Clergy & Congregations Doctrine & Practice Faith rns-ee-migration

Hey, Mormon Woman! A No-Guilt Christmas Present

Hey, you! Mormon woman with the minivan. Does visiting teaching bog you down with miles of guilt? Do you pretend to have a fussy toddler when it's time for the annual visiting teaching conference, just so you can stay in the hall? When If you read the Ensign's monthly visiting teaching message to your assigned sister, do you feel like you're not measuring up and hope like hell you don't make her feel that way, too?

I've said before that visiting teaching is my favorite part of Relief Society, but that's because I've always looked at it as a fun and flexible excuse for friendship, not a religious obligation. I have not read the monthly message to a sister in many years, though I sometimes glance at the topic beforehand and try to think about how or whether a conversation on that topic will bless her life.

(By the way, this month's is “Visiting Teaching: A Work of Salvation.” No pressure or guilt there at all.)

My first-ever visiting teacher used to take me out to lunch and we got to know each other over long conversations over breadsticks at the Olive Garden. (This was the 90s, and the Olive Garden was still cool, so stop your disdainful sniffing.) My second visiting teacher taught me how to make strawberry jam.

What I learned from them, and what I have tried to carry forward as a teacher myself, is that visiting teaching is endlessly adaptable and has the potential for wonderful fun. It forces women to take time to get to know each other as people — good old-fashioned Mormony people who get all up in one another's business and pray for each other.

This is the kind of visiting teaching I love, and I have found a book that celebrates it exactly: Chocolate Chips and Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World by Linda Hoffman Kimball. I'm giving it to three different people for Christmas this year — my own awesome teacher and the two equally awesome women I get to teach. (Um, if you're reading this, try to act surprised.)

As the subtitle suggests, these are not platitudes or idealized messages that make everyone feel worse about themselves, but on-the-ground personal stories about how various women's lives have been helped by visiting teaching. There are a couple of miracles, sure, but for the most part they are miracles of casseroles: service given, love expressed, cookies made, and laundry done.

Some stories will make you laugh, and some will move you to tears.

But none of them will make you feel guilty.


The guilty image is used with permission of Because I carry enough guilt around as it is, thanks, without having to worry about the illegal use of images.

About the author

Jana Riess

Since 2008, Jana Riess has been an acquisitions editor in the publishing industry, primarily acquiring in the areas of religion, history, popular culture, ethics, and biblical studies. From 1999 to 2008, she was the Religion Book Review Editor for Publishers Weekly, and continues to write freelance articles and reviews for PW as well as other publications.

She holds degrees in religion from Wellesley College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in American religious history from Columbia University. She speaks often to media about issues pertaining to religion in America, and has been interviewed by the Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, People, the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday, among other print publications, as well as “Voice of America,” the "Today" show, MSNBC, and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Tell Me More,” and “Talk of the Nation.” 

She is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, including Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor; What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as a Spiritual Guide; Mormonism for Dummies; and The Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published. She blogged for Beliefnet before coming to RNS in 2012.