Living with an Open Heart with Virginia Pearce Cowley
We can talk all day about God’s love, but until we really experience it, a love that deep can seem like an abstract concept beyond our everyday reach. In this episode, however, Virginia helps us move God’s love from the abstract and put it into play in our lives. And the best part? We don’t have to add anything new to our schedule or routine to do it!
The things that is interesting about feeling god’s loved is that I feel empowered to change. I want to change and be better. It’s a kind of love that’s empowering. You can do this! It’s an empowering and motivating love.
About Virginia Pearce Cowley:
Virginia is the mother of six children, the grandmother of twenty-seven grandchildren, and has many great-grandchildren too! You might recognize her as the daughter of President Gordon B. Hinckley and Sister Marjorie Hinckley. She worked as a marriage and family therapist and served as the first counselor in the General Young Women Presidency, and more recently as a full-time Public Affairs missionary for the Church.
Top Takeaways from this episode!
- We don’t have to DO MORE or BE MORE to feel and share God’s love in our lives. Simply opening our hearts to those around us will make an impact.
- We can’t meet everyone’s needs or solve every problem, but we can pass along God’s love—and that is enough.
- When we get hurt, we can close our hearts to protect ourselves, but in doing so we can close ourselves off from receiving love. We can learn to protect ourselves while also keeping our hearts open.
- God’s love is empowering and motivating. The more love we share the more love we feel and the more love we feel the more love we share! Say that 5 times fast! It’s a powerful cycle!
- God’s love is available to us always, but we don’t need to stress if we aren’t feeling it as much as we would like.
Something to think about:
Have you closed your heart and put yourself on guard because of an experience you have had? What’s the next best step toward being able to open your heart?
Small and simple weekly challenge:
Notice people around you and think about opening a pathway from your heart to theirs!
Make sure you check out the full episode and then come tell us YOUR favorite takeaway over @magnifycommunity on Instagram!
Kathryn Davis 0:00
What if there was one simple change you and I could make to increase our ability to feel God's love and in turn, extend that love to others? Hi, and welcome to Magnify and LDS Living podcast where we talk about using our influence as followers of Jesus Christ to make a difference in the world. I'm your host, Kathryn Davis, a mom, a seminary teacher, and a Traeger enthusiast who loves God. If you practice yoga, or have been to India, you are familiar with the word Namaste, which roughly translated means I honor the deity within you. This is what we do when we open our hearts to one another. My guest today is the delightful Virginia Pearce Cowley, Virginia is the mother of six children, the grandmother of 27 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. You might recognize her as the daughter of President Gordon B. Hinckley and sister Marjorie Hinckley. She worked as a marriage and family therapist and served as the first counselor in the general young woman's presidency. And more recently, as a full time Public Affairs missionary for the Church. Thank you so much for being here, Virginia. And a little fun fact that I just found out about you is that you love to learn new things. So can you share something that you've learned in the past six months?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 1:27
Oh, well, one of them is how to use this thing right here. This technology. Another thing I've learned, a just kind of a new little technique with my water coloring, which has been really fun. And then I discovered these other little adorable things, I can't even describe them to you that you can, like take an acorn or a piece of nature or press flower and just close it into this little, it was an Amazon thing. And it becomes a frame. And all you have to do is just do it. And it can be 3d. And so yesterday, I did that with one of my grandchildren all afternoon, which was really fun. So those are some new things.
Kathryn Davis 2:11
That's so fun. I love that idea of constantly learning. That's awesome. In 2006, you wrote a book based on an experiment by you and some women you were serving with at the time. Can you tell us a little bit about that experiment.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 2:28
We were serving as a stake Relief Society presidency at the time, and there were, because of some direction from our stake president about needs, and whatever, you have the opportunity when you're a stake Relief Society President to spend some time, you're not having to put on a meeting every week. And we had a conference coming up in six months. Um, so we were starting to think about that. And we started to hone in on our women and do some interviewing and doing some thinking and learning some things. And we started to feel like the most helpful thing we could do is to help women feel God's love in their life. And Sister, Bonnie Parkin was the general Relief Society president then and she, that was her prayer, at her very initial talk is to help women feel the love of God in their lives. And so we started to think about how do you do that, and, and we thought of all the regular things. But somehow, we came up out of our own experience with saying that when we feel God's love in our lives, we just feel an outpouring of love for other people. And so we said, I wonder if we could activate God's love in our lives by doing it backwards. If we went forward and just said, this person in my space, this moment, I'm going to extend love to, when we open our hearts to that person, would it automatically open our hearts to God's love? And we just said, hey, we've got some time. Let's just experiment with this. And so we made some really simple rules. The first one was that you would only do this, oh, I can't remember what the first one was. But one of the rules was, you can only do this in the course of your normal life. Nobody has to do any, go any places, different or do anything, you know, put more things in your schedule.
Kathryn Davis 4:33
I love that. And actually, I wrote down some of the three guiding principles for your experiment. And what I think is so interesting, and I love to is almost, what, 20 years later. I think that's still the most important thing that we as women need to feel is God's love in our life. And so the three guiding principles that you wrote in Your book were one to be more aware of the condition of your hearts. And with that awareness to keep them more open towards others. Two, to do this in the normal course of your lives, which you were talking about. So in other words, you couldn't put any extra activities into your day, this wasn't about doing more. And then three, notice the spirit and honestly report what happened or hadn't happened. And that point you were bringing up earlier that second point, can we talk a little bit about that point about not doing anything more than what's in your ordinary life? Why was that one of your guiding principles?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 5:39
I guess, at that point in time, we were also aware of how many programs we had started on with a lot of enthusiasm that took a lot of time and a lot of energy, and they were great. But we couldn't maintain them. We were busy, we all had children in our homes, we had a lot of responsibilities. And we just said, oh, heck, the idea of starting up some big new, I'm going to change and be a different person, I'm going to lose 10 pounds, you know, all that kind of thing. We just can't do it. And so we just said, hey, let's just see. And the other thing we said is, we don't even have to do anything differently. All we're going to do is be aware of the condition of our heart. Does it feel closed up? Does it feel tight? Does it feel protected? Or does it feel open to this person in our space?
Kathryn Davis 6:30
So being aware of your heart, if it's an open versus a closed heart? That was the awareness?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 6:37
Kathryn Davis 6:38
What are the conditions of an open heart versus a closed heart? How would you describe that?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 6:44
For me, I can almost physically feel like when I sit down with you, and I concentrate on you, and you're a new person in my thing, I can feel my heart opening toward you. It's almost physical, I even stand up straighter, even. But if you were someone who was threatening to me, or that I was tied up with my own thoughts, I could say the same things to you. I could look the same way. But I would take my heart and put it back. It would feel shriveled. I mean, I think it's crazy. On the other hand, when I read the scriptures, it talks about a softened heart, they talk about enlarged hearts. They talk about hard hearts, so I think, oh, I'm not the first person that's thought of it as a physical change in your heart. So yeah, that was the awareness. Just try to get aware of the condition of your heart.
Kathryn Davis 7:40
Yeah, I mean, in 3 Nephi, I think it's 19 Verse 33, it talks about and their hearts were open. So they did understand. And you mentioned a lot of scriptures in your book where, when the heart is open, we can understand more.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 7:54
Yeah, it's hugely different. And well, what happened to is that when we opened our hearts like that to other people, we could not only feel love for other people, we felt God's love for us, which was just like, oh, my heavens, ridiculous it's so easy, and so effective.
Kathryn Davis 8:16
Well, and that's why I love that second point, is we all start with these great ideas and these great goals. And sometimes we stopped doing them. But what you're talking about is easy. It's just in the course of our everyday life. And you said that when you were experimenting with an open heart, it taught you one of your personal red flags, is that when you felt like you couldn't attend to somebody because you were too busy. You said an open heart isn't really as much a matter of time, as it is a matter of being present, available and open to whomever is in my physical space at any given moment. I think this is really interesting, because when you wrote this book in 2006, cell phones weren't as prevalent as they are today. Now, it's easy, and it's even acceptable to close ourselves off with phones, close ourselves off from family members, from neighbors, from people in our ward. And what have you learned about being present?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 9:23
I think what I've learned about being present, is that for me, I mean, this book was in 2006. Okay, I still have to remind myself every once in a while, I still find myself standing in line at the grocery store or wherever. And looking at my phone, thinking about what I'm going to do next. So I don't see anybody. Let me tell you a really cute story, because I think it helps to illustrate at this point what we're talking about. My daughter was telling me this a couple of weeks ago, she said she was in the craft store, and she was looking for something and she said there was a girl standing next to me, she said she had tattoos all over, she was bleached hair. And she just was so distressed. And she was on her telephone. And she was saying on the telephone, I don't know, I've just got, I've just got to do something to call myself. I'm in the craft store, and I'm gonna get something that I can just work on at home, and I think I'll feel better. So when she hung up the phone, Amy just turned to her. Sounds like you're having a hard day. That's all she said. And she said, the girl burst into tears, told her about a family member who was in the hospital. And Amy said, it took me two and a half minutes. Because then she said, thanks, thanks for letting me unload. And then the girl got her stuff. She got her stuff, and they went out the door. Tell me that isn't the best part of your day. It is. And it's not nosey. But it's just it's an awareness of somebody else in your space. And being willing to think about them, instead of saying, "Oh, I'll feel stupid if I say anything."
Kathryn Davis 11:06
And learning how to open our heart to others. And you said that when we feel God's love, personally, and every day, we are more able to help others feel God's love. So how do you feel when you experience God's love?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 11:21
I think that is really an interesting thing to think about, because I think what I feel most of all is noticed, valued, acknowledged, cared for, loved. And the thing that is interesting to me about feeling God's love, is that I feel empowered to change. I don't feel devastated that I'm not okay. But I want to change and be better. So it's a kind of love that's empowering. It's not like, oh, you're okay, don't worry about anything. It's like, oh, you can be better. Oh, you can do this. So it's empowering and motivating love, but it's been noticed by Him notice,
Kathryn Davis 12:07
Noticed and empowered. I like those words. Do you think it's realistic to feel that every day?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 12:17
I can't answer for anyone. And I think the older I get, I mean, I'm 77 years old. And I would have to say that most days, it's very seldom, I don't feel God's love. I feel it, there is a base for me. That wasn't there 20 years ago, his love is constant, it's available. But our ability to feel that I think grows tremendously. I don't think I could have, when we were doing this experiment, I didn't feel that way. And like I say, my life, the pace of it is different. So I'm not as distracted, probably.
Kathryn Davis 12:56
So is that what has changed in the past 20 years?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 13:00
I think it's 20 years of reading my scriptures, of coming to know Him, of coming to love and accept other people. I think it's all that works together, that I have a feeling in me most of the time. But I wouldn't have said that 20 years ago, 30 years ago, I don't know, I think it just grows with time. I don't think we should ever beat ourselves up or the expectation that I need to be feeling him all the time. But on the other hand, I think we have been given the Holy Ghost. And so I think it's available. I wouldn't say it's not possible to feel it all the time. But I wouldn't feel distressed. If I thought I hardly ever felt it. I would feel like I would want to do whatever it takes to get more of that. And that happens slowly. And over time. It's not a quick fix.
Kathryn Davis 13:59
So what are some things that we can do to have that increase slowly?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 14:05
They're all the things that we all know we can do. It's keeping our covenants, it's reading our scriptures, it's prayer, it's spending time in nature. You know, it's all of those things that were always talked about. But it's also allowing ourselves to be open to it. I had an apple tree in my backyard, and we hardly ever picked the apples because we didn't spray them. And so during the winter, there was still be apples on the tree and I picked one off the tree one spring, and it was all shriveled up. And when I looked at it closely, it was hard. It was almost hard. It was totally shriveled up, but it has shriveled around an injury like the birds would come and pick up to eat the apples in the winter. And so when the bird would pick it, the Apple would shrink into that, to protect that wound, almost, and become hard. And I think that's what happens with us. I think when we get wounded by others, I think particularly a spouse, or a child, or a family member, who just repeatedly wounds us, in order to protect yourself, you close up. And so you shrivel up, and you put your heart at the back of your little physical body, so that it won't be wounded again. But the sad part is that that closes us off not only to the wounding of that person, but to the love and care of other people, and of God. So when we need God's love the most, here we are shriveling our heart up to protect us from everything, even his love. And so, you know, this is, it's a complex thing, this is a lifetime thing. And so when you start noticing your heart, and you start, and there are people that have wounded you, you start feeling when they're in your presence, you feel that pulling back and you start to make very limited responses. And you can stay that way. And it takes some effort to say, I will not allow myself to be wounded by this person again, but I will open myself to other people. And I will open myself to God. That's a hard deal.
Kathryn Davis 16:34
Yeah, and a lot of practice with being aware of your heart that you talked about, like you have to be aware of the condition of your heart, in order to understand that that might be happening.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 16:47
Elder Packer told a story in one of his books, and I think I repeated it in this book. But it's a stunning story to me, because he was teaching at that point in time. I think it was an institute director. But he said that he had been badly used by somebody. And he said, I noticed that I was on guard against everybody, because of that experience. And he said, I made a determination that I would trust everyone until they prove me wrong. That takes courage. And he said, I did that. And I've done that the rest of my life. But he said, it doesn't mean that I haven't been badly used again. I've trusted some people that in the end, you know, I maybe shouldn't have trusted, but he said, so I was abused again. But he said, who am I not to be abused? The Savior was abused. You know. And so I think it's something to think about, am I on guard all the time because of an experience I've had.
Kathryn Davis 17:50
And what's our responsibility, like Elder Packer was saying, to not be on guard, to allow us to feel God's love and then share God's love. In fact, you shared a quote in your book from Elder John Widtsoe and I have read this quote, probably 20 times trying to digest it and understand it because it is so profound about our responsibility to one another. He said this, "In our pre-existence state, in the day of the Great Council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan conceived by him, we accepted it. Since the plan is attended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed right then and there to be not only saviors for ourselves, but measurable saviors for the whole human family."
Virginia Pearce Cowley 18:51
I love that picture of us in the Grand Council in heaven. When we all raised our hand and said, "Hey, I'm with you. And I'll be part of this."
Kathryn Davis 19:03
So how can we become saviors for the whole human family?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 19:08
Well, we're obviously not in charge with the whole human family. We don't, we have very few responsibilities for everybody in the world, and you can't meet everybody's needs. But I look at it and I think the people in my space, if I can be filled with God's love, and pass that on to them, then they can feel acknowledged, empowered to do what they need to do to feel good about themselves, but want to be better. So if I can be a vessel of his light and love to whoever's in my space, then I am becoming, I'm helping people back. I'm fulfilling my obligation that I took on to help everyone come back.
Kathryn Davis 19:53
So what are some simple ways that you see women extend God's love?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 19:59
Okay, I'll just tell you simple ways, just kind of walk through your week, whatever it was today, or last week, or whatever. And I think, okay, when I go to church, or when women go to church, and they walk into that relief society room, which we only get to do twice a month, which is sad, I see women who gather people in with them. When they come through the door, they don't just make a beeline to their same place where they sit with their same phone and talk their same friend, but they think walk over there, they include somebody else in the conversation, when they're in the hallway talking in a group of people, and they see somebody coming in, they open the circle, and let that person in. I think there are some women that just do that continually. And there are others that habitually stay in their little closed circle. So I think women have the capacity to open like that. I think one of the greatest ways we show love as women to one another is to love and value other people's children. I just think that matters. I was somewhere the other day, in fact yesterday. And some little kids came into the house. And the mother of the house, bent down and said, "Oh, I knew your mother, when she was your age. And she looked just like you." She was just down there caring for this child for just a moment. And I thought, "That's what women do." That's what we can do. It's my daughter putting her arm around the person in the craft store. I think for women, those things are pretty easy for us to do. In our society. It's not frightening for another woman to go up to a woman in the grocery store, or the person in line in front of her, you know, and be open. I think one of the ways that we can really be helpful as women is to invite other people to tell us their stories. Everybody has an interesting story. And how did you get this job? How did you end up with this job, Kathryn, I mean, I'm dying, because I'd like to interview you. I want to know about you, I want to hear your story. I want to know where you're from. And when I do that, what I'm doing is binding all of us together, in one family, the family of God.
Kathryn Davis 22:27
I think those are some small and and simple ways where we can extend God's love, and to hear people, to listen to their stories, to love their children. I know as a mom, those who have served my kids and loved my kids, they will forever hold a very special place in my heart. And I feel like Heavenly Father's watching over me when someone serves my kids. I know I can see God's hand more evident than I think any other time in my life. You also share a quote by Elder Maxwell, in your book. And Elder Maxwell said "Each of us from time to time is mentored and has chances to mentor. In my experience truthful and caring one liners that occur within such nurturing relationships have a long shelf life. You can probably recount three or four examples of how people have said something, probably a sentence or a clause, and you remember it still. It moves and touches you still. Such has been the case with me." And I love that idea of one liners. When has somebody mentored you with a one liner that you still carry with you.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 23:42
I was telling one of my walking friends about this the other day, probably 20 years ago, 30 years ago, I don't know when it was, one of my children was in high school and she was having some difficulty, some real difficulty. And this friend was a teacher at the high school. She had her in classes. And I was unloading the frantic and everything we stopped right where we were walking, and she turned to me and she said, "Virginia, do you think because she's not doing well in high school, she won't make it in life? And I said, "Actually, yes, that is exactly what I'm saying." And she said, "That is not true. She's going to make it." And I went back to them many times, and man did she make it, she made it. She did make it in life. But at that point in time, it was a one liner that mattered to me. And it echoed in my head many times over the next few months and years even. And when I think about a one liner like that, it's encouraging. You know, she's gonna make it. I'll tell you another one liner that I think about all the time. And I think I talked about that in this book. I had a friend who was we were practicing for an Easter program and she wanted me to be more dramatic than I was being in my reading, I was a reader. And she stopped and she said, "Virginia, are you afraid to look stupid?" And I said, "Yes. I am afraid I will look stupid," and she just started to laugh. She said, "Let me tell you something, when you're doing something for the Lord, don't ever worry about looking stupid. This is for Him." I think about it all the time. When I have to give a talk, and I'm worried about it, I think, "Wait a minute, I'm doing this for Him." And I think that's so interesting, that doing it for Him, takes all the pressure away. Doing it for other people that are gonna judge me feels pressure. But doing it for Him, there's no pressure.
Kathryn Davis 25:47
When I read that, I kind of went back and thought of all the one liners that I have held on to. And you're right, they're all encouraging, they are all built. And maybe it's easier to give a one liner than we think.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 26:05
I haven't thought about that. You're right, we can do that. Somebody's saying to you, in a hard time, you can do this, you're gonna make it. That's the kind of one liner that matters, isn't it?
Kathryn Davis 26:18
Yeah. And maybe it's such a small offering on our part. But maybe that's something that somebody will hold on to, for years to come.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 26:28
I like that idea. Camilla Kimball used to say, Never suppressed the generous thought. And I liked that. Because a lot of times we see something that's really great. And we tell somebody else so and so was great, instead of saying to them, hey, that was great what you did.
Kathryn Davis 26:45
I just think I need to pray for more opportunities and to pray for a heart like His, the title of your book. And so I just want to know, what do you think it means to have a heart like His?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 27:00
I think what it means is to have a heart that is so filled with love, that I am willing to do anything for someone else, because that's what he did for us.
Kathryn Davis 27:11
I also really loved at the end of each chapter in your book, you share a small action to take away or to think about, something that we can do. And that's actually how we love to end every episode of the Magnify podcast with one small idea or one small action from our conversation that we can implement. So before we let you go, what is your small and simple suggestion that we can work on this week?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 27:43
I would say whenever you think about it, just look at the person who's in your space at that moment. You don't need to say anything to him. You don't need to ask him anything. Just look at him. And think about them and think about just opening up the pathway from your heart to theirs. It doesn't matter whether you say or do anything, but just take a moment to feel what that's like. I think you'll be amazed.
Kathryn Davis 28:10
Virginia, it has been such a delight to talk with you today. I have learned a lot and I feel empowered. I'd love that word that you said. I feel empowered that I can implement the small and simple, that I don't have to add a lot to my busy schedule. I can be present and open my heart to have a heart like His. Thank you so much for being here today.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 28:36
It's been a pleasure.
Kathryn Davis 28:39
Virginia, it's been so fun to talk with you. The book "A Heart like His" is available at Desert book. And while it's not new, it is definitely so relevant today. And don't forget to join us over on Instagram @magnifycommunity. And of course, subscribe and listen to the Magnify podcast wherever you get your shows. Thanks for being here. And let's meet again next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai