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Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
On a quiet Monday morning, I stepped through the doors of a new clothing boutique, unaware that a surprising conversation awaited me. I fingered the silky blouses and skirts in rich fall colors, making my way through the aisles till I found what I was looking for: a small rack on the back wall with five or six white temple dresses. I selected three to try on in the dressing room, found one that worked, then headed to the cashier’s desk to make my purchase.
As I handed my white dress to the young adult clerk she exclaimed, “I’m so glad they’re making cute temple dresses now!” I agreed, telling her that I’m a temple ordinance worker and needed to replace a dress that had worn out. The young woman paused, then quietly confided, “I have a hard time with the temple. I never had any temple prep class before I got married, and it’s hard for me to keep going back when I don’t understand anything.”
I was touched that this lovely young woman shared something so personal with me, and I genuinely wanted to help her. Glancing around quickly, I saw that we were suddenly all alone in the store, so I said earnestly, “Please don’t give up on the temple.” I encouraged her to speak to her Bishop, to ask if a temple preparation class could be taught in her ward. Then I bore my testimony to her about the powerful blessings I have experienced as I’ve made the temple a priority, and how–even when our temple understanding is meager–we bless others each time we attend and participate. We stood there for a moment, both of us with tears in our eyes, then she observed, “Wow, I feel the Spirit so strongly right now.” The Spirit was confirming the importance of the temple to both of us. My heart was deeply touched by this sweet young woman, so sincere in her desire to appreciate the temple.
Our conversation has played repeatedly through my mind for weeks, increasing my wish to help others grow in their understanding of God’s holy house. To all who struggle with the temple, I say, “Please don’t give up on the temple.”
Admittedly, I am somewhat of a temple nerd. I love to see the temple, and to read about it. I love to spend time there as a patron and as an ordinance worker. I even enjoy cleaning assignments in the temple. My heart is full each time I drive through the mountain valleys where I live and see the many temples that dot the land. But I haven’t always felt this way. My journey toward improved temple worship is shared in a previous article.
It is important to make clear that I don’t have powerful spiritual experiences each time I participate in temple work. My understanding of the ordinances of the temple is likely no greater than your average temple attending Latter-day Saint. In fact, I’m frequently frustrated that my temple knowledge moves at the rate of an elderly tortoise. But I can confidently claim that I have felt the blessings of the temple in unmistakable ways as I have worshipped consistently there.
I regret that I may have short-changed my three oldest children as they each prepared to receive their endowment before leaving to serve missions. This was largely due to two issues: first, I did not realize at the time how much we could appropriately discuss outside of the temple. (*See quote from Elder Bednar under additional resources below.) Secondly, to some extent I let the excitement of mission preparations overshadow the importance of the temple endowment. This is also a common issue for young brides who are so caught up in wedding preparations, that receiving their endowment becomes just another item on the checklist, far less important than buying the perfect dress or finding the right photographer.
As my fourth child prepared to receive her endowment, she attended the temple prep class in her YSA ward, but asked if I would read through the lessons with her at home as well, and discuss them. This was a very sweet experience for us. Two years later, as my youngest daughter was preparing for the temple, she also asked me to review the lessons with her. This gave the girls a chance to ask questions.
We are all wired differently. Our personalities, backgrounds, levels of personal testimony, spiritual gifts, and gospel understanding vary greatly. We should not be surprised that we each respond differently to the temple. But I believe that we can all benefit–whether the temple is new to us, or we have been endowed for decades–from the following five keys to improving our temple experience:
There is no way around this. Purity of body, mind, and spirit allows the Holy Ghost to teach us and touch us. We cannot “fake” purity. If we come to the temple unclean, our sins will hang like a veil between us and the truths of the temple. On the other hand, we must not equate worthiness with perfection. If we wait till we’re perfect to enter God’s house, we’ll never get there. Our bishop can help us determine our worthiness.
The temple recommend questions are not a random list. Being able to answer each specific question appropriately helps us be prepared to live the covenants made in the endowment. For instance: living the Law of Tithing is a major step toward being able to live the Law of Sacrifice. If we can honestly tell the Bishop that we are living the Law of Chastity, we should have no trouble accepting that same law as given in the temple. Additionally, it is vital to understand that being worthy to attend the temple, though a crucial part of our preparation, is not enough.
We must not equate worthiness with readiness for the temple experience. It is possible–even common–for church members to enter the temple in absolute spiritual purity, with a genuine desire to understand the endowment, yet have a disappointing or even troubling experience because they were not prepared with a basic understanding of ordinances, covenants, symbolism, the temple garment, etc. Temple worship is nothing like Sacrament meeting or Sunday school. The ordinances, the tokens, and the ritual feel of the temple are ancient in nature and can feel jarring to those raised in modern times, unless we’re informed in advance what to expect. Taking a temple preparation class allows us to discuss each of these subjects.
For the rising generation, used to instant internet answers, the slow, line-upon-tiny-line approach to growing in understanding of temple ordinances, covenants, and symbols can be frustrating. However, it is not unlike the process of gaining scriptural knowledge. Those who persist in seeking will gradually extend their understanding as the Holy Spirit tutors them. Candidates for the temple endowment must recognize that this is a lifelong process.
Many teenagers “fall through the cracks” after high school graduation, when their home ward assumes they’ll receive temple prep in their student ward, and vice versa. Bishops, parents, and YSA advisor couples can all help to ensure that no young single adult enters the temple without formal preparation.
Each person coming to the temple for the first time will receive special instruction from one of the temple matrons or a member of the temple presidency before their endowment. One temple matron recently expressed regret after such an instruction session. A young sister had come to the instruction with belligerence evident both in her body language and in her comments and questions. The matron felt deep sadness, knowing that it was unlikely that this young woman could experience anything positive in the endowment, as she had come to the temple in such a cynical frame of mind.
There is nothing wrong with asking questions about the temple. Sister Sheri L. Dew made the following observation about gospel questions, “Questions are good. Questions lead to answers…The crucial issue is not about asking questions, it is the spirit in which questions are asked. A question posed against a backdrop of doubt and criticism–i.e., “I don’t understand thus and such, so the church [or in this case the temple] must not be true”–can be debilitating, as it negates faith and leaves a person unable to be guided by the spirit to learn. On the other hand, the same question asked in an environment of faith–“I don’t understand thus and such, and I wonder what the Lord will teach me about that question”–demonstrates faith in the Lord and the hope that at some point an answer will be made clear. Questions asked in an environment of faith unlock the power of God to answer them.” (1)
Come with a sense of the sacredness of the temple. One who is receiving their endowment is entering into a new stage of spiritual development by making serious promises. These covenants are not to be entered into lightly, which is why it is essential to come spiritually prepared. The eternal truths of the temple are only understood spiritually, so we must guard against spiritual desensitization. We become desensitized to the gentle whispers of the Spirit when we allow ourselves to be overexposed to all that is loud, intense, and fast-paced. Most of us are exposed to sensory overload for an alarmingly high percentage of our time, saturated with sound waves and visual stimulation. How can the Spirit compete with all of the noise and stimulants? He doesn’t even try. Since He will not increase his volume to a shout, we must learn to be inwardly still, so we will not miss His sacred whispers.
Guard against letting your cellphone rob you of a sacred experience. One of the points my husband and I emphasize while teaching the temple preparation course to our 17/18-year-old Sunday school youth, is to pull back from technology as part of their preparation. We urge them to make a goal of being able to go several hours at a time without checking their phones. Why? Because the day you receive your endowment, you arrive at the temple, check in at the recommend desk, change clothing in the dressing room, receive the Initiatory ordinance, receive instruction, and are escorted to the endowment room. All of this occurs before the endowment session even begins. The session itself is approximately 1½ hours long, then there is time to linger in the Celestial Room, after which you return to the dressing room to change back into street clothes. By the time you leave the temple, several hours will have passed. If you’re distracted or restless in the temple because you can’t reach for your phone to check texts or social media, the likelihood of having a sacred experience will be diminished.
Jesus Christ gave a marvelous formula for all who wish to understand teachings of a spiritual nature. It applies perfectly to the temple. When the Savior visited the American continent after his resurrection and perceived that the people were struggling to understand his doctrine, he counseled them as follows:
“…go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.”
I call this the GPPPG formula: after attending the temple, Go home, Ponder, Pray, Prepare, Go back. It should not surprise us that if we give no thought to the temple or our covenants, except when we are actually inside the building, we are unlikely to make any progress in our understanding of the temple between visits.
There is no shame in struggling to understand and appreciate the ordinances of God’s holy house. It is completely appropriate to ask for help from our Bishop, our family, or other church members who are solid in their covenant commitments and who reverence the temple. Then come to the house of the Lord. Come worthy, come informed, come humble, come reverent, and be sure to come back. Please don’t give up on the temple.
HELPFUL RESOURCES FOR TEMPLE PREPARATION:
links: article “They Don’t Take Visa at the Temple”
Link to temple.lds.org info on the temple garment
Temple preparation lessons, Endowed from on High
Elder David A. Bednar, Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing, April 2019 General Conference:
“Indeed, temple preparation is most effective in our homes. But many Church members are unsure about what appropriately can and cannot be said regarding the temple experience outside of the temple.
President Ezra Taft Benson described why this uncertainty exists:
“The temple is a sacred place, and the ordinances in the temple are of a sacred character. Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren.
“As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into.
“I believe a proper understanding or background will immeasurably help prepare our youth for the temple … [and] will foster within them a desire to seek their priesthood blessings just as Abraham sought his.”
Two basic guidelines can help us achieve the proper understanding emphasized by President Benson.
Guideline #1. Because we love the Lord, we always should speak about His holy house with reverence. We should not disclose or describe the special symbols associated with the covenants we receive in sacred temple ceremonies. Neither should we discuss the holy information that we specifically promise in the temple not to reveal.
Guideline #2. The temple is the house of the Lord. Everything in the temple points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. We may discuss the basic purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants…
Across the generations, from the Prophet Joseph Smith to President Russell M. Nelson, the doctrinal purposes of temple ordinances and covenants have been taught extensively by Church leaders. A rich reservoir of resources exists in print, audio, video, and other formats to help us learn about initiatory ordinances, endowments, marriages, and other sealing ordinances. Information also is available about following the Savior by receiving and honoring covenants to keep the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration. All Church members should become familiar with the excellent materials available at temples.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.”
- Sheri L. Dew, Women and the Priesthood, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company), p. 8, emphasis added.