Clarissa Smith Williams
The funeral of my great-great grandmother, Clarissa Smith Williams, was held here in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in 1930. Clarissa Smith Williams served as Relief Society General President from 1921-28, and during her service, the Relief Society sponsored many educational programs, including a year-long course to train medical assistants. Education was very important to Clarissa. She encouraged all of her children to attend college. If Clarissa were here with us today, she may not recognize many of the excellent educational programs you are pursuing at LDS Business College in information technology, software development, social media marketing, or applied technology, but I believe she would be thrilled to see so many students gathered in the pursuit of education, which she believed was a pathway of discovery and growth leading to becoming self-reliant while contributing to the public good.
“Discover – Grow – Become”
The word “Discover” is defined by Google Dictionary this way: “to find (something or someone) unexpectedly or in the course of a search.”
Let’s talk first about an unexpected discovery.
The Terracotta Warriors
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of traveling to China with a group from Brigham Young University to celebrate 40 years of friendship between BYU and the wonderful people of China. Over 160 students performers shared their talents of song and dance, (and even basketball dunking) during six “BYU Spectacular” shows in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. While there, we visited many incredible sights including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, The Bund and the Wild Goose Pagoda. But none captured my attention more than The Terracotta Warriors.
In 1974 while digging a well 20 miles east of Xi’an, Chinese farmers discovered what many regard as the greatest archeological find of the 20th century. They unearthed fragments of a terracotta clay figure which led archeologists to uncover a 2000-year-old Terracotta Army of over 8,000 life-size statues, made by subjects of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The Terracotta Warriors were part of Emperor Qin’s large burial tomb from 210 B.C. He believed in the afterlife and wanted to take his army with him to protect him and help him maintain his power in the world to come.
The farmers could have selfishly kept their unexpected discovery of the Terracotta Warriors to themselves. (And in fact, originally, they did, selling terracotta soldier remnants for small sums of money). But eventually they called the government who sent archeologists to examine what they found. The farmers allowed their unexpected discovery to lead to the growth of historical knowledge of millions of people around the world.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
Only 240 years after the death of Emperor Qin, in a different part of the world, a Samaritan woman provides another example of one who made a remarkable discovery and what she chose to do with it. We often refer to her as “The Woman at the Well”.
For the Samaritan woman, what started out as an unexpected discovery of an intriguing preacher, turned into an intentional search for truth, light and knowledge that she embraced. How did her intentional search manifest itself? In her asking of sincere, inspired questions.
Intentionally Searching by Asking Sincere, Inspired Questions
Sister Sheri L. Dew, former Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency taught:
“My dear friends, questions are good. Questions are good if they are inspired questions, asked in faith, and asked of credible sources where the Spirit will direct and confirm the answer. …Growing spiritually and receiving answers to our questions depends upon our ability to feel, hear and understand the whisperings of the Spirit. It is worth engaging in a spiritual wrestle to learn to receive personal revelation, because we can only know what is true when the Spirit bears witness to our hearts and minds as only the Holy Ghost can.”
Here are the sincere, inspired questions that the Samaritan woman asked the Savior.
Q 1. “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9)
Q 2. “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?” (John 4:11)
Q 3. “Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?” (John 4:12)
Christ answered the woman’s sincere questions with light and knowledge about living water, and His divine identity as the Savior of the world.
Now let’s pick-up where the video left off:
John 4: 27: “And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?”
In contrast, the disciples that happened on to the scene, didn’t ask their sincere questions of the Savior; likely missing out on an opportunity to learn or discover additional lessons or truth that the Savior may have been prepared to teach them about His interaction with the Samaritan woman.
While we often refer to her as “The Woman at the Well”, there is much to gain by studying what she did after she left the well. Let’s read and learn what the Samaritan woman did after making the discovery that she was talking with Christ.
John 4:28-29: “The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”
Much like the early disciples who left their nets to follow Christ and testify of Him to others, the Samaritan woman left her waterpot to go and witness of Jesus Christ and to invite others to come and meet Him and hear for themselves. And what was the result?
John 4:30: “They went out of the city and came unto him.”
John 4:39: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.”
As a result of the Samaritan woman’s invitation, many more came to discover Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that the Samaritan woman didn’t fit the traditional mold of one who would preach or testify of something so great as the Savior of the world. In fact, many of the men made sure to point it out to her and emphasize to her that they didn’t believe because of her testifying but because they heard Him for themselves.
John 4:41-42: “And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
The Samaritan woman could have kept her discovery of the Savior to herself. She was likely well aware that she didn’t fit the traditional mold of a witness and that many would not believe her. But she bravely testified anyway. Her testifying and inviting them to “come and see” for themselves caused some to believe on her words, and others to believe after following her invitation to see for themselves. The Samaritan Woman bearing witness resulted in many more receiving the light and knowledge of the Savior.
The “Woman at the Well” discovered the Savior Jesus Christ. By asking sincere questions of Him, she grew in light and knowledge; and she chose to become a willing witness of Him. Perhaps we should also refer to her as “The Woman who Became a Willing Witness.”
What Do We Do With Discoveries?
Sometimes we discover something unexpectedly, like the Chinese farmers. Other times we make discoveries as a result of an intentional search, like the Samaritan woman asking sincere questions of the Savior. Whatever the origin of a discovery of truth and light, what is most important is what we do with that discovery. Do we selfishly keep it to ourselves? Do we hide it under a bushel? Or do we willingly and courageously witness of truth and light? Do we generously share it with others, so that they may also benefit?
My grandmother, Sister Arlene B. Darger, former 1st Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency once suggested:
“The best way to benefit from the testimony and knowledge we gain personally is to use it to help others in their lives. There are many problems in the world that can’t be solved unless people are willing to enlarge their own circles of concern and reach out to help others… None of us can live within ourselves.”
Using Discovered and Developed Talents to Witness of Jesus Christ
Whether academic, athletic, musical or otherwise, we often intentionally search to discover our gifts and talents, and in our honorable efforts to grow them into skills, we may find that we spend a great deal of time and effort in becoming a leader, a professional or an expert in a chosen field. There is nobility in each. But we must never let these efforts be prioritized over our efforts to discover, grow and become in spiritual matters.
In my job as BYU Senior Associate Athletic Director, I am privileged to work with hundreds of student-athletes who are on the covenant path. They have all invested time and energy to discover their athletic and academic talents and grow their athletic and academic skills in order to become the best student-athletes in the country. They are truly exceptional. But what is most inspiring to me is watching them use their discovered and cultivated gifts and talents to bare witnesses of the Savior. An example:
I serve on the leadership team of the NCAA Common Ground initiative which brings together athletic administrators (mostly from faith-based schools) and LGBTQ advocates to find common ground in creating inclusive athletic departments and college campuses for people of all religions, sexual orientations and gender identities. Last month, I presented as part of a Common Ground panel at the annual NCAA Inclusion Forum in Atlanta, Georgia.
I was able to bring with me to Atlanta three members of our BYU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee: Emma, a post-graduate intern and former BYU Cheerleader; Heidi, a recently returned missionary and member of our Track and Field team; and Casey, a recent convert and a member of our Swim and Dive team. I watched with admiration as Emma, Heidi and Casey made genuine connections with other forum attendees in what many might consider an intimidating environment for religious folks. They spoke confidently about BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they shared their sincere beliefs. They listened respectfully and earnestly to the viewpoints and experiences of others. They witnessed of Jesus Christ in word, and in action, in treating others as the Savior would.
We were scheduled to travel home on Sunday afternoon and found a ward that we could attend on our way to the airport. As we packed the car with all of our luggage, our Uber driver confirmed that our destination was a church. We told her it was and began to make small talk. I asked how long she’d lived in Atlanta, and she explained that she, along with her two children, had moved to Atlanta from Puerto Rico, to escape the devastation from recent hurricanes and to seek a better life. Heidi, who returned from her mission to Puerto Rico just a few months ago, immediately perked up and told our driver that she once lived there! After some back and forth about what they both loved about Puerto Rico, the driver asked Heidi why she lived there. I loved hearing Heidi explain that she was there as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was there to serve others and teach them about the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The driver asked more questions and Heidi happily and confidently answered.
As the conversation went on, the driver mentioned that her teenage son loves to play sports and would like to perhaps play sports in college. I explained that Brigham Young University, where I work, has some of the best college athletic programs in the country. She had never heard of BYU and asked more about where we were located. She explained that she worries that when her son goes away to college, that she won’t be able to stay near him and help keep him out of trouble. Casey, who was baptized just two months ago, explained that BYU is a great place to play sports and get an education because the students share the same values and are really focused on school, their sport and their spiritual lives. She explained that’s why she decided to attend BYU, even though she wasn’t yet a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As she dropped us off at the meetinghouse, I left her my business card and encouraged her to reach out if she wanted more information about BYU or The Church of Jesus Christ.
During our visit to the ward, Emma, Heidi, Casey and I were able to meet with some young women and their leaders. A few of the young women were the only members of their families. They shared with us what they love about being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a part of the Young Women program. They also shared some challenges; including feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, confusion in seeking answers to difficult gospel questions and worrying about their future.
I was touched as I watched Heidi, a recently returned missionary; Emma, a life-long Latter-day Saint; and Casey, a brand-new convert; listen intently and validate the candid feelings of these sweet young women. I was impressed as they bore testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ in simple and sincere language. I was moved as the young women hugged Heidi, Emma and Casey and profusely thanked them for visiting their ward. I was grateful that they were willing witnesses of Jesus Christ that day, and every day.
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
Each of us must open our minds and hearts to the Spirit, which will guide us in how to use our discovered gifts and talents, and our developed skills and abilities to become willing witnesses of the Savior and His restored gospel in our spheres of influence.
Much like the woman of Samaria who knew she wasn’t particularly special or influence or likely to be listened to, you may be thinking to yourself, “But I’m not an athlete.” Or “I’m nobody special.” Or “I’m not in a position of influence.” Sister Jean B. Bingham, “a woman who became a willing witness,” shared the following at BYU Women’s Conference shortly after her call to be the Relief Society General President in 2017:
“As those who know me well are aware, my story is quite “ordinary.” Growing up, although I enjoyed learning, I was not the top student in any class. I cannot boast of any expert skills. I play the piano, but only enough to stumble through a hymn. I love to visit art museums to see the paintings and sculptures by great masters, yet my artistic talents were limited to doodling designs in my notebooks. I learned to sew a wearable skirt, but tailoring a suit was definitely beyond my ability. Although I was blessed with good health and loved to run through the park or swim in the lake, I didn’t participate in school sports at any level. I was never asked to the prom, I wasn’t the president of anything, I was never one of the popular group and one strikingly attractive friend said to me after scrutinizing my features, “Well, you’ll never be beautiful, but you could be cute.” In other words, I was just average.
…And yet, even in my “ordinariness,” Heavenly Father saw value and has helped me begin to develop the gifts and graces He knows will help me become all that He has designed me to be. Know that your Heavenly Father will provide all that you need to become “extra”-ordinary as a daughter [or son] of God. The wonder of His heavenly economy is that every single one of us can be spectacular because of our unique bundle of talents and abilities. Unlike the world, in His kingdom there is no winner’s platform that only has room for one or two. Each of His daughters [and sons] has been taught and prepared and gifted premortally with marvelous potential to become a queen [or king] in the celestial kingdom.”
I have felt similar feelings to Sister Bingham’s, knowing that God must do something “extra-ordinary” with me, in order for “ordinary me” to accomplish all that He is asking. Before receiving my call to serve on the Young Women General Board nearly 10 months ago, my plate was already full to the very brim. My wonderful, but demanding full-time employment is often referred to as a “way of life” more than a job. And just three months before my call, I began an intense, year-round doctoral program in educational leadership that makes me question whether I’ll ever earn the title, “Dr. Darger.” The day I was called and set-apart I naturally felt overwhelmed. But then my thoughts turned to my grandmother, Arlene Barlow Darger, and her time serving in the Young Women General Presidency. Gram is another example of “a woman who became a willing witness.” She and Papa wore themselves out in the service of God, and others. Their mantra was always, “We are grateful, grateful, grateful.” On my way home from the Church Administration Building I stopped at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park to visit their grave. While there, I felt my grandmother near and an overwhelming feeling of peace that God was keenly aware of me. As I have put my trust in the Lord, He has blessed me with increased capacity and has magnified my best efforts, however meager they sometimes feel. When people ask me if I feel overwhelmed, my answer remains the same: “My life has a lot of chaos in it. But I know the Lord continues to sprinkle a great deal of peace over the top, and His peace fills in the cracks of the chaos.” Like Gram, I am grateful, grateful, grateful.
Focus on Receiving Revelation
In our first meeting in late August 2018, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President, gave inspired counsel that I will never forget. She said that we all have been prepared for this calling from our time in the pre-mortal world. She said we all have gifts and talents. We all have education and experiences. We have ideas and insights and viewpoints. All of which have helped prepare us and are a part of why the Lord chose to call us to serve at this time. Then she went on to invite us to take all of our gifts, talents, education, experiences, ideas and insights and viewpoints and put them in a box, tie a ribbon around it and put it on the shelf, and open ourselves up to the revelation that we would receive as we heeded the promptings of the Holy Ghost. She went on to teach that sometimes the Holy Ghost will prompt us to take the box off the shelf and draw upon our education, our background, our experience to share an insight, an idea or a viewpoint. But sometimes the promptings of the Spirit will not at all be related to what is inside the box and we will keep the box on the shelf. She invited us to not focus on what is inside the box, but to focus on the whisperings of the Holy Ghost in order to receive revelation.
Wow! What powerful instruction from Sister Cordon. Heeding her counsel to focus on receiving revelation has blessed my life immensely the past 10 months.
In President Nelson’s first General Conference address as President of the Church, he taught:
“Imagine the miracle of it! Whatever our Church calling, we can pray to our Heavenly Father and receive guidance and direction, be warned about dangers and distractions, and be enabled to accomplish things we simply could not do on our own. If we will truly receive the Holy Ghost and learn to discern and understand His promptings, we will be guided in matters large and small. “… I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.”
As God’s Prophet on the earth today, President Nelson is a willing special witness of Jesus Christ.
What are Sister Bingham, Sister Cordon and President Nelson teaching us? That it is important to discover and develop our unique gifts and talents. But there is no part of us that is more important than our identity as a son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a receiver of the Holy Ghost. This relational identity has the greatest implications for what and who we can become, and our peace and happiness in mortality and in the eternities.
Becoming a Willing Witness of Jesus Christ
As you’ll recall, back in August, President Nelson made an announcement emphasizing the importance of using the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I imagine that for some folks, the announcement came and went with little immediate impact on their lives. However, for me it was a different story. As I mentioned earlier, I serve on the leadership team of the NCAA Common Ground initiative. Among that group I am known as the “Mormon.” When I heard the announcement, I thought, “How on earth am I going to explain to these people that I would now like to be referred to as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” I was pretty sure none of them had ever heard the full name of the Church before, as I was the only “Mormon” most of them had ever met. I feel very strongly in my inclusion work about trying to meet people where they are; and if they wanted to call me a “Mormon”, they could call me a “Mormon.” I was feeling a lot of anxiety about this counsel. And so, I prayed about it. I know that President Nelson is a Prophet and I sustain him, but I also felt, in that moment, that I needed my own witness.
I prayed, asking if indeed, it was God’s will that we emphasize the full name of His Church. A little while later I received a text message from one of my Common Ground leadership team colleagues who is not religious. The text said, “I read something about the Church preferring not to use “Mormon” or “LDS”. Do you have a preference for us?”
That was remarkable to me! What a tender answer to my sincere prayer. The leadership team was gathering the next week at NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis to film a Common Ground video and I told her I would love to talk about it there.
I cherished the opportunity to talk, not only with her, but with most of my Common Ground leadership team colleagues (many of whom are not religious) about the Church's full name; to explain that I had made sacred covenants to take the name of Jesus Christ upon me, and what that truly means. Having that conversation with these wonderful dear friends of mine was incredible. It provided me the first opportunity I can recall in my Common Ground work to truly express how I feel about my Savior, Jesus Christ, and to testify of Him. Amidst one conversation, another leadership team member asked, “What’s Mormon anyway?” which opened up the chance to explain that Mormon was an ancient Prophet, like Moses, and that we are led by a modern-day Prophet today. I explained that The Book of Mormon, a book of ancient scripture, is another testament of Jesus Christ.
These dear Common Ground friends care very much about allowing people to identify however they choose and about showing respect by calling people by their preferred pronouns and names. They have continued to show great respect to me, a religious person, by continually referring to me as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, when the leadership team visited BYU campus last fall as we hosted the annual NCAA Common Ground meetings, they quipped that it seemed they were doing a better job of using the full name of the Church than many of the locals. (We have a lot of work to do!)
Again, what a tender answer to my sincere prayer asking for my own witness about President Nelson’s counsel to emphasize the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
In her LDS Business College devotional address a year ago, Sister Cordon challenged:
“We can and in fact, we need to become even a brighter conduit to the Savior’s light. Can you do this? Can you be part of this great opportunity that the prophet gave us to minister, to shine our light? And we need to shine the light that those around us may clearly see the path that leads to Christ, the path that will lead them home to our Heavenly Father. The most effective way to share the Gospel is to live it, when we live like a disciple of Christ should live. When we aren’t just good, but happy to be good, others will be drawn to us, they will be drawn to the true and everlasting light of the Savior.”
Sister Cordon is another powerful example of “A woman who became a willing witness.” One of my favorite parts of the Young Women theme is a reminder that at baptism we covenanted to “Stand as a witness of God at all times, and in all things and in all places.” As we each discover more truth and light, whether unexpectedly or in the course of a search, we must be willing to courageously stand as a willing witness of that truth and generously share that light.
President Oaks, as an Apostle, is a willing special witness of Jesus Christ. He challenged us in October 2016:
“The Savior taught us to love all as our brothers and sisters, and we honor that teaching by sharing the witness and message of the restored gospel “among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” (D&C 112:1). This is a vital part of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. We look on this as a joyful privilege. What could be more joyful than sharing the truths of eternity with God’s children?”
I willingly leave you with my firm witness and testimony that each one of us is a beloved child of God and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. As I’ve intentionally searched for increased light and knowledge by asking sincere questions, the Holy Ghost has born a powerful witness of these truths to my soul. I have felt the joyful privilege of sharing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all courageously share our discoveries of truth and light with others, and in doing so, become more willing witnesses of our Savior, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.