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Breaking up is hard to do

Today’s guest post comes to us from Elizabeth. Elizabeth grew up in a fun-loving household of practical jokers. She earned a degree in social work from BYU, and later earned a master’s in social work from some other place. She is often overwhelmed by guilt because she loves working two days a week. She also has guilt about not feeling guilty enough about working outside the home.

About six months ago, a man and his daughter arrived at my front door on a Saturday morning. They were ‘missionaries’ for their church. I listened to his message, accepted his magazines, thanked him, and thought that was the end of it. A few weeks later, his wife and co-congregant stopped by. They shared a couple scriptures from the Bible, left their magazines and that was it.

Since then, they have come by monthly. I’ve begun to refer to them as my not-visiting teachers. I’m friendly; I listen to their message, then they go their way. I read their magazines after they leave, and wonder at their conviction. To me it is like a little blessing that comes randomly. They never say anything offensive or argumentative or confrontational. They ask me if I believe what they’re saying, and always the answer has been yes.

One Saturday morning, a couple weeks before Christmas, my daughters and I were in the office, still in our pajamas. There was a knock at the door and Jake (my dear non-LDS husband) answered it. A woman’s voice said, “Hi, is Elizabeth home?” Jake replied that I was and invited them in. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I peeked my head around, and realized it was my not-visiting teachers. I told them I wasn’t dressed yet, so they said they would stop by later and went on their way.

Jake was confused. He said, “Isn’t that your visiting teacher?”
Me—“Um, no. Those women are from [”¦] church.”
Jake—A big blank stare followed by “You know them?”
Me—“They come by every month.”
Jake—“Why??”
Me—“Because I don’t want to be rude.”
Jake—“Doesn’t that seem rude to sort of string her along? Just tell her you appreciate her, her willingness to do this work, but that you already have a church you’re comfortable with.”

(See, if you are married to another Mormon, your husband most likely can tell the difference between a member of your congregation and someone who isn’t”¦.because he’s been to church before and knows who is and isn’t in the ward! Just because the ladies are wearing dresses doesn’t automatically make them Mormon.)

Jake’s comment got me thinking about why I didn’t just tell them I was LDS. Why didn’t I just tell them? I guess because I live in an area with enough Mormons that I assume that they have been brushed brusquely away with “We’re LDS. We’re not interested”. But I am genuinely impressed with anyone who makes time in her busy life to go out tracting. It’s spiritually, sociologically and psychologically fascinating. I had vague fantasies about inviting them in to just ask them about the whole thing, how they’re able to testify of their faith with such fortitude. (Think about it. If your bishop, stake president, or Prophet said “We have a new program. Each home teaching and visiting teaching partnership is now strongly encouraged to proselytize one afternoon a month” could you do it?)

But more than that I just couldn’t think of a nice way to say”¦to say what? “Don’t come back. I’ve already got the fullness of the gospel.” I couldn’t think of any nice way to say my religious beliefs were enough for me, and I didn’t need anything else. And besides that, their coming over had gone on so long, I worried she would feel I had been leading her on. What if she thought we seemed like a really nice family they were about to bring into the fold? I’m not being funny. I really worried about this stuff.

I decided that as much as I enjoyed their visits, I wanted to avoid a break-up even more. I wish I could report that we had an amazing spiritual discussion, but we didn’t. The last time they stopped by, I was expecting my real visiting teachers, who were due to arrive at that exact time. I invited the not-VTs in, briefly told them of my appreciation for them–for the work they were doing for good in the world–and explained that I was LDS and very comfortable with my beliefs, etc. They were very gracious.

It’s only been a couple weeks, but I’m wondering if they’ll come by again. And I’m not quite sure how I’ll feel if they do.

10 thoughts on “Breaking up is hard to do”

  1. I love this post. Having served a prosyletizing mission myself I have a great respect for people who are so convicted and who go about boldly spreading the good word. Tracting was hard and I not only admire the people who can do it, but I also appreciate the people who receive them kindly.

    "…my religious beliefs were enough for me, and I didn’t need anything else"

    That phrase is so beautiful to me. I have loved ones who have the fulness of the gospel but they almost desperately seek for more. It breaks my heart when they seem unable to recognize the completeness–the wholeness–of what's right there before them. It's always joyful, then, to see people who embrace it in its fulness.

    Thanks Elizabeth!

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  2. A while ago, I got done reading my scriptures and had the thought, "That was good, but you need to read the words of Christ out of the New Testament today." I agreed, but didn't do anything about the prompting, since it was time to make breakfast.

    Later that morning, after everyone had left for school, representatives from probably the same xx church knocked on my door and shared a few words of Christ out of the New Testament. It was just what I needed at that moment, and I was so grateful to them, and to God, for sending them.

    Everyone looked at me a little funny when I shared that experience in my Relief Society lesson…

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  3. We live right by a meetinghouse for another church and we get "tracted" all the time. We never get the same people back though. My neighbor is often outside smoking and she jokes that she is scaring them off for me. I do find it encouraging though that other churches are out there trying to bring people to Christ. They may not have everything we've got but it's nice to know we're not alone in our convictions. Seeing them out with their kids, each toting their scriptures and their pamphlets, always makes smile.

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  4. It's funny that I think we sometimes equate the idea that we have the fullness of truth with the idea that no one else has any of it.

    I really love talking to other religious people who aren't necessarily LDS. There are so many ways the Lord lifts each of us up. And if (follow me, here) the Spirit will act as a witness of truth, and other religions hold a measure of truth, wouldn't it make sense that the Light of Christ can witness truth to those that know it? Why else would anyone devote so much of their life's endeavors to something that they found no spiritual fulfillment in? I think so many of those religious experiences had by others not of our faith only serves to improve our world and bring more and more people closer and closer to the truthfulness of this gospel.

    I'm glad you were a good representative of true Christianity. Who knows the impact you had on them, just as they had impact on you! Good luck with the missionaries!

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  5. Amen, Justine. I'm always so uncomfortable whenever anyone insinuates that we somehow have a corner on the "truth and goodness" market. A ward member recently bore her testimony and told how a young man had clapped to get everyone's attention at her teenage daughter's birthday party and then suggested that they pray before they began eating. "Where else in the world would that ever happen?" she said. "Umm," I thought. "Just about anywhere along the Bible Belt for one."

    Elizabeth, you are my hero. Thank you for showing such kindness. As I send my two oldest children out into the world to preach the gospel, I can only pray that they will be received with such basic human courtesy and civility.

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  6. I had a very similar experience, and although I haven't served a mission, I can appreciate the slog that tracting can be. I had a companionship from the Jehovah's Witnesses come by 3 times, and when they brought me a pamphlet on parenting that just "made me think of you because we saw you holding your sweet baby last time, and we just had to stop by and share," I thought, Oops. They think I'm a good contact. I told them, finally, that I was LDS. They were very polite, very kind, but did not return. I felt guilty on all fronts–guilty for not telling them initially I was LDS, and therefore sparing them their time, and also guilty for not inviting them in, giving them some food and drink, just to give them a small break from the burden of tracting. But then I would have carried it further–well, you see my problem. No wonder missionaries like referrals rather than going door to door.

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  7. Thanks for your comments, everyone. As of this writing, they haven't come back (I told them my religious affiliation about a month ago, so they're due). But every Wednesday, I wonder if they will.

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  8. Great post Elizabeth! You are so kind and tactful. Have you ever traded literature with your non-visiting teachers? (You know, "I'll read your stuff, would you like to read some of mine?")

    Let us know if they return!

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  9. Having served a mission gives me the greatest respect and compassion for anyone who proselytes for their religion. I know what guts it takes. I always try to be polite and kind to those who come to my door.

    However, I do think it's better to be up front about my beliefs from the beginning. As a missionary, I would have rather people just been honest if they weren't interested. It's much less awkward to do it early on than to do it after a relationship has formed or after those proselyting may have formed expectations about my interest. I was in many situations on my mission where it was fairly apparent that things were not going anywhere with people we were visiting, yet until they said something, we felt we had an obligation to continue.

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