In a 2017 BYU Devotional address, Eva Witesman testified, “Latter-day Saint women are courageous, particularly when they have been emboldened by the knowledge that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and that He will qualify us to do the work that lies before us. … We will seek every good gift in the service of our God. All we ask is that others not stand in our way as we pursue the Lord’s errand.” On today’s episode, we talk with Eva about the importance of understanding our individual spiritual gifts as we seek to contribute to the world at large.
"It's a complicated time and we can't always see the pathway by ourselves. We need these spiritual gifts to be able to see them. And these spiritual gifts are real. They're as real as any other thing that we've proven with science. ...And I think the more of us that talk about it, and the more of us that expect that and aspire to that, the more we will see that diversity of beautiful gifts and the more we will be able to develop those beautiful gifts, and share the development of those gifts with each other."
Eva Witesman's BYU Devotional talk: "Women and Education: 'A Future Only God Could See for You'"
President Nelson's talk: "Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel"
Quote: "The Lord, out of love, does not leave us the choice of the timing, duration, or sequence of our assignments. Yet you know from scripture and living prophets that all of these assignments will come, either in this life or in the next, to every daughter of God. And all of them are preparation for eternal life in loving families—'the greatest of all the gifts of God.’"
—President Henry B. Eyring
Elder Bednar's talk: "Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease"
President Ballard's BYU Women's Conference talk: “Women of Dedication, Faith, Determination, and Action”
Link: New Young Women theme
Quote: "There’s nobody exactly like you, and if you’re bold enough to inquire, I believe you’ll be swamped with impressions about your purpose—more than you ever thought possible."
3:00- "Women and Education"
5:45- Why Seek to Understand Our Spiritual Gifts?
16:30- Eva's Story
23:30- Different Paths for Different People
35:25- Balance Vs. Harmonious
40:05- Timing is Everything
43:55- Men and Women
50:25- Imagining and Exploring Your Possibilities
56:30- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:45
In June 2017, Eva Witesman delivered a BYU devotional address titled, "Women and Education: A Future Only God Could See For You." I spoke with someone at BYU following the address and they said that devotional addresses at that time typically received an average of 1000 to 2000 views in their first two weeks following publication, but this one was viewed nearly 14,500 times and its first two weeks. Today we talk with Eva about that talk, what inspired and led to it, and what she has learned since.
After receiving her bachelor's degree from the University of Utah in 2002, Eva Witesman wanted to continue on to graduate school, but was torn between her desires to further her education and to focus on motherhood. Following a prompting, she continued her education and received her MPA from Indiana University in 2004. She later received her Ph.D. from Indiana University in public management and policy analysis. Witesman, an expert in evidence based innovation and strategy, became a full-time Professor of Public Management at the BYU Marriott School of Business in 2009. Ava and her husband, Owen, have four children who she says are individually and collectively the central joy of her life.
This is "All In," an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I'm grateful to have Eva Witesman here with me today. Eva, welcome.
Eva Witesman 2:35
Morgan Jones 2:36
Well, I have to tell you, I have actually kind of bragged to some friends of mine that we were going to have you on the podcast because when your "Women and Education" talk came out, I think I listened to it at least three or four times. And then I told a friend of mine, and she was like, "Please thank her for me and tell her that I listened at least seven times." So thank you, on behalf of all of us.
Eva Witesman 3:01
Wow, thank you. That's super humbling and really sweet.
Morgan Jones 3:03
Well, I think the talk was so powerful because it was so positive, it wasn't a negative thing. It wasn't like "We've been held back and here's this empowerment." It was like, "This is what you've always had. You've always had access to these things and we just need to kind of step into that and take advantage of the things that are available to us." So I am so excited to have this conversation today. I wanted to kind of start out—you started out with a scripture found in Joel as kind of your jumping off point. And the scripture says of preparation for the second coming, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and upon the handmaid's in those days, will I pour out my spirit." You then kind of proceeded to talk about women's ability to seek personal revelation. And so I was just curious as we kind of get into this, how did that talk come to be?
Eva Witesman 4:06
Yeah. So it's actually funny because when Matt Richardson, who's the advancement Vice President at BYU and also responsible for BYU devotionals, when he called me, I was really both surprised and not surprised that he was calling to ask me to give the talk. And I told him that on the phone, and he said, "Well, tell me a little bit more about that. Like, why are you surprised and not surprised to have me call you?"
Morgan Jones 4:28
Eva Witesman 4:29
And I said, "Well, I'm surprised because like, I'm just barely eligible to be able to give this talk." You have to have continuing faculty status at BYU to be able to give a BYU devotional, and I'd just barely achieved that like the previous semester. So I told him that I just said, "You know, this is really humbling to be asked so soon after I became eligible, and I really wasn't expecting it." I said, "But I've been having kind of this conversation with the spirit about what I might talk about, like, if given the opportunity to give a big talk, you know, like, BYU Devotionals are, if I were given that opportunity, you know, what, what would that talk be about?" And the spirit and I had been having a conversation about that, and I feel like it was about a week prior, maybe two weeks that I'd sort of come to a conclusion with the spirit about what the message would be. So I said that to vice president Richardson, and he said, "Yeah, that's about right. That's usually about what we expect to hear from people that we've invited to give these talks. So,
Yeah, it was kind of cool. But that's really how it came to be. I was sort of musing in the car, which is where I do all my best thinking about what, you know, if someone put a microphone in front of me, like what would I have to say to the world and especially what would I have to say to the world of women of faith, and that's what it was.
Morgan Jones 5:44
Well, like I said, I think it was such a beautiful message. And you kind of emphasized this idea of in these days that have been prophesied about since the Bible, that "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and upon the handmaid's in those days will I pour out my Spirit." And so there was this emphasis on you know, what is available to us? What are we able to access in terms of personal revelation? And then the interesting thing to me is that in October 2018, President Nelson said this, "My dear sisters, you have special spiritual gifts and propensities. Tonight, I urge you with all the hope of my heart to pray to understand your spiritual gifts," which is something that you also emphasized in your talk. He goes on to say, "to cultivate, use, and expand them even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so." So, Eva, for you, how do we best seek to understand what our spiritual gifts are? Because I think that's kind of the foundation. If we understand what our spiritual gifts are, then we can build on that and find how the Lord communicates to us.
Eva Witesman 7:03
Right. Well, and I don't know, I don't know that it's the same for everybody in terms of like how we find what our individual gifts are. I know that there are places in the scriptures that talk about sort of the general gifts that are available to those of us who have been endowed with Priesthood power through our covenants. So we think about like the articles of faith when we look at the seventh article of faith and we look at all of those spiritual gifts. And we look at 1 Corinthians chapter 12, or D&C 46 and we talk about things like gifts of prophecy and revelation and discerning of spirits and gift of tongues and to heal and be healed. And I would add things like seership, and being able to communicate across time and space with with other people, and with people maybe even beyond the veil. I think those gifts are things that we can sort of aspire to, and we can work toward, and we can work on, but I also think that, like the scriptures say, each of us has at least one of these gifts already given to us. And sometimes it's easier to find our own gifts by listening to other people and asking them what they think our gifts are. But when we think about the ways that we're different from other people, those differences often sort of lead to what our spiritual gifts might be. So in my life for me, I remember having a conversation with one of the people in my life who's just dearest to me, and he said, "How do you know that there's a God?" And in that moment, like I couldn't even express to him how I knew that because for me, Heavenly Father was this ever present person in my life and I just knew, right? This was a gift that I had, and I could talk with Him and He would respond back to me. And when I told my friend about that and sort of explained those experiences, like that was very foreign to him. And he didn't have the same experiences that I do, even though he'd been raised in the church as well. and had all the same experiences and also been baptized and all these things. So it wasn't until years later that I that I thought about that again, and realized that maybe we have just very different spiritual gifts and that knowing that just sort of coming, knowing that wasn't his gift, and he has other gifts. Other times when I go around, like I've had the opportunity to talk to a variety of audiences and sometimes I'll relate my experiences, about decisions that I've made in my life or times that I've felt the spirit particularly strongly, and people will say things like, "Well, I've never felt the spirit in that same way." Or "The way you describe it isn't what I feel when I feel the spirit and I feel it differently, and here's how I feel it." And in talking to more and more people, I'm realizing that everybody has their own sort of unique, physical and spiritual instrument, their own soul. And that physical and spiritual instrument is going to hear and play the vibrations of the Spirit differently. And there was one day I was teaching a class, I was teaching a math class actually, and I said, without really thinking, I was just sort of like speaking and I said, "You need to learn how to feel the Spirit and you also need to learn like what ways you learn best. Like do you learn visually or do you learn best through your ears or through experiencing things or touching things?" And I said, "You need to learn what your learning style is because that's how the spirit's going to speak to you." And I like had this moment of panic after I said it becuase I was like, is that doctrine? Is that like a real thing? I don't know if that's real, like I just said that like it was true, but I don't know if it's true, and I just had this moment. And it was in the very next general conference that—I think it was a member of the primary presidency at the time, I would have to double check—but she said the same thing. She said, you know, "We all have different learning styles, and the spirit is going to speak to us in the way that fits best with us." And so I think our instruments are just different from each other. And our minds, our brains, physically, are programmed differently from each other. And so the way that we resonate with the spirit and the way that we're able to access and use spiritual gifts is going to be different from person to person.
Morgan Jones 11:14
Yeah. It's interesting to me, first of all, that idea of when you have something come out of your mouth, and you're like, "Is that true?" You know? But I think there's also along with that, you can kind of feel in your heart, like, "Oh, wow, I just like learned truth from the spirit. It just came right out of while I was speaking," Which is a pretty remarkable feeling. But I also think it's interesting when you talk about these different ways of feeling the Spirit, I couldn't help but think that if we sought to understand the way that the Spirit communicates to us and then recognize the way that it communicates to other people, maybe we could all appreciate each other more. If we sought to understand these spiritual gifts, we could really collaborate better with each other and be more valuable to the kingdom of God.
Eva Witesman 12:05
I totally agree. I think each one of us brings kind of our unique spiritual gifts and they may fall along the lines that are sort of described in the scriptures. But the scriptures also talked about how there are many more spiritual gifts that aren't like explicitly listed out. And I think sort of embracing who and what we are and what we bring to the table also allows us to appreciate each other more and to work together in complementary ways.
Morgan Jones 12:30
Right. Another thing that you mentioned before that I wanted to touch on, you said that these spiritual gifts can be developed or that they can be something that we maybe admire in other people and then work to bring into our lives. How do you think that we do that? Any thoughts on that?
Eva Witesman 12:50
I think it probably depends on which spiritual gift we're talking about. And the one that I thought about most is the gift of prophecy, in part, because I spent so much time sort of studying it and thinking about it for the talk. And then, since then for some other projects that I'm working on, But with prophecy, like the ability to to see and talk about the future, I think is very much connected with the ability to see and understand and almost have experienced the past. In the scriptures—and I talked about this in the talk a little bit—but in the scriptures, Heavenly Father often gives this vision and I call it the prophets vision, where He shows everything that has ever happened since the creation of the world to the end of the world, and he shows that to His prophets. And it happens both in the Book of Mormon and in the Bible, where they see sort of this Isaiah-like vision of everything, right? And it's almost like this preparation for the ability to prophesy and the ability to carry the mantle of the capital P Prophet, like the Prophet for everyone, right? And I thought about that and I was like, "Well isn't that a little bit what we're doing in our history classes and in our science classes, and when we read about things that have happened in different cultures around the world, and at different times in the world? Aren't we accessing parts of that same vision? And doesn't that help us to foresee what might come next?" And I think it's strengthens that spiritual gift. It connects us, not just with ourselves in our own culture, but with the human family, and with all of creation, really. And so I think, just like how every commandment comes with a blessing and so if you want a certain blessing, you need to sort of reverse engineer it and figure out like, what's the commandment that's you know, that keeping it better is going to give me more of that blessing, like how can I bring that into my life? I think spiritual gifts may work the same way. Where there are specific kinds of activities that we can engage in with our minds, with our brains, with our bodies, with our hearts, that will help us to have greater access to those particular spiritual gifts.
And I think there are general things too, right? Like, keep the commandments is maybe a good place to start. Read your scriptures, right? Pray often, seek the spirit. Everything is working through the Holy Ghost and so the very first thing and most universal thing that we can always do if we want to strengthen any spiritual gift is to strengthen our recognition of and discernment of the Holy Ghost. And our ability to tell the difference between spiritual truths and all the other stuff, all the artifice, all the culture all the worldly, fallen, awfulness that can be so confusing. And so I think that first gift of discernment—and discernment itself is a spiritual gift, right? So some people, like, come with a naturally stronger ability to tell the difference between, you know, the Holy Ghost and some other influence that's trying to mimic the Holy Ghost. Or, you know, give us thoughts that confuse us or messages that are difficult to discern, some people are just naturally better at separating those things out. But I think we all have the ability and the charge to do that. And I think the more that we do that, the more the Holy Ghost will lead us in the direction that we need to go to develop and refine our own set of gifts, whether they're ones that were strong to start with, or whether they're ones that we need to develop as we progress.
Morgan Jones 16:27
Yeah. I think one of the most powerful parts of your talk was your own personal experience with realizing or seeking education in your life. Can you kind of tell listeners just as we kind of get into this about your experience and what led you to seek more education?
Eva Witesman 16:49
Yeah, so this would have been after the master's degree. The master's degree, it was almost funny the way I landed in my masters of public administration program. I was working at a nonprofit organization, I was really happy there. And we had a new manager who came in and he changed everything about how we did the work that we did at this nonprofit and it improved everything, like so much. Things that used to take us years, we're now taking us weeks. I mean, it was ridiculous how impressive his management skills were. And it was stuff that I didn't know how to do and I wanted to know how to do it and so I was like, I want to go get a master's degree, I'm want to learn what this guy knows, I want to be able to manage organizations like this. So I got online and I looked for programs in nonprofit management and I found one that I liked and I asked my husband if he had any interest in like going and getting more school, he's like "Yeah, I've been thinking about studying Finnish." And I was like, "Great, where can you do that?" And it turns out there are like four places in the country where you can study at kind of the level that he needed. And the school I had picked was one of the ones. And so that's the only place we applied, so there we went. So the Masters was sort of its own special thing.
But as we were finishing up our master's programs, he was studying Finnish and Eurasian studies and I was studying public administration, we were trying to figure out what to do next. And my husband had a job offer in Washington, D.C., which is just one of my favorite cities in the world. And again, as a government management person, and a nonprofit management person, D.C. is just like, an amazing place to be, so much beautiful energy there that I just love. So it seemed ideal, but I couldn't get settled about it. And I couldn't really figure out why I wasn't settled about it. But we would talk and talk and pray and pray and talk some more and pray some more. And I just couldn't feel settled enough to say, "Yes, take the job." And so he was sort of going through—there was a multi-week clearance process that he had to go through before he took the job. So we sort of kept progressing through that interview process and the clearance process as I was going through sort of my personal process, trying to make this decision. And at one point, I was sitting in, it was actually the last lecture of my nonprofit management class, I remember it very vividly. And it was long enough ago that the teacher was using transparencies. Like, if anyone even remembers what those are. I don't even know if—
Morgan Jones 19:13
They had transparencies when I was in college, so that tells something about me as well.
Eva Witesman 19:17
Yeah. So it's been a minute since that happened. Anyway, so she was like—the room was dark and that was important because she was talking about her own research. And as I'm listening to this lecture, I felt the spirit speak words into my mind and it was so clear, and the words were, "You are going to come back here for a Ph.D. And it wasn't so much the words—I mean having like, super clear words in your head is, I don't know if that's like amazing or crazy. It's one of the two, I don't know. But what was really powerful about it was that I was feeling the spirit so strongly. And so I was feeling the spirit and had a plan in my mind at the same time and this had not happened in the months prior that we've been trying to make this decision. And I was so relieved and grateful and also overwhelmed by the Spirit all at the same time that I just started crying. And this is why it was important that the room was dark, because nobody could see that I have these tears and I'm trying to like not sob but because these tears are just like flowing down my face. And I was so grateful and it was so clear, but it also was not this job that my husband and I had been pretty excited about. And so I came home, and I said, "Honey, I know what I'm doing. And I know what my plan is, but I don't know what your plan is. And I don't want to tell you my plan until we know for sure what your plan is. And so I want you to keep praying and I want you to get spiritual clarity so that we can compare notes on what we get so that we can make this decision together." And so he went away. I mean, not away away, but in his process, right, we sort of separated the process a little bit. And he continued with his process and he came back and he said, you know, while we're waiting for this clearance to come through, I have this opportunity to go to Finland and to take this internship where I can work with the Finnish Literature Society in Finland and I'd really like to go. And normally that would have been something that would have really kind of freaked me out, like I would have been scared about that whole experience. But I had missed all the application deadlines for Ph.D. programs, and I knew that was what I was doing, and so I had a year to burn. So I was like, "Sure! Like, if you're feeling like that's the direction you're getting, let's go to Finland," you know? So we went off to Finland. And while we were there, he got the contacts and experience that he needed to be able to be the translator that he is today. He's run his own independent translation company basically since then, and that is what has allowed us to always have one of us at home with our kids while I've been working at BYU, and through the PhD, we were able to sort of manage all of that. So it worked out. And it worked out with both of us receiving our own personal revelation, and then sort of bringing our own personal revelation together. And that has been the standard in our marriage for how decisions are made. And it's really easy when the Spirit says, "Here's what you should do." It's really not easy when the Spirit says, "No, no, you guys need to work this one out for yourselves."
Morgan Jones 22:21
You're like, I'd really prefer that you take this one over,
Eva Witesman 22:23
I really kind of like the other model, right? Where you just tell me what I'm doing and you tell him what he's doing. And then we can like, work out the details. But sometimes the answer comes back, "No, you need to figure this one out on your own. And then when you guys have come to a conclusion together, bring it back to me and, you know, I'll give you my stamp of approval."
Morgan Jones 22:45
It's fascinating to me how it is—sometimes it's one way and sometimes it's the other way. I've had both as well. For you, how many—well, first of all, how many kids did you have at this point when this was going on?
Eva Witesman 22:59
So that's always a complicated question for me, because I have four kids here, but we also have had three additional pregnancies, and they've always come at really key points in time. So we had one daughter, I had her in the spring semester of my first year of the masters. That was a whole epic journey also. And then the first year of the Ph.D. I was pregnant again, and that would have been our second pregnancy. So just the one kiddo at that point in time.
Morgan Jones 23:29
Okay. What helped you recognize that there are different paths for different people and that it was okay to pursue whatever the Spirit communicated to you?
Eva Witesman 23:40
Yeah. I mean, I think the messages that I'd always received, whether from across the pulpit or from my family, the message was always, "You need to pay attention to the Spirit and what the Spirit is telling you." And if my experience hadn't been so very clear and powerful, I don't know that I would have had the courage to follow that path. So I found out that I was pregnant with my eldest daughter after I had applied to the master's program and after I'd gotten in and planned to go. And then I was on bedrest, pregnancies are especially complicated for me, so I was on bedrest and actually missed the first few weeks of my master's program. And so when I got there, I wasn't sure, I mean now that I was going to be a mom, I wasn't sure that this was what I was supposed to be doing at all, right? And so this was—and I think I talked about this in the devotional as well, but I like just sort of had that question constantly burning, because I'd had the same young woman's lessons and I knew like motherhood is a big job. It requires like, all hands on deck, and it requires passion and attention and knowledge and time. And I was like, I don't know how I'm going to do both of these things, or even if I should. If I'm supposed to, if I meant to, if that's okay for me to do. And so I'd been praying about this a lot. And in our new ward, we had either two or three nurseries. I can't remember at the time if we had two or three nurseries, but like it was a very young, student-driven ward with a lot of very young families. And they needed another nursery later. And that's what my calling was. And as I was being set apart by one of the counselors in the bishopric, and he did not know me, like we'd never had a real conversation. I was new in the ward, like there was just no reason that we would have spent a lot of time talking. But he put his hands on my head to give me a Priesthood blessing to call me as a nursery leader, and you guys have been set apart for callings before, right? Like, sometimes they're really beautiful blessings. But often, you're just sort of like, given what you do.
Morgan Jones 25:55
Here's your calling!
Eva Witesman 25:56
"Here's your calling, you know, you're going to do a great job out at the Spirit's going to be with you, you know, go on your merry way." So he puts his hands on my head, and he does all of that. And then there's sort of this paus and then and then he tells me that Heavenly Father wants me to continue to pursue my education. Like this is in a Priesthood blessing where I was not asking the priesthood holder for this at all. I was not seeking counsel about this, I had told no one in the bishopric that this was a question that I had. I don't think I'd even talked to my husband about this question. So this, again, was the Spirit speaking through Priesthood power to give me this message that I needed to continue and that's why I finished the master's degree, otherwise I would have either stopped or been very conflicted the whole time.
And I don't know why I was given the privilege of having that clarity. When I know there are lots of people who, even though they pray, just like I did, and ask, just like I did, don't get that same kind of clarity and don't get that voice in their head and don't have the overwhelming spiritual experience that they can count on for the rest of their lives. I don't know why it was that way for me. But I do feel like it's important for me to share these stories, to let people know that the spirit is real, and individual guidance is real, and that we should each feel empowered to follow our own path.
And you mentioned sort of our culture and our society and sort of like the "right way" to do motherhood. And one of the things that I sort of always come back to is our pioneer forebearers. And I think about you know, "What would a Pioneer woman was asked to walk across the plains with her family, as a mother, what would she say to someone who said, 'you know, women aren't supposed to work outside the home?'" I mean, I think she would laugh. And she'd say, you know, like, "Well, who's gonna make the candles, and who's gonna pluck the chickens, and who's gonna help build the shelter? And who's, you know, who's going to do all of this work if we're not doing it?" Like, you know, part of our job is to teach the children how to do this work, to teach the children how to run a home, to teach the children how to run a society. And the women of the church, especially our pioneer women, they were so busy doing things outside of their homes, that they were already going to create a society for giving service to others. I mean, they were, they had enough and to spare in terms of energy, and the ability to contribute to the world inside their homes and outside of their homes. And it was so strong that the Prophet Joseph Smith was like, hold up like, let me go pray about this because I think the Lord has something more in store for you. And that's the advent of the Relief Society, right? So the idea that we've ever been asked to confine ourselves to within the walls of our homes, I think is a faulty notion. Have we been asked to make that prime? Absolutely. And you had better know that, like, my children come first, my family comes first. But part of the way that I teach them is by showing them what's possible in the world and showing them the work that I do, and engaging them in it. And trying to empower them to see the possibilities in their own lives by taking advantage of the possibilities in my own. And so I think it really depends on the person and their kids and their, like whole family dynamic and the husband's job. And what the qualifications are, and what the passions are that she's been given, or that she has sought for herself as a woman. And so all of those things, I think, come together, with the guidance of the Spirit, for own best benefit.
Morgan Jones 29:58
That's beautifu and so well said. I love in the talk, another part that you just made me think of, was kind of this idea that we all have different paths. And you pointed out that a friend of yours, it was kind of the opposite. Her story was opposite yours. And I often feel that way. When I talk to people. I have a lot of friends that are like, I wanted to serve a mission and then I got married. And I'm like, I'm the opposite. I did not want to serve a mission and then I never got married. No, I'm just kidding. But I, I think that it is so interesting how, like, our plan for ourselves can look so different than the plan that Heavenly Father has for us and seeking to understand what He needs us to do, what our personal missions are, is so incredibly powerful.
One thing that I loved in regard to this friend, and you and your friend comparing notes, you said, "That together, you marveled that God's voice could be so clear in each of our circumstances and trusting in His goodness, we wondered how His plans for her would continue to unfold." Why do you think it's so important that we all have our unique and individual paths? And how does that testify of God's love for us individually?
Eva Witesman 31:21
So we talked about it a lot, but I think too often in our individual sort of circumstances, maybe I should just speak for myself. Sometimes I lose sight of what the purpose of all of this is. And it's not just development for development sake. None of this is just so I can grow and develop and be more than I am now. Like there's a goal. We're meant to be like our heavenly parents. We are meant to become divine creators. And each of us progressed toward that end before we came here, and each of us is going to continue to progress while we're here and after we're here. And so each of us has our own development that still needs to be done so that we can temper ourselves not just while we're here, not just for the joy that we can have in this life, and the joy afterward, but also so that we can become creators. And for me, that's a very powerful driving force in understanding why I might go through different experiences than the person next to me because we both need to ultimately become creators, and we're different people and we came different, and our lives are different and we've experienced different things. And so our paths need to look different so that we can complement those experiences and those gifts in a way that will qualify us not just to have Joy in eternity—that too, and that's important. But also so that we can become what we're meant to be, so that we can grow up into the eternal beings that we're meant to be.
And so sometimes that means, you know, imagining one path and landing on a different path. Sometimes it means experiencing something that is incredibly difficult, like the losses that my husband and I have experienced in our family. You know, sometimes it means sitting next to somebody else who seems like they have your ideal life, and realizing that it's not really about this mortal, ideal life. What it's about is becoming who we're meant to be in the end. And I loved in the most recent conference, President Eyring talked about how it's because Heavenly Father loves us that He doesn't leave us the choice of the timing, duration or sequence of our assignments, that there are certain roles that we all will have the opportunity to fulfill, but we don't get to pick for ourselves what order that happens in or when it happens or whether it happens in this life or later. And there's some weight to that, right? I mean, there's weight to being a mother in this life, there's also a weight to not having that experience. There's a heaviness to it. And I was talking to a friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago, and she described the talk,and I can't remember now who gave the talk, but it was the talk about how it was kind of the metaphor of a pickup truck. And how if you have a pickup truck that's stuck in the snow, like sometimes what you need to do is get to work and chop the wood and fill the pickup truck with the woods so that it has enough weight that it can like get a grip and actually drive through that snow.
Morgan Jones 34:40
Eva Witesman 34:41
And she was comparing some of her own experiences with that. How her life, you know, didn't necessarily map to what she had imagined for herself or what other people might imagine for her. And she talked about how like the weight of that was her wood in the back of the pickup truck, right? But that she felt like she'd plateaued again and now she was looking for more challenges in her life and she took that charge seriously that that she needed to be fulfilling all of these roles in her life one way or the other. So I think it is important that each of us has our own unique path that each of us has a different path. And I think all of those paths are because of God's love. He doesn't want hard things for us any more than we want those for ourselves, except that he wants us to become and sometimes the only way we can become is through the weight of those difficult experiences.
Morgan Jones 35:39
Yeah, I agree. I could not agree more. For those listening, I will find that talk, I think it's Elder Bednar, but I'll put it in the show notes, I'll put a link to it. But I do think that's such a great example and looking at your experiences in retrospect. I was just interviewing someone this morning and he made the point that looking back, you can see so much more why you went through these difficult things. In the middle of it, when your pickup truck is stuck in the snow, that's when you're frustrated and it's hard. But once you look back, you're like, "Oh, I can see why this was happening."
Another idea that I just wanted to touch on, I think this is so prevalent in our society. I hear it so much from friends of mine who are young mothers, that talk about how they want to achieve balance. And I think it's getting harder than ever before to kind of see through the fog of what matters? What's going to matter in the long term? And everyone seems to have their own definition of what that balance looks like. For you, Eva, you are a mother, you're a professor, how do you balance it all? And what does balance mean to you? What does that look like?
Eva Witesman 36:59
Well, I can't sit here and pretend like I've achieved balance. I can say that I love my very big job but I love my very big family more. That those two things, doing them together, is difficult at times. And that when I think about balance, I always feel like a failure because it never feels balanced. And what I've found to be useful for me is to think about things in terms of a music metaphor. There's actually some research that suggests that this is a really nice way for people to think about it, that's a little less like mentally stressful for people to think about it this way. But the idea, like the goal is for me no longer to achieve balance between all the different parts of my life. For me, the goal is to find harmony between the different parts of my life. So there are certain notes that are being played by my family, and each of my four children has their own special note and my relationship with my husband has its own special set of notes. And then my job also brings in some of those notes. And the hope is that when those notes all come together, and they're played together, and their timing is orchestrated, that it comes together into something that's beautiful and harmonious, rather than something that is just a bunch of noise. And so finding the harmony, I think, is my new goal and kind of the metaphor that I've adopted for my own life. And the hardest moments, the moments when I feel sort of the most frustrated about how things are or are not coming together, are also my moments of greatest clarity.
So I love saying yes to things, I love being engaged with things. And I have the ability to see connections between things that are difficult for other people to see, sometimes that's one of my spiritual gifts. And I want to contribute that a lot. And I get asked to contribute that in a lot of different parts of my life. And I always want to say yes. But what I found is that when I'm most frustrated, and I'm feeling the least balanced and the least harmonious, those are the moments when there's something that I just don't want to do or can't find the energy to do. I realized it's time to let go of that thing, right? Obviously, not my family, right? But the things that are outside of that, anything that's competing with my family or making me too tired to focus on my family. Or when I just am not giving my best self to something, then I realize I'm spread too thin and that I'm not achieving harmony. So being able to say "no" to things, which my colleagues anyone who's listening to this will be chuckling because they all know that I'm very bad at saying "no" to things, but it's something that I am practicing. And probably the best advice that I can give people is like, learn to say no and learn when to say no. And just be comfortable saying it as often as necessary. Harmony is important.
Morgan Jones 40:02
I agree with that. Yeah, so many thoughts, but I want to get your wisdom instead of sharing mine. So another thing that you touch on is this idea of seasons in regard to this. I think this is so important is to recognize that we are quick to compare whatever season that we're in to another season that someone else is in. And recognizing that just because our seasons are different, doesn't mean that one is better or one is worse. And maybe if you feel right now like, there's something that you feel like you should pursue in the future, but maybe now you're not feeling like that's the time for it. What have you learned about timing by observing the paths that different women take at different seasons in their lives?
Eva Witesman 40:54
I'd say the first and most important lesson I learned is that my mom is always right. Like if she's further down
Morgan Jones 41:00
Eva Witesman 41:01
the path than me, and she is just always right, even when I think she's totally wrong. Like she can see the season that I'm in, and she's already been there. And she's just, she knows all the things. But I find that often with other people, too, and I especially love making friends with people who are in different seasons of their life. And we're in a ward right now that has very young families, families that are kind of in the middle, and I'd put my family in there. And then older families as well. So we get to make friends with all kinds of people who are in all kinds of stages of life. And it's been amazing to watch as the perspective of people sort of changes with their age. And with like the experience that they've had on their life path. And in some ways, it's just really comforting to hang out with people who have seen it all. They've seen world wars, sometimes more than one world war. And they sort of, you know, smile at the struggles that I'm facing. And they're like, "Yeah, I've been there, you know, and I remember being in the thick of things like you are now. And it passes and here's what comes next," you know? And it's just, it's so soothing. And so I've learned that the frantic like madness that I feel like I'm in the middle of right now, my kids are ages three to 16. So like, we have four kids, they're all in different schools. I'm in a different school, my husband has a different job, like we are going a million directions every single minute of the day, and it's complicated. But I know from looking at other people's past, that it won't always be this way. And, that not everybody has the privilege of having those million different directions. And I can look at the person next to me and be like, "Wow, you know, I wish I had the privilege of being able to focus on, you know, my work projects the way you're able to focus and dedicate yourself." Or I wish that I had the capacity to serve, either in the temple or in the community the way you are serving in the temple in the community right now. And, you know, they'll look at me and say, "It's just a different path, or it's just a different time of life." And if you want to do those things, there will come a time when you're not having four kids in four different schools, and you don't have you know, all these young kids under your roof that are asking for all of the things all at the same time and you're just trying to be everything to everyone, that season passes. And so I can sort of recognize that and say, Okay, there are, there are parts of the goals that I have for myself and my identity in my life that I am able to live right now. And other parts that I'm going to need to sort of tuck away for a minute for when I have the capacity to do that.
Morgan Jones 43:56
Beautifully put. I think there's so much power in making friends of different seasons of life. That's something that I really believe in and have seen the fruits of that. So I appreciate you bringing that up. I found a talk as I was prepping for this interview, and it was given by M. Russell Ballard, in women's conference. I had never read it before and I really loved it. I'll link it in the show notes. But one thing that he said was, "You have been divinely endowed with a unique kind of discernment and strength that differs, in some ways, from the gifts our Heavenly Father gave his sons. These differences are intentional and eternal. They don't make you better than a man nor do they make you inferior to him. They just make you different, wonderfully, deliberately, everlastingly so." And I think that we live in such an interesting time. I think one reason that people loved your talk so much again, is that it was like this positive take on everything, in my opinion, that being an advocate for women should be. It was like beautifully orchestrated in like the best way possible. And I think that we crave that because sometimes it just feels like no matter what, women can't win. Because either we feel like we want to be more equal to men, but what we're meant to be different, like Elder Ballard said. And I think we just see so much focus on equality that it's almost as if we want to be just treated the same. Why is the role of women, Eva, important to our society?
Eva Witesman 45:40
So I think we are closer to the creative capacity of our heavenly parents, in some very real, very physical ways, in addition to any spiritual ways that that President Ballard was talking about. Even those of us who don't yet have children, maybe aren't married, maybe won't be in this life. The weight of that creative power is different, I think for us than it is for our brothers in the Gospel. This isn't just about people who have kids or who have children in this life. This is about the creative power that is endowed in women by our very physical nature. And I think that shapes the spiritual gifts to which we have access. I think it shapes the way that we fit into the eternities. And not all of that has been unveiled to us yet. We don't know a lot about our Heavenly Mother. We know that she exists, we know that she's important. The new young women's theme emphasizes the importance of being Daughters of not just our Heavenly Father, but of heavenly parents. So we know that that is part of our divine birthright. And I think the challenge for us is to sort of separate out all of the ways that women have been unjustly treated differently from men, from the ways in which we are actually different from men.
And it gets complicated because even our physiology, like our chemistry and our physiology, there are parts of that that are biological, but there are also differences that may just as well be cultrual or sociological. Like if you look at brain scans, some of that is going to be differences between men and women because of different hormones, for example that our bodies produce. And that changes our instrument, that changes our physical instrument in ways that make us unique from men. But at the same time, if you do those same brain scans, some of that may be caused by experiences that we have early in life, or even later in life that shapes the way that our brains are wired. And some of that may be the influences of corrupt cultures, right? And so it's hard to sort of look and say, "Okay, well, here are the real, capital "R" differences between men and women, and that's what we should sort of embrace." So I think there are physical differences, I think that includes chemical differences that shape the way we experience emotion and the way that sometimes we express that emotion.
And I think all of that has an interface with our spiritual selves and the way that the spirit and the body come together to form a soul. I don't know exactly how all of that works, but I do know that at the core of it is this creative power. And I know that men participate in that creative power, we know that the Earth was created by Jesus Christ under the direction of Heavenly Father. So this isn't an exclusively female birthright either. But we're the ones who make the people, right? Whether we personally physically can do that or do do that in this world or not, is irrelevant. The weight of that changes who we are and what is required of us. And so you know, I hesitate to talk about like, what the implications of that are for, really anyone's life, other than to say that that needs to be taken into account and consideration when we make our own decisions in the spirit. That recognizing those divine characteristics and those divine capacities is an important part of our understanding who we are as individual people. And as we go to our Father in heaven in prayer, as we learn through the Spirit, and as we listen to a variety of talks over a long span of time, and scriptures that span an even longer period of time, that recognizing that there are those characteristics, and that's part of the calculus. That's part of what we need to be thinking about when we identify our gifts and we pursue those, and our paths and we pursue those. Because otherwise we're going to be missing a really important piece of the puzzle and it's not going to make sense without putting those pieces of the puzzle together.
Morgan Jones 50:41
So one thing that I loved, as we wrap up, at the end of your talk, you made a statement you said, in reference to women, "We will seek every good gift in the service of our God. All we ask is that others not stand in our way as we pursue the Lord's errand." And it reminded me of, as I looked back on it this time, it reminded me of something that's in the October 2019 Ensign, and it was written by Sister Sharon Eubank, and she says, "There's nobody exactly like you. And if you're bold enough to inquire, I believe you'll be swapped with impressions about your purpose, more than you ever thought possible."
And so I think the key is seeking, whether it's seeking spiritual gifts, whether it's seeking direction, just inquiring to know what the Lord thinks is possible for us. And I think that that's what you were trying to communicate, correct me if I'm wrong, but in your talk, that's what it seemed like to me was just like, imagine your possibilities. And so as we wrap up, why was that message—is that the message you were trying to communicate? And if so, why is that important to you?
Eva Witesman 51:57
Absolutely. Well, so I mean, this talk like any other talk, had a context, right? And this is coming in the wake of many questions that have been asked repeatedly and strongly by women, both inside and outside of the church, trying to understand, in part, our relationship to Priesthood power. And in part, our role in the church and in the culture and trying to explore ways that maybe the culture is getting in the way of our ability to really express our divine roles. And so a lot of that I think is backdrop for that. And so for me, as I asked all of the same questions, I mean, I haven't been immune to all of these questions. And as I prayerfully took on one question after another, I found myself gaining more and more spiritual power and more and more understanding of the role of the Priesthood in my own life. Not just the Priesthood holders in my life and the gifts that they bring through the keys of the Priesthood, but my own independent access to Priesthood power, and my own independent access to spiritual gifts.
And I found that outside of my family, where we talk very openly about spiritual gifts, even at church, people talking about their personal revelations or their personal spiritual gifts, particularly among women, wasn't as prevalent as I imagined it could be if we all shared those. And it may not always be appropriate to share sort of innermost, divine, personal revelations, but I felt like we needed to be talking about things like prophecy. We needed to be talking about things like revelation. And we as women needed to be talking about those things in our own personal experience, just like our pioneer forebears did. I mean Eliza R. Snow was not hesitant to talk about the revelations that she received. You know, President Nelson just referred to revelations that were given to Emma Smith. These are part of our heritage as women. And I felt very empowered by President Nelson's recent talk in the general women's session of conference. But at the time that I gave this talk, like that hadn't been given yet, right? And that clarity hadn't been offered. But those are things that over time and over inquiry and repeated conversations with the Spirit led me to believe that we might be living beneath our privileges, particularly as women. And I know President Uchtdorf talked about that in one of his talks, about like living beneath our privileges in general when it comes to Priesthood power. But I think it applies also to us and I think it's time for us to go ahead and access those privileges, I think we're going to need them. And we're going to need to be able to teach the people around us how to see and use those privileges as we prepare for the return of our Savior.
It's a complicated time and we can't always see the pathway by ourselves. We need these spiritual gifts to be able to see them. And these spiritual gifts are real. They're as real as any other thing that we've proven with science. Like, there are multiple witnesses to it, we can talk to each other about what it feels like, what the experience is like, we can validate it as a real thing. And I think the more of us that talk about it, and the more of us that expect that and aspire to that, the more we will see that diversity of beautiful gifts and the more we will be able to develop those beautiful gifts, and share the development of those gifts with each other. So I think a lot of the acceleration in church programming that gives more of that authority to us in our own lives and in our own homes to seek the spirit and to pursue the development of ourselves in those gifts, I think everything is sort of orchestrated around empowering us to be able to do exactly what we're talking about here. So for me, that's sort of the—I mean, obviously, there's like new context since I gave the talk. But I think that was sort of the beginnings of it is, you know, here's what I've come to, here's why I'm all in, right? Here are some stories and here are some of the reasons that that I believe that I have access to these spiritual gifts and this spiritual power. And I want everyone else to feel empowered to look for that in their own lives as well.
Morgan Jones 56:29
I think that the way that you presented the talk was such a tasteful example of the way that we can share the personal revelation that we've received. You mentioned, sometimes it may not be appropriate and I just had a conversation the other day with a lady who was going through something really difficult. And she shared with me some things that she felt like the Lord had given her. And she said, I know that I can't talk about this, but God was giving it to her personally and she was grateful for it. And so I just think like, God wants to communicate to us personally, He wants to help us with the things that we're struggling with. He wants us to feel access to Him, and I appreciate what your talk did to help us feel like we were able to receive that.
The last question for you, Eva, and this is the question we ask on this podcast always, but it is what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Eva Witesman 57:34
To me, it's being committed to continually seeking the guidance of my Heavenly Father and the Spirit in every choice that I make. And again, sometimes the answer is, "You need to go figure it out on your own and I love you and good luck with that." But asking my Heavenly Father and asking Him to explain things to me and guide me through, helps me to navigate the questions that I have. And it helps me to navigate, how to share the answers that I think I have, and how to relate to others. And I don't do it perfectly, but I'm all in on seeking that guidance and doing my best to follow it.
Morgan Jones 58:13
Thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Eva Witesman 58:17
Thanks for having me.
Morgan Jones 58:21
We are so grateful to Eva Witesman, for joining us on today's episode. Eva, in addition to being an incredible speaker, is a frequent contributor to LDS Living. She's a beautiful writer and you can find all of her articles on her author page, which we will link in our show notes.
Speaking of show notes, if you haven't checked them out, go to www.ldsliving.com/allin and you'll see show note links for every episode that we've done. With each episode, we have links to every reference that's been made during the episode as well as a full transcript. So there's plenty to explore there and I hope you'll check it out. We'll be with you again next week.