One . Sometimes, when they return, they find the situation unchanged and their feelings about this can hamper their return to activity.
I once moved to a very large ward. I felt entirely invisible and hated going to church because of it. I kept repeating to myself what my missionaries had told me—you go to church for God, not the people. Some weeks, it didn’t make it any easier. Finally I confided in my visiting teacher. She asked what I was doing about it. Doing about it? I didn’t think I should do anything. The other people should be making me feel wanted, as the newcomer in the ward. She pointed out that if I wasn’t talking to anyone, maybe people thought I was unfriendly. She asked me to spend the next few weeks looking around the ward for other people who also seemed to be left out, find out who they were and get their names. She would do the same.
I’m shy, so this was a struggle for me, but I sought out people sitting or standing alone and heard their stories of loneliness. The ward was just very large, and it was hard to notice everyone. I collected the names and turned them over to my visiting teacher. She then called everyone and invited them to a get-together at her house. This was such a success it was decided to do it monthly. Then she put together a sign language class, which I attended. Next, she nabbed a table at Enrichment, a Relief Society meeting, and watched for each person who entered the room and seemed unsure of where to sit. She brought them to our table. Within a few weeks, the left-outs were friends and feeling at home.
I learned an important lesson that year. I could easily have stopped coming to church because “no one” was friendly. If I had, I would have missed out on making some new friends. In every ward, there are people who feel left out. No one really tries to leave others out. It’s just that we tend to associate with those we know, and usually with those we’re serving with in callings. Those groups change as callings change. For that reason, it made no sense for me to get my feelings hurt because no one was talking to me. After all, I wasn’t talking to anyone else who was lonely. My visiting teacher taught me to take responsibility for my own happiness and church—and along the way, to take responsibility for the happiness of others.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.