Ever since the Relief Society lesson in my ward a few weeks ago, Ezra Taft Benson’s “Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord,” I’ve been debating about how to address this topic. Let me preface this with the following: I agree with everyone when we say temples are the House of the Lord. There is a deserved and necessary reverence when talking about temples, when entering temples, and when preparing to go to the temple. Temples are a place where we take on serious covenants, including the endowment and the sealing, and where we can feel close to the Lord to receive personal revelation. Ordinances that take place in the temple are special, and that sacredness is to be kept private and personal.
I have found peace in the temple. I have also been blessed in very personal ways by not only going to the temple, but because other people went to the temple in my behalf; I truly believe that those prayers gave me strength in difficult times of my life.
While I believe all these things to be true, we (as collective members of the church) have a tendency to talk about the temple in exclusively these terms. We often forget to acknowledge that it can take several visits to the temple for it to become a source of spiritual empowerment. Sometimes, people never get to that point (I hate to say it, but it’s true); and I think it’s because we gloss over this very important and very real sentence in the Temple Prep manual: “If you are going to the temple for the first time it is quite normal for you to be a little unsettled. We are naturally anxious about the unknown. We often become nervous over new experiences” (“Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple”).
Please keep in mind that in writing this article I am fully aware and trying to be respectful of the following counsel from President Packer: “The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple. They are beautiful. They are sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared” (“The Holy Temple,” Ensign 1995). I have been very careful about what I can or cannot say, so know that everything I mention about the temple comes from publicly available material on lds.org. This subject matter is incredibly difficult to write about due to the very issue I’m trying to combat: out of respect for the sacredness of the temple, we avoid any specifics, and in turn many first-timers at the temple are surprised to find out they did not have that wonderful, spiritual experience that everyone has talked about.
So if you’re going through the temple for the first time, or you know someone that might need some encouragement to go back, here are some tips to have a good experience:
- Know firstand foremost that it is totally NORMAL to feel, as the Temple Prep course states, unsettled, nervous, or anxious. Because temple-talk is almost exclusively “an amazing experience,” “highly spiritual,” and “the place on Earth to feel closest to God,” when the first time through the temple isn’t met with those experiences, it can be quite a shock.As I’ve talked to people about this subject, there are multiple reactions to this: blaming ourselves, feeling guilty for not enjoying it, feeling uncomfortable and hesitant to return, etc. Many people I have talked to did not like their first temple experience. It can feel like you’re the only one in the room that doesn’t know what is going on. There is pressure not only to enjoy it, but to have some sort of deep experience there, and it is difficult those first few times because everything that is new can be a distraction. There are many things we can’t know about the temple ceremony before going, so the first few times it is intimidating and very foreign. Guess what. That’s okay.
Consider receiving your endowment separate from wedding and/or mission events. This next tip is based purely on anecdotal evidence. Talk to more people about this – I don’t know what any official rule says about this practice, or if there is any. Some people (mostly women) tend to get their endowments in conjunction with their wedding – not all, but some. While it is surely a wonderful experience to have your soon-to-be husband more heavily involved in your endowment, I also think it’s advantageous to go to the temple for yourself and not just because of impending nuptials.This is certainly not the best option for everyone, but if your ecclesiastical leader allows, it should at least be considered. Even though one must first be endowed to be sealed to their spouse, the endowment is completely separate from a sealing. It is your own personal commitment to Heavenly Father, having nothing (directly) to do with your commitment to your spouse. (While there may be some argument there, I’m trying to say that you don’t NEED to have a spouse to take on the covenants during the endowment.)
Several people that I’ve talked to said that they wished they had had more time before their wedding to get used to the endowment session. There is so much going on those few weeks before a wedding that adding all this new stuff at the temple (that is extremely personal and really important to your relationship with God) deserves some special time, separate from all the distractions a wedding can present.
Likewise, for prospective full-time missionaries, don’t treat the temple as another checklist item before you head out into the mission field. Your first time through the temple is so easily reduced to something that needs “getting done,” akin to a visit to Mr. Mac. So when you get your call, get to the temple early and spend your interim months attending and learning.
- Go with people you feel really comfortable with. The endowment session is something totally new – you don’t want to be in a room with strangers and your future in-laws whom you’ve only met a few times. Choose people you feel safe with, people you know you can easily ask questions. Maybe even ask them beforehand what their first temple experience was like. The more you’re aware of before you go, the less distracted you might be by the “newness” of the experience.
Use the resources available to you. By all means, take a temple prep class, but don’t stop there! When I took that class, I didn’t get this student manual, and it actually has some really good stuff. Go to your scriptures – a large part of the endowment deals with the creation, as found in the book of Moses; reread those first few chapters. Study temple worship in the Old Testament and the power and importance of ritual. And, again, talk to people you know and love about their temple experience – ask questions you might have regarding logistics or what to expect.
People are often uncomfortable with the more ritualistic aspects of temple worship, but look at the rituals of other faiths in a more public setting – the reverence, ornateness, and symbolism throughout the world’s great religions. Our temple ordinances are different, of course, but they carry some of that same tenor. We just reserve things for a different space, and understanding the very ancient nature of temple worship will aid you in processing everything. Remember, we’re allowed to discuss a lot more than we typically do, but it should be a reverent conversation.
- And, I hate to be so cliché on the last tip, but commit to go back to the temple. For me personally, I did not like my first experience. I felt very out of place and had no idea what to expect before going in. My first endowment session was a few months before entering the MTC, and I went a total of 3 times before I was set apart as a missionary. It was hard to go back – my family had come in from out of town for my first time, but after that I didn’t really feel like I had anyone to go with. The only thing that made the temple a better experience for me was having to go with my MTC district every week. I didn’t really have a choice, so the newness slowly became more familiar, and I started to understand why people loved the temple so much.
If you are someone who went to the temple and felt weird about it, I promise, you’re not the only one. My goal in writing this is to add another layer to our conversations about the temple that include more people and set more realistic expectations.
I will say, the best piece of advice I received before my own endowment was from a really funny friend. He found out I was about to go through for the first time and he gave me this knowing smile and said, “Just enjoy it.” He said it in a way that was both mysterious and lighthearted; I honestly think it helped me shrug off any confusion I felt and even laugh a little at how new everything was. Even though I didn’t love my first experience, that little piece of advice helped me know that it would get better. And get better it does when we go regularly and do our best to inform ourselves about what it is that we’re doing in the Lord’s house.