Cover image via Gospel Media Library.

There is an unforgettable poignancy in the image of the early saints standing on the banks of the Mississippi river, ready to begin their journey to some unknown destination in the west. I’m certain they couldn’t help but look back one more time at their beloved temple on the hill. It was a temple that had required great sacrifice and ignited such excitement. An editorial in the Times and Seasons published in May 1842 said:

Never since the foundation of the Church was laid, have we seen manifested a greater willingness to comply with the requisitions of Jehovah, a more ardent desire to do the will of God, more strenuous exertions used, or greater sacrifices made than there have been since the Lord said, “Let the Temple be built by the tithing of my people.”

It seemed as though the spirit of enterprise, philanthropy, and obedience rested simultaneously upon old and young, and brethren and sisters, boys and girls, and even strangers, who were not in the Church, united with an unprecedented liberality in the accomplishment of this great work; nor could the widow, in many instances, be prevented, out of her scant pittance from throwing in her two mites. . . .

And now, they would never see it again.

So, why did the Lord ask it of them? Why demand such sacrifice and inspire such anticipation only to have the first company of saints leave even before it was dedicated? (Though the endowment ceremony began to be administered before the temple was complete).

President Dallin H. Oaks shed light on that question in April 2024 general conference when he said, “we have the testimonies of many pioneers that the power they received from being bound to Christ in their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple gave them the strength to make their epic journey and establish themselves in the West.”

They needed to be endowed with power to be able to endure what was ahead. In a way, they didn’t leave the temple behind, they took it with them in the covenants made with the Lord there and the power and protection He promised in return.

We also take our covenants with us from the temple in the form of our temple garments. But how often do we think of our garments and what they symbolize as lending us real-life power and protection like that? Would we be willing to build a temple and sacrifice so much only to leave it behind so quickly, as long as it meant we could have our covenants and wear their symbols upon us from that time forward?

With the work of temple building hastening to an almost unfathomable pace, that’s a question we don’t have to answer, but it does make you stop and wonder how you regard your own garments or the prospect of a future endowment if you haven’t yet been through the temple.

When a singles’ ward bishop first presented the idea to me that I might be in a good place in life to go to the temple and receive my endowment for the first time, I was hesitant. I was 24 at the time, and not dating anybody. I had always assumed I would go to the temple in preparation for marriage, this seemed sort of out of the blue. In addition, it intimidated me to wear garments. I didn’t think it would change my wardrobe very much, but it still felt somehow like I was retaining some level of freedom by not entering that stage yet.

It was easy, with as little understanding as I had, to fixate on the clothing implications rather than understand what my bishop was really inviting me to have.

I put off the decision and was leaning towards a no, when a friend confided in me that she was struggling with a severe pornography issue. It made me livid that the adversary could’ve found such inroads with a person I knew to be so good and bright and desirous for righteousness. As I listened to her confide some more of the details of the issue, I realized that if Satan’s battle advances had made it this far into her life, then I absolutely couldn’t let him have the victory of my hemming and hawing over going to the temple, when my only real reasoning was that I didn’t want it to establish me as eternally single, and I didn’t know if I’d have to toss out a favorite skirt or two.

In that moment, I realized the extent to which my going to the temple truly would be a victory over the adversary and not just a logistical burden for me. Though I hadn’t been yet, and I didn’t fully understand why, it just felt like it was a win that I wanted to take on behalf of a friend who felt like she was losing to him.

When I got off the phone with her, my next call was to the temple to set a date.

That date was almost exactly a decade ago. Though I yet have much to learn about the things that we do in the temple and all that it means, my appreciation for the opportunity to wear garments as a symbol of my continuing determination to be victorious on the Lord’s behalf has only grown.

But what else do our temple garments symbolize and why are we asked to wear them?

The first thing that may come to mind for many is the way that they encourage modest dress. And the way that dressing like that often makes us stand out in a crowd as a way to represent what we believe. Indeed, when I was living in New York City through a sweltering summer, I was asked multiple times whether I was Jewish or Muslim because my dresses and sleeves remained so long despite the persistent heat. It was an invitation to a conversation about my beliefs, which I appreciated. But I don’t think that’s the main reason the Lord gives us the opportunity to wear our garments.

In fact, modesty and how that modesty represents the Church is so often the hill on which the conversation about garments lives and dies. In particular, with the rise of social media and influencers who are members of the Church, but may not present themselves in a way that you would expect a member of the Church to, there are those who are quick to comment that they should wear something else or others that begin to think, “well, if she can wear that, why shouldn’t I?”

But we are living in the fulness of times and getting stuck on judging each other’s clothing choices on social media is one of the emptier of conversations. Joseph Smith said in his history, “God has begun to make manifest and set in order in His Church those things which have been, and those things which the ancient prophets and wise men desired to see but died without beholding them.” He was talking about the restoration of the temple ordinances. It astounds me to think that I take for granted something the ancients would’ve loved to see, but died without getting to. Our unprecedented access to temples isn’t about having the tools to tell someone by exactly how much their outfit isn’t garment appropriate, it’s about becoming a covenant people and inviting others to be closer to Jesus Christ on both sides of the veil.

In her April 2024 general conference address, Sister J. Anette Dennis said:

The garment of the holy priesthood is deeply symbolic and also points to the Savior. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit and had to leave the Garden of Eden, they were given coats of skins as a covering for them. It is likely that an animal was sacrificed to make those coats of skins—symbolic of the Savior’s own sacrifice for us. Kaphar is the basic Hebrew word for atonement, and one of its meanings is “to cover.” Our temple garment reminds us that the Savior and the blessings of His Atonement cover us throughout our lives. As we put on the garment of the holy priesthood each day, that beautiful symbol becomes a part of us.

Sister Dennis added, “There is deep and beautiful symbolic meaning in the garment of the holy priesthood and its relationship to Christ. I believe that my willingness to wear the holy garment becomes my symbol to Him. It is my own personal sign to God, not a sign to others.”

We are wearing the atonement and are able to draw constantly from its power when we choose to wear our temple garments. Our choice to wear that symbol and embrace its promise that we can try again even when we’ve made the same old mistake and have Christ’s power to draw from when we are at our weakest, isn’t really about anybody else.

But that also means we are giving up more than we realize when we give others the power to influence us not to wear them, particularly to please the world. In the recent documentary, TikTok Boom, a young girl commented that though she had started her TikTok account as a place for political activism, she couldn’t help but notice that the content she posted where she had more skin showing got more likes and more engagement. That inevitably led to a change in her fashion choices and some evolution of her content, even though she originally joined the platform to discuss ideas that were important to her.

Though she was not a member of the Church, her story provides a compelling example of the ways that we can slowly begin to trade the promise of having the atonement always with us through the persistent choice to wear our garments in all possible circumstances, for “likes”—be they proverbial or literal.

As noted in a memorable passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, (a correspondence between two devils):

…doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…

We could, perhaps, replace “Hell” with disconnection from the Divine. The road to finding ourselves painfully distanced from God is more often filled with casual distractions and passing preoccupations than with a passionately expressed argument in favor of a life of evil.

When we become increasingly casual about our garments, we lose out on all that is promised by embracing them. As Sister J. Anette Dennis says, “Our Father wants a deeper relationship with all His sons and daughters, but it is our choice. As we choose to draw nearer to Him through a covenant relationship. It allows Him to draw nearer to us and more fully bless us…Through honoring our covenants, we enable God to pour out the multitude of promised blessings associated with those covenants, including increased power to change and become more like our Savior.”

I can’t imagine anything I want more in life right now than increased power to change. And that is a promise quietly lying in wait as we faithfully increase our engagement with the work of the temple, keep our covenants, and wear our garments.

We are choosing to put on the atonement every day as we choose to put on our garments, inviting Jesus to cover us with His redemption. When you think of it in those terms, the question of how often to wear them or not wear them becomes very simple.

For there is never a day when we don’t need His atonement. What a privilege we have to be able to show Him again and again symbolically that we will continue to embrace and utilize that greatest gift He gave to us.