“You do know what they do in the temple, don’t you?”
I can’t tell you how often I heard that after I joined the Church. Especially as I prepared to go to the temple for the first time. Some of I things I heard ranged from utterly comical to downright absurd.
“Sure, I know what happens in the temple,” I thought.
But did I really? I’d been through temple prep. I read the book ‘The Holy Temple’ by Boyd K. Packer. Didn’t they tell me everything I needed to know?
Fast forward many years as I’m helping my wife get ready for a lesson in Relief Society about temple preparation in our homes. We talked about everything from the Church-supported, Family-centered focus, to our own experiences preparing for the temple. We thought we thought ready, but I’ve found there was so much more that we could’ve been taught, that unfortunately wasn’t. And when we’d ask people about a particular piece of the temple experience, we were often met with the same lines.
“You will need to figure that out yourself.” or “Read this book and you can figure it out.”
It was discouraging, and at times it made me feel alone in the temple experience. It seemed when I wanted to talk about my temple experience, there really wasn’t a good venue for me to do so. So the questions I had, were often kept inside. Over the years, through study and prayer, I’ve been able to learn, grow and understand more about the temple. I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. Not all, but some. Beyond that though, my love for the temple has grown in leaps and bounds.
I’ve also wondered if my experience as a convert of not really being fully prepared for temple was isolated to converts. But after talking with numerous people in the Church, I’ve come to release I’m not as alone as I believed.
I don’t fault the people in my life who were called to prepare me, or the friends who surrounded and supported me. I think many of us are often confused or even uncomfortable with what we can share about the temple experience. But because of that we may miss crucial teaching moments.
A common misconception
We are regularly reminded of the sacredness of the temple and how we shouldn’t speak about certain aspects of the ordinances. I wholeheartedly endorse that. So when I speak of the temple, please know that I speak with reverence and love for the sacred place. However, I sometimes think we have a common misconception that we shouldn’t talk about anything in the temple. EVER. I’ve heard that sentiment from more than one person. You can almost see some people start to squirm a little when the topic of the temple ordinances come up. Maybe we are just uncomfortable with what we can share. Maybe we don’t fully understand the temple ordinances ourselves and we don’t want to sound ignorant. Regardless, I think we are missing opportunities to teach our children and new converts valuable information.
President Ezra Taft Benson said the following about this reluctance we may feel regarding speaking about the temple:
“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.”
Okay, Jeff, I hear what you are saying, but what can we do about it?
In April’s General Conference, Elder Bednar said this about temple preparation in the home:
“Vital temple preparation classes occur in our homes; important but secondary temple preparation classes also may be conducted periodically in our meetinghouses.”
In his address Elder Bednar gives the following two guidelines (I added a third from President Hunter):
- We should not disclose the special symbols associated with the covenants we received int he temple ceremonies. Nor should we discuss the information we SPECIFICALLY promise in the temple not to reveal.
- Everything in the temple points to the Savior. We may discuss the purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants.
- Share your spiritual feelings that you have in the temple with you children and family.
Beyond Elder Bednar’s suggestions, President Nelson has encouraged members to study the temple more. We can find crucial references in the Bible dictionary related to ‘anoint,’ ‘covenant,’ ‘sacrifice.’ and ‘temple.’ We can also learn vital information regarding the temple in our study of the Old Testament. In Exodus chapters 26-29, Leviticus chapter 8, and the Pearl of Great Price, there are valuable pieces of information that will better prepare us for the temple experience.
The Church’s own website offers added instruction and insight on the following: baptism and confirmation, washing and anointing, temple garments, endowment, the Law of Obedience, the Law of Sacrifice, the Law of the Gospel, the Law of Chastity, the Law of Consecration and sealing.
I would add a personal plea. Please teach your children the temple recommend questions and explain what they mean. This can help make the temple recommend meeting that much more meaningful. Sure it is a great teaching moment for the Bishopric member to connect with the youth and teach them if they don’t understand a particular question. But they should also be learning what these things mean at home first. These are serious ordinances and covenants they are undertaking, and we need to make sure we are preparing both our youth and ourselves properly.
A Convert’s View
As with most people going through the temple for the first time, it can be an information overload. While the amount of information and symbolism was a bit overwhelming, the ordinances themselves didn’t phase me like they may have others. The ritualistic and liturgical nature of the ordinances was not completely foreign to me, as I came from a church that largely did things in a prescribed way every single time. But their was so much symbolism that I didn’t completely understand the first time through. Or the second. Or the twenty fifth. I’m still garnering bits of symbolism every time I visit the temple.
I do wonder if other converts who have come from religions with more ritualized or liturgical worship feel the same way. On the converse, as a faith, very few things outside of the temple are done in a set way, the same exact way, every time, other than the sacrament prayers. Do those who have been members their entire life struggle with this more prescribed way of doing things?
In the end, I’m not blaming the lack of preparation on anyone. I think it’s just that we as a people are unsure what to say. I think the guidance from Elder Bednar and President Nelson, and the videos from the Church have given us a lot of content we can draw from. My wife and I are doing our best as parents to prepare our own children for making these eternal covenants in the temple. I hope that by teaching them the sacred nature of the temple early, they can develop the same love for the temple that my wife and I have. Maybe by doing so we can prevent some of the initial angst and overwhelming feelings that had when we attended the first time.
I agree with a TWIM article from 2015 about preparing for Temple Endowment. If you feel overwhelmed at first, don’t let that discourage you from going back. Don’t let your lack of understanding and knowledge keep you from being in that sacred and holy space. Even if you can’t understand everything yet, you can connect with the Spirit, and that sometimes can make all the difference. Remember it is the Lord’s house, so go and be close to him as much as possible.