I do my best visiting teaching when I visit someone who is within five years of my own age. Or someone who’s younger than me. But right now I visit two wonderful women who are twenty and thirty years older than me, and I feel like–I know–that I’m not that great at meeting their needs. If either of them had an emergency, a problem, would they call me? I don’t think so. They’d call their kids, or their friends in the ward who are contemporaries. People their own age, or maybe slightly older, who have been where they’ve been. People who are organic friends, natural friends, as opposed to assigned friends.
I have great talks with the women I visit. I respect and admire them. I have brought them bread. I go every month (sometimes the last week, but still, every month). But there is a gap, a barrier, because they have years of life experience that I cannot know or empathize with fully. A couple of years ago I visited a sister who was struggling with her teenage kids. She shared some of her concern with me, and I … I don’t remember what I said. I think I told her that she was a good mom. But I kept wondering why I was assigned to visit her, because I felt like she would be better served by someone who could say “me too! My teenagers gave me fits as well! But you’ll get through this.” Instead, she got me, and I have young kids who are busy but not yet teenagers. I wanted to empathize but I felt inadequate.
My favorite times as a visiting teacher are when people trust me enough to allow me to help them. I visited a sister a few years ago who had the hardest time letting me bring dinner when she was sick… but she had little kids, and she really needed it. When she finally agreed, I felt so good. She let me see her vulnerability and help her through it. It was a gift.
I’ve been thinking about this especially because yesterday in Relief Society the sister that I visit mentioned that she was having a rough day recently, and someone anonymous did something kind to help her. It wasn’t me. I’m not even clued in to her life enough to know that she was struggling. And the same is true of the other sister I visit: I don’t keep on top of her world enough to know what her true needs are.
I can’t help but wonder, with both of them, if I were closer to their age, even just a little older, would I be able to meet their needs better? Would they trust me more, because we would have walked some of the same paths? Or, what is more likely, am I just using age difference as a cop out, when what I really need to do is invest more energy praying for them?
Does anyone else out there see an age gap in the way we serve each other, that middle-aged women help out younger women, but that the reverse is not always true? or is it just me?