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Focus on Christ and act on His strength, teaches Sister Neill F. Marriott at BYU devotional

Each time 2014 Olympic silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace barrelled down the ice flat on her stomach on a tiny skeleton sled at 90 miles an hour, she made subtle changes in direction or steering and was always looking ahead at where she wanted to go.

“Where you look is where you go,” she told Sister Neill F. Marriott, a member of the Young Women general presidency from 2013-2018.

Sister Marriott shared that experience during a devotional address to Brigham Young University students in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, May 3:

“Truly, Sister Pace is right, where we look is where we go — so in our daily plans, actions, and conversations, let’s look to the Savior, connecting to the source of our strength and happiness,” said Sister Marriott. 

“Where do you want to end up?  Ultimately, we want to go home, to our glorious celestial home with our heavenly parents,” she said.  “And the Savior is the only way back to their presence.” 

This is done through a consistent focus on Him, acting on His strength and doing things His way.

“We choose the direction of our thoughts and actions,” taught Sister Marriott. “We choose where we turn for help.  It takes mental effort to look to Christ, when other places offer quicker answers. The more we look to Him, remember Him and learn of Him in the scriptures, the more we will trust Him, and go, in His name, to Heavenly Father for direction.” 

Lessons from the pool, the race and the rapids

Sister Marriott shared a story of how she and her siblings would wait in the hot, muggy summers of Louisiana for their father to come home and take them to the swimming pool as he had promised. They were prepared, they waited with focus and watched for his car. Then, when he arrived, he would quickly change into his swimming suit and take them to swim. 

She spoke about how she and her siblings as children were so certain they would get to go swimming — it was because they knew their father, he kept his promises and they trusted him, and they focused on him to get them where they wanted to go.

“Do we truly know the Lord, feel His love and trust His almighty capacity to take us to a place of healing, love, and progress?  If so, do we look to Him steadily?” asked Sister Marriott.

Sister Neill F. Marriott speaks about waiting for her father to come home to take her swimming in a story shared during a BYU devotional address on the campus of Brigham Young University on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Sister Neill F. Marriott speaks about waiting for her father to come home to take her swimming in a story shared during a BYU devotional address on the campus of Brigham Young University on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Credit: BYU Photo

Besides the example of the Olympic skeleton race, Sister Marriott also spoke of a half-marathon race recently run by her daughter-in-law.

Marion Marriott had with her a support team of family, husband, brother and father to cheer her along the way. 

Like in Hebrews 12:1-2, Marion had a “cloud of witnesses” letting her know she could finish that race.

“We need to be each other’s witnesses — witnessing that with Jesus Christ we too can finish our race,” said Sister Marriott. “We, too, are running a race of life.  We, too, have a cloud of witnesses to point our souls to the finish line and to our author and finisher, Jesus Christ.” 

Marion ran the race by focusing solely on the finish line, setting aside all encumbrances that could hold her back.  Sister Marriott referred to what President Russell M. Nelson said in his opening remarks from April 2021 general conference — “I have thought about the need for each of us to remove, with the Savior’s help, the old debris in our lives.”  

Sister Marriott said to her, that means repent and clean up thoughts, actions and relationships. 

“We have help all around us to help with this removal,” she said. “When life is full of concerns, let’s look to the witnesses of the Lord all around us … our scriptures, our temple covenants, the gift of the Holy Ghost, our prophets, our family, friends and ward leaders all who point us to Christ.“

She also shared a river rafting experience where she was playing in the water, but she found herself quick approaching rapids — in a panic, she began swimming with all her strength back toward the boat. Just at the last minute, the raft came near, and the guide grabbed her.  

“All of my thoughts and desires were riveted on making it back to the safety of that raft.  Imagine the good that would flood into our lives if we stayed riveted on Jesus Christ and His love no matter what our circumstances,” said Sister Marriott.

Help and grace through Christ

When Sister Marriott and her husband, Brother David C. Marriott, were serving a mission in Brazil, their 21-year-old daughter, Georgia, was critically injured in an accident.

She said they quickly got a flight back to the United States, trusting the Lord would answer their fervent prayers. Their daughter was given a priesthood blessing, and they knew the Lord had the power to heal her. But Georgia died before the plane landed.

“Did the Lord hear our prayers? Yes. Did He answer them as we pleaded? No. Then, should we bitterly turn away from Him and look to some other source for peace and understanding? There is no other source of peace and eternal life than Jesus Christ,” said Sister Marriott.

She testified that the Lord is stronger than any challenge and will give the strength and inspiration to face them. He is mightier than any fear, disappointment, weariness, and deep wounds of the heart, she said. 

“When we look with hope and love to Christ, we will be given compensating blessings that will bind us to Him in powerful ways, even if our challenge remains.”

BYU students listen in the Marriott Center to Sister Neill F. Marriott, former Young Women general presidency second counselor, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

BYU students listen in the Marriott Center to Sister Neill F. Marriott, former Young Women general presidency second counselor, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Credit: BYU Photo

Also on their mission, Sister Marriott struggled with the Portuguese language. She told the BYU students — to some laughter — about how her testimony usually sounded something like, “You nice, me happy, gospel true.” She relied on the same talk each time she had to speak in a stake conference.

But one Sunday, she had a strong spiritual prompting to leave her talk on her seat and speak from her heart. And so she turned her hope, thoughts and feelings over to Heavenly Father, praying for help.

“My verb endings were surely mangled, and no doubt my pronunciation hurt every ear, but I was directly focused and concentrated on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. I felt it — and was able to share it,” said Sister Marriott. 

“The Lord will take our earnest, though meager, offering — be it two small fish and a few small barley loaves or weak Portuguese or a sincere though awkward attempt to mend a relationship — and turn it into a nourishing spiritual meal, if we come with focused purpose to Him for help.”

Sister Marriott testified that Christ is the one source of salvation, healing, power and goodness, and looking to Him each day will bring power, faith and His loving grace. 

”And then, despite our weakness we will be pulled out of the river, we will be driven to the swimming pool, and we will be supported across the finish line, [and], when needed, even given the right words to speak,” she said. “For when we are focused on and yoked to the Lord, He becomes the doer of our deeds.”

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