Test of the Heart

February 27, 2018

Sister Neill F. Marriott

Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

Sister Neill F. Marriott was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana, USA. She attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she earned a degree in English. At the age of 22, she was converted and baptized into the Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One year later she married David C. Marriott in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of 11 children and have 35 grandchildren.

At the time of her calling as second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, she was serving as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple. She also served for three years with her husband when he was president of the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission. 


Spiritual Preparation

Pre-devotional Discussion:

In preparation for our time together, I invite you to consider the following questions and share your thoughts on the discussion board:

When have you had a change of heart and how did it happen? 

What does it mean to you to love the Savior "with all [your] heart?" (Deuteronomy 4:29) and have a "new heart" given to you (Ezekiel 36:26)? 

Here are some of the scriptures I have been studying, if you want to join me:

Today is the first time I have stepped onto this beautiful BYU-Idaho campus! David and I are excited to be here and delighted you would invite us to come. We already feel this is a special place because of you: your respect, your cordiality, your reverence.

Thank you for responding to the discussion board questions that I posted online last week. The university's commitment to interactive learning and sharing is obvious. You are prepared to learn and share here at BYU-Idaho. President Boyd K. Packer said, "The servants of the Lord will counsel us. You may listen with anxious ears and hearts, or you may turn that counsel aside.... [W]hat you shall gain will depend not so much upon their preparation of the messages as upon your preparation for them."[1]   The title of this devotional is "Test of the Heart," and I posted this question to the devotional discussion board: "When have you had a change of heart, and how did it happen?" What does it mean to you to love the Savior "with all [your] heart" and have a "new heart" given to you?[2]

Many great responses came up. I've asked two who gave an answer to come up here to the podium and share a bit more of their thoughts. Justin Duren sent a wonderful response, and I've invited Justin to come up.

DUREN: I grew up in a Protestant church. Every week, my pastor, a great man, would share some thoughts about different religions, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was no exception. So I had some misconceptions about the Church; it was in negative rhetoric. So I grew up with this idea that the Church was kind of strange. Around this time, a musical came out that we all know about, so I actually dressed up as a missionary for Halloween and went to school. This young lady named Kiersten came up to me and said that she was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. We became pretty good friends. I ended up leaving my old church over some doctrinal views that I didn't quite understand.

A couple years later, Kiersten gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon, and I took it and thought, "What am I supposed to do with this? I have no idea." A couple years after that, I was realizing that my life wasn't headed the way I wanted it to be. So I had this feeling, randomly, that I should read the Book of Mormon. I went and found the copy that she gave me, in the back of my closet collecting some dust. I then opened it up. I didn't know where to start, so I just randomly opened it up to Alma 36:3, where it says, "And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their [troubles, their trials], and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day."[3] As I read that scripture, this overwhelming sense of peace overcame me. I didn't know what it was, but it felt really good.

Over the next several months, I had some very powerful experiences relating to church attendance and the words of modern-day prophets. I was baptized on September 30, 2012. I was taught by two great missionaries, Elder Woodland and Elder Shumway. Since then, my life has been fantastic. It's been a great journey.

MARRIOTT: Thank you, Justin. I think he didn't randomly open to that scripture. I think the Holy Ghost guided him to that, and we're so grateful for that. Also, Wendy Nail sent a wonderful response, and I've asked Wendy to share a bit with us too.

NAIL: When I was on my mission in Kansas--my second area, Abilene, Kansas--I was put with a companion who had been out as long as I had. We had been out about four months and were essentially greenie-breaking each other. In the process of that, we didn't really know where to go with the work; there weren't many progressing investigators in our area at the time. And we constantly were fighting. The Spirit wasn't in our companionship, and we were kind of lost. I guess you could say that this period of time was a dry spell, where it felt like nothing was happening, that we were trying our hardest to talk to as many people as we could, but our efforts weren't paying off. It seemed impossible; we couldn't do the work.

But one day we found this investigator named Ibette. She had fallen in love with the message that we were teaching. My companion and I found mutual love in this investigator. We started getting along, and we started praying that we would stay together. Unfortunately, I did get transferred. But from that experience I learned that sometimes our success isn't measured by numerical values like on a mission--the number of baptisms--but that it's measured in who we become as a result. Even though that experience was really hard, it set the course for me to have a wonderful and successful mission.

MARRIOTT: Thank you, Wendy. Another change of heart.

Are we honest in our hearts? Are we honest with ourselves? Do we see how our feelings may be coming from a heart that is often turned inward, focusing only on ourselves rather than on the hope and power of Jesus Christ? We will be judged by the desires of our heart as well as our works. The Lord looks on our hearts. What does He see there today?

Growing up in a family of seven children, I learned early on that if I talked a lot, blurted out ideas, inserted opinions over others' words, or made others laugh and listen, it felt good, and I felt important. This self-centered effort fed my ego and created my safe, reassuring comfort zone. I based my value on my ability to make others listen to me and be persuaded by me.

But this assumption of worth and way of thinking was false. And somehow I knew it because there was a current of anxiety in my efforts. What would happen if others ignored me or dismissed my comments? I felt my value diminish. I didn't like that, so I redoubled my ego-driven efforts to be noticed and acknowledged. As I've gotten older, and as I've come to trust Jesus Christ more fully, I can look back and see my way of operating as selfish and fearful, though it may not have appeared so outwardly. But the truth is, much of the time my heart's desire was to promote my own self-worth.

This desire developed into a subtle competition with others--all others. This habit kept me alert to any who might best me at my efforts to be an accepted, dominant voice in a group. Granted, others were important to me, and I did have some good relationships. But often people were most important to me when they reinforced my worth and answered my ego needs. Outwardly, I put on a good show, but actually I was operating in self-deception.

In fact, I felt alone, and I now see, at least partially, why: I felt a lack in me. Down deep inside, I thought I wasn't enough and I needed to keep my ego propped up. I now compare my former self to a beggar holding a cup with a hole in the bottom, going to passersby and holding out the cup and saying, "Notice how cool I am, and put some reassurance in my cup so that I'll know I'm acceptable." But the reassurance drained out of the hole in the cup, and I felt alone again.

Mine was the heart of a basically self-absorbed woman who kept up a good front. In moments of self-honesty, I worried, What if others found out I was not enough?    I don't want you to think I was in misery all the time! I've had a basically happy life, but I used to question (and still today have to catch myself), "Am I good enough? Am I accepted and loved?"

The adversary communicates through the same brain and same thought patterns as the Holy Ghost, though one sends false messages and the other sends truth and hope. Which voice will you listen to? We want to attain "the mind of Christ" and live by the truth and good messages from the Holy Ghost.[4]

Have you felt that spirit of heaviness come into your heart? If I feel self-doubt come into my heart and I feel it drop, I usually stop and ask myself these words or similar ones: "Now wait a minute, Neill. You're feeling irritation and heaviness in your heart. What is the source of that feeling? Is there something you can do about it with the help of the Savior? Is this fear or challenge more powerful than God?"

I admit this manner of thinking is a little simplistic, but it works for me. I think of Christ and ask for answers and heavenly direction. Isn't that what we covenanted to do at baptism and recommitted to last Sunday? We covenanted to always remember Jesus Christ. That means turning our thoughts and feelings toward him. Jesus Christ is the source of hope, honesty, and clear thinking. He has overcome the world of misery that the devil sends.

You'll remember in 1 Nephi that Laman and Lemuel murmured after the angel said to return again to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass. The brothers said to Nephi: "How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?"[5]

Then faithful Nephi answers, "Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?"[6]

When self-doubts descend upon me or hurt feelings, disappointment, irritation, or fear rise up, I turn my thoughts to the power of the Savior and tell myself, "The Lord is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than whatever I am fearing?" He will lead me to do what I can, and He will enlarge my abilities, raise up another to help, or give me calm ideas or deeper understanding as I must keep on trusting Him, praying, opening scriptures with a searching heart. He will not forsake us in our trials.

How do we change our hearts? How do we live and rejoice in the first great commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart instead of ourselves?

I remember hearing the Methodist men's Sunday School class booming out the words to a hymn that goes

True-hearted, whole-hearted, faithful and loyal,
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be;
Under the standard, exalted and royal,
Strong in Thy strength we will battle for Thee....  

True-hearted! Savior, Thou knowest our story;
Weak are the hearts that we lay at Thy feet,
Sinful and treacherous! Yet, for Thy glory,
Heal them, and cleanse them from sin and deceit."[7]

The words stayed with me. Was I truehearted? Wholehearted? I felt uneasy. In moments of self-honesty, I knew I put myself first and didn't really know and love God enough to put Him first. But I tried to hide that fact with my attention-getting talking, laughing, and ideas. I went to church each Sunday with my family, but I'm afraid that I was like those of whom Joseph Smith wrote in Joseph Smith--History 1:19: "They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Was I just going through the motions of being a believer? I wanted to do better.

But how to change? I did care about other people, I reasoned, but my selfish and great desire to be valued was overriding their needs. Could the Savior actually cleanse my heart? And would I have the faith to "lay my weak heart" at his feet?

Looking back, I can see that my trust in the cleansing power of the Savior was very shallow. I needed to accept His reality. As King Benjamin, in Mosiah 4:9, counsels: "Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend."

Do you remember the line in the gorgeous song "Consider the Lilies": "He will heal those who trust Him, / And make their hearts as gold."[8] Believing these things is the first step in turning our "weak heart" to Him. Then, as trust in Christ grows, we are responsible for letting Him in and allowing Him to make our hearts as gold. As a young teen at Young Women's Christian Association camp, I had a simple but personally profound experience which you have probably had. It helped me take a big step toward learning what "truehearted and wholehearted" meant.

Little did I know, one Sunday night at this camp, as I walked through the darkening evening toward the little chapel, that I was about to learn, better than I ever had, that, yes, God was real. This chapel, built of yellow pine logs, had large open windows with wide sills. The light poured out of the windows and beckoned the campers through the trees. I settled on a bench by my friend Tricia, and we began to sing, urged on by the song leader, Francis.

Francis invited us to sing "Kum-Ba-Yah, Lord." I had been told that the words Kum-ba-yah, Lord meant "Come by here, Lord." As we sang, I tried to imagine the Lord actually coming by there. Would He come to this small chapel? Could He? How? Still thinking about the Lord and His whereabouts, I heard Francis announce that the next song was "Fairest Lord Jesus." I had hardly begun to sing the lines "Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer" when a loving warmth simply bloomed in my heart, spreading outward to envelop me in the sweetest feeling I had ever experienced. Even the chapel itself appeared to grow brighter and brighter as I felt this love flow in every direction. I was loved! And this love was coming from a spiritual source I had never tapped. Its goodness and depth were almost more than I could contain. I turned tearfully to Tricia, holding her shoulder and stuttering, "Tricia, God loves me." Her uncomprehending stare caused me to look for another who might understand. Martha, also a lifelong friend, was sitting in an open windowsill. I hurried over to her through the rows of singing campers, took her by the arm, and whispered urgently, "Martha, God loves me!"

"What?" she whispered back, looking down at me, confused. At that, I turned and ran from the chapel. This rich moment of unearthly love had happened--I knew it. My friends perhaps hadn't felt that love or noticed the brightness, but I had. I cried all the way back to the cabin, stumbling along in the dark, holding on to this most precious of realizations. God loved me. He knew 12-year-old me. He was real. That certain knowledge bound my heart and soul to Him.

The chapel experience marked my life so deeply that I longed for another outpouring of God's love. I thought of it often and tried to explain it to my parents, but words failed me, and explanations sounded hollow. For perhaps the first time, during and after this spiritual moment of love, my heart was completely turned out, trustingly, to something besides myself.

In a simple way, I began an effort in my life that Moses describes in Deuteronomy 4:29: "But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

I determined I would begin to do two things to find heavenly assurance again, for it was much more soul satisfying than earthly assurance. First, I committed to Heavenly Father that I would read the Bible every night right before bed. The minister had given me a Bible when I joined the church, so I dusted it off and put it on my bedside table to begin my reading plan. It was something of a commitment checklist, for my Bible reading consisted of only two or three random verses a night, but I did manage to read straight through junior high and high school, hoping I would come to that pure font of love again.

And second, to aid my search for this spiritual connection, I also began kneeling down to pray. Although I was reminded "Say your prayers" by my parents when I went to bed, we didn't kneel. But my grandmother knelt to say her evening prayers, so I followed her example.

My prayers were unorthodox, I'm sure, but I meant well. And I stuck with it, asking, "Heavenly Father, where are you?" and saying the Lord's Prayer found in the Bible.

I testify that as we seek Him, we will find Him. It took 10 years before I found the truth of the gospel, but it was worth the search. And I am still working to have a true and honest heart--it is a daily effort--but the covenant promise that we may have His Spirit to be with us gives me hope and help.

I invite you, no matter your circumstance, to turn and reach for Heavenly Father's love. It is there for you, and through the ordinances of the restored gospel, we are bound to our Father and our Savior by solemn covenant. Such connection has the power to help us see the truth about ourselves and others. It changes our hearts.

Here is a promise from Ezekiel 11:19-20:

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Can you hear the yearning of our Father to come into oneness with us, His children? He is ready and waiting. Will we answer His call?

I sometimes picture each of us with the door to our heart, our deepest feelings, our fears, our failures, our hurts, all shut to those around us. And I see in my mind's eye the Father's and the Savior's mercy and love circling around us, just a few feet away, waiting for our trust in Them to grow so that we will throw the door to our hearts wide open to Them!

Everything pales in significance when we feel this love and know of its source. I once heard a leader say, "It is hard to resist continued love." Let's not resist! As we break our hearts before the Father, in the name of His Son, we will feel a rush of relief and peace. And there is no other place for such peace.

The Savior's love is continued love. Will we reach for it? He reaches for us. I love the stanza in the hymn "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing" that says

Jesus sought me when a stranger
[Wandering] from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.[9]

I testify that through the Savior's Atonement, our hearts can be cleansed. We can be healed from deceit and become truehearted and honest with ourselves and our God. We can openly receive His love and direction, and we can, with His mercy and power, freely give wholehearted goodness to those around us, without selfish motives. Then His love will fill us and overflow to those around us.

If we let Him, the Lord will create in us a clean new heart, and by making and keeping our covenants with Him, we will come to treasure His Atonement and true gospel. "For where [our] treasure is, there will [our] heart be also."[10]

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Boyd K. Packer, "Follow the Brethren," BYU devotional address, 23 Mar. 1965; speeches.byu.edu. [2] Deuteronomy 4:26; Ezekiel 36:26. [3] Alma 36:3. [4] 1 Corinthians 2:16. [5] 1 Nephi 3:31. [6] 1 Nephi 4:1. [7] Frances Ridley Havergal, "True-Hearted, Whole-Hearted," Loyal responses (1878); hymnstudiesblog.wordpress.com. [8] Roger Hoffman, "Consider the Lilies." [9] "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," submitted text; lds.org. [10] Luke 12:34.

Test of the Heart

Audio of Sister Neill F. Marriott's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Winter 2018

BYU-Idaho Radio Interview

Audio of Sister Neill F. Marriott's BYU-Idaho Radio interview about her Winter 2018 devotional address.