out of place, probably due to my sense of inferiority more than anything else.  But this sheepish ministry was probably the best time I ever had home teaching.

Later, my dad and I began teaching one of the core families in the ward--they were successful, highly visible, Mormon-super-family and busily involved with their callings.  We were probably assigned to this family because they lived a mile from us and they didn't really have any big problems that they couldn't handle themselves.  Nobody was struggling with a weak testimony, nobody was worried about where their next meal was coming from, and nobody had any drug-addicted relatives to worry about.  They were an easy family.  But they were also more difficult to teach.   I'm not sure who it was most intimidating to teach--the high councillor father who I didn't want to seem too clueless around, the easygoing son I didn't want to seem too uptight around, or the pretty daughter I didn't want to embarrass myself around.  I used to put a extra work into my lessons, pulling quotes from places other than just the First Presidency Message and trying to take basic ideas from the message into different, more interesting tangents.  But anything was better than giving the closing prayer, because then I'd have to think on my feet and try to say impressive things without planning them or without using too many stock phrases.

Next we were assigned to another easy family.  Unfortunately, they all had highly inscrutable personalities.  I could give a great lesson and be received with stony stares.  I'd have no idea if I'd made any kind of impact on any one of them--or maybe I was just boring them.  It didn't help that the father was pretty physically intimidating.  He was a big dude, and he looked like a badass.  Luckily, we didn't home teach them for more than six months.

Then, somewhere along the line, we briefly home taught the angry inactive lady who spiritually slapped me in the face before we got reassigned the the cushy Mormon-super-family.

Finally, we were assigned to a couple who used to be the heads of a Mormon-super-family before their children all grew up and moved away to start their own Mormon-super-families.  Now they were quiet empty-nesters.  The husband had served in a zillion leadership positions--just about everything except for a stake presidency, I'd guess.  The wife had been my seminary teacher a few years earlier.  I got the same vibe from them that I did from the old Swedish lady--they were putting up with my inadequacies to allow me to learn.  I often felt, as I was giving them a lesson, that they were under the impression that they were teaching me instead.  But, considering I was in front of a couple whose family anchored the ward ten years earlier, a couple who knew way more about everything than I did, I generally started tailoring my lessons to be more thought-provoking than doctrinal.  Knowing I couldn't teach them anything, I instead aimed for a reaction of "Huh.  Interesting."

Then on to BYU, where I got to home teach a whole bunch of people.  I don't remember half of them.  I do remember vividly, however, how terrible I felt about home teaching once I returned for my second year.  I was the nineteen-year-old who was not on a mission.  When my companion and I showed up on someone's doorstep, I couldn't help but feel like the spiritual cripple.  Any introduction as home teachers inevitably revealed the awkward truth about my mission and resulted in a pathetic, fruitless attempt to provide an acceptable reason for my abstaining.  Everyone I home taught knew it.  I wondered if they ever felt cheated for having one hobbled home teacher.

It felt like a chore, and it was usually received as one.  We'd interrupt our neighbors' Sunday afternoons to drop by for a pointless, not-particularly-illuminating message and an offer to help which was always graciously denied.  Especially when home teaching the girls in my ward, I felt no motivation.  We were intruding on them, and they were patiently letting us do our thing and get it over with.  I didn't bother trying to impress them with my uber-spiritual lessons, either, because my chances for dating any of them in my condition were pretty slim.  When anyone we home taught needed help, they turned to their friends, not to their home teachers.  When I needed help, I turned to my friends, not my home teachers.  Home teaching was especially non-essential in the BYU environment, when student wards recycled members every year and we were all too busy to really form bonds of trust with anyone we home taught.

But we reported our numbers and got a pat on the back from our priesthood leaders.

In my final days in Provo, my own home teachers dropped by to say goodbye.  When he learned that I wouldn't be coming back next year, one of them asked me for my cell phone number.  He said he'd just like to call me in a few months and check up to make sure I was doing okay.  It was an incredibly decent gesture and felt like something a truly faithful home teacher should do--the point of home teaching is to form friendships so that members have people they can trust and people they can rely on.  The bond of friendship is what's important, regardless of when the actual home teaching assignment expires.

But my home teacher never called me.  Maybe he had a good reason for it or maybe he didn't.  And of course it's unfair to base the entirety of the home teaching program on this one guy, but I think this experience is indicative of the unspoken attitude that most of us had as home teachers:  it's an assignment.  Once I moved away from Provo, I was no longer this guy's responsibility.  While I was still there, his job was to make me feel welcomed, feel like I had backup in case I needed any, and to feel comfortable.  So he did his job and made me feel those things--but that's all he did.  It wasn't real, but it was important that I thought it was real.  All he was doing was fulfilling an assignment.

But I can't really blame him, because with the people that I home taught I was doing the exact same thing...only less convincingly.

And thus ends another rambling post of dubious purpose.


  1. Awesome post! Yes. Home teaching does suck!

    It always felt like home spying to me, and if you've ever been to ward council meetings, you would know that isn't far from the truth. They talk about individuals and families by name. They want all of the info they can get, and "faithful home teachers" are a valuable source of that information for them. Yes, for most bishops, it's a matter of genuinely wanting to help the people, but it's kind of creepy knowing they're talking about you.

    Probably one of my biggest sources of guilt as a member was when I was Elder's quorum president. It was really hard to get people to home teach, and the responsibility fell on me. It sucks and has to be one of the worst jobs in the church.

    1. I'm surprised that it took so much to get people to do their home teaching. Maybe I was brainwashed better than most, but to me it was just something you had to do. Even at BYU, I never had to nag any of my companions to get it done. We just knew we had to do it, so we did it.

      Although, I guess if you were assigned to some family that really didn't want the church bothering them, I can see how you'd skip it.