In the early days of church history, every member assisted in building temples, including the early saints who gathered broken glass and dishes to contribute to the stucco of the Kirtland Temple. There were no massive construction firms to hire; members rolled up their sleeves and built these sacred edifices with their own hands. Women sewed shirts for the men who worked long hours (and long years) to make temples possible. The Salt Lake Temple took forty years, and for many– lifelong dedication.
Today we feel a thrill of excitement as beautiful new temples are announced, all over the world. Thankfully, they are all completed in much less time. Gone are the days when Farmer Jones would leave his plowing to come and mix plaster, or lay floor boards. I imagine our ancestors beamed with pride as they nudged one another back then, and whispered, “That’s the doorway Dad worked on.”
Even back when our chapels were built by local members, there was a shared pride in the workmanship, by those who hammered and sawed. And we love our edifices just as much, even though our own sweat and toil may not have raised them up (or, if you’re in construction, maybe it did!)
Still, we are removed from actual temple construction. We hear of them, sometimes we can attend groundbreakings, we participate in youth celebrations, we might even watch a glistening Angel Moroni hefted and placed atop our temples. Often we can participate in the dedications. I was privileged to have a Public Affairs calling when the Sacramento Temple was built, allowing me to participate in a very hands-on way. One time I asked the architect if he felt especially inspired about any particular room. He smiled and said, “All of them.”
But there is one temple we can personally build– a temple, in fact, that only we can build. It’s the one Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of, in his 2009 talk titled, “Lessons of Liberty Jail.” It’s the temple we construct from our most painful trials. Elder Holland spoke of Joseph’s horrific ordeal, saying, “… the lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through it. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace.”
How often do we feel buried under a tidal wave of adversity? How often do we struggle against the buffetings of Satan, the unfortunate twists of mortal life, and the heartbreaking choices of others? If you’re like me, you struggle to make sense of trying so hard and not having your prayers immediately answered the way you want them to be. Sometimes we get caught in the endless cycle of cry, pray, repeat. It’s easy to get discouraged, to wonder if you’re being heard.
But we are. God never leaves, never fails to understand us perfectly. His caring and concern is infinite and monumental. If we can meet our challenges with great faith, forgiveness, and pure focus upon Christ, we can receive the calm assurance that, in time, all will be well. We can drink from the quenching waters of our Lord and Savior, and know in our hearts that God approves of us and has not forgotten us. Yes, it requires more patience than we expected. It requires calmness rather than hysteria. It requires charity rather than self-pity. By no means is it easy. But it is possible for every one of us.
By enduring well and turning to God for help, we can make a masterpiece of our hardships. And you probably know people who’ve done this—often elderly people whose lives of struggle and adversity seem insurmountable. Yet, here they are, eyes glowing, faces smiling, hands reaching out to welcome others. They took those hard knocks and made them into gleaming bricks.
One by one, they stacked them up, like trophies. Each lesson learned, each humble step closer to Christ, until they created their very own temple– a dazzling tribute to persevering faith and undaunted service. Though frail and bent, these are the true superheroes among us, people no trial can faze, people who can withstand the storms of misfortune with nary a blink. They’ve proven it. And they’re amazing.
We can follow their example. We can re-frame our setbacks as opportunities to become temple builders. What lesson can we learn this time? What opportunity to help someone else, will this trial bring? If we can stop gasping at the shock of life offering up negative experiences as well as applause, we might be able to see how to turn a failure into a victory. No one’s life is without struggles, not even the very righteous. All of us will have cause to call upon God, and the often painful chance to learn and grow. That’s the plan we agreed upon. And it’s the right plan, the only plan that can bring us home again.
Remember what the Lord told Joseph in Liberty Jail: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8).
That’s the blueprint for building a personal temple.
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Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.