What to Do If You Don't Like the Temple
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Today I went to the temple to do an endowment session for the first time since COVID hit . . . that’s over two years.
As I sat in the session I realized that there was a teenage boy attending for the first time in preparation for his mission.
As the endowment session played out I watched this young man carefully. Would he understand what was going on? Would he be confused? Would he be excited?
I saw the entire session through his eyes.
And it made me remember when I went through the temple for the first time.
I was 20 years old and two weeks away from getting married.
To say I was excited would be an understatement.
My entire family was there along with my fiance, all of whom had been through the temple many times before.
As we went through the session I found myself feeling a lot of emotions, some of which I hadn’t expected: along with the peace, excitement, and love, I felt boredom, confusion, and disappointment. To be honest, the temple wasn’t what I had expected.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
When I have talked to friends about their first temple experience most of them have said the same thing.
On top of the peace and excitement of the day they were surprised, underwhelmed, and disappointed.
Why is that?
Is it a matter of spiritual immaturity? Lack of preparation? Unworthiness?
Listen to what President David O. McKay has to say on the subject.
A prophet of God was disappointed in the temple the first time he went as well.
And it wasn’t immaturity or unworthiness. It was focus!
The reason I was disappointed in the temple for the first few years I went was because I was focused on the mechanics: and the mechanics were both confusing and disappointing.
So how do we get unconfused and un-disappointed if we have been?
And how do we help prepare those who haven’t gone to the temple for a better first experience than we had?
Let’s dive into it.
Dive into the Deep End
Ezekiel, like a lot of other Old Testament prophets, has a vision. But this vision is different. Ezekiel sees a vision of a temple that has a spring of perfect, beautiful, pure water flowing out from its foundation. As the spring of water continued it turned into a river that connected with the Dead Sea, healing its salty waters.
As Ezekiel watches this beautiful vision he’s told to get into the water. At first he goes in up to his ankles. It must have felt nice, but wasn’t anything particularly special.
Ezekiel was then instructed to go in even further, which he did, until the water reached his knees.
He finally kept moving deeper into the water until it reached the bottom of his torso. He kept moving in to the water, deeper and deeper until it became “a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over” (Ezekiel 47: 3-5).
Now listen to what Mark Shields said of the symbolism of this vision:
So if we’re going to learn to love the temple, we have to be determined that we won’t be satisfied with “ankle-deep water.”
We must be determined to dive in deeper to the temple than others might be willing to. We have to be willing to go more often, to stay more focused, and to ponder more deeply than we ever have before.
If the temple endowment is basically exactly the same thing every time you go, how can you dive in deeper when you feel like you have it memorized?
Learn to Speak the Language of God
But that is not how God speaks. In the temple, God speaks through symbolism– the “why” behind what people are doing and saying.
And we’re not used to that. We don’t use symbolism in our everyday lives. Sure we might think about it during the Sacrament and when we attend a baptism, but outside of that? Not so much.
And unfortunately there’s not a Gospel Symbolism Sunday School class (wouldn’t that be great?).
So let’s do our own symbolism practice right now, just you and me.
Symbolism Practice: Adam and Eve
We’ll use the story of Adam and Eve which is a part of the temple endowment presentation.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they realized they were naked. When they realized this they decided that it would be best to hide their nakedness.
Here is what the scriptures say about this moment:
Now we can take that at face value and keep moving on.
Or we can try to dive in deeper.
One of the best ways to find symbolism in something is to simply ask “why”?
Why would Adam and Eve use fig leaves? Why not maple leaves?
Well, let’s consider the fruit of the fig tree. A fig is absolutely packed with seeds. In fact there can be up to 1,600 seeds in one fig! So could the fig leaves be symbolic of Adam and Eve’s ability to bear seed– to have children?
Now let’s keep going with this symbol of the apron of fig leaves.
Another way to discover symbolism is to think of the functionality of something: so what kind of apron would fig leaves make?
It would probably be relatively comfortable at first, but what about when they had dried a bit on the second day? And what about the third day?
Those aprons would feel awful!!
Adam and Eve had covered themselves in something temporary and uncomfortable.
Do we do the same thing when we sin? Do we try to cover ourselves in aprons of excuses or denial? They feel fine at first but over time they become more and more uncomfortable.
When Adam and Eve’s uncomfortable aprons were discovered by the Lord, this is what He did for them:
So the Lord literally replaced Adam and Eve’s self-made aprons with something absolutely permanent and perfect: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Do you see how asking “why” and looking for deeper meaning can add so much depth to the things we read, listen to, or see?
When you attend the temple I would encourage you to constantly ask yourself “why”.
Don’t worry about getting it right– there won’t be a pop quiz on this. Just see what deeper personal connections you can make to the things happening around you.
Just keep asking “why” and you’ll start making your own discoveries!
Take Family Names
A few years ago I was called to be an assistant family history specialist in my ward. Woohoo!!
Honestly, I was thrilled for this calling. I adore family history!
My partner and I recognized the power of the youth in our ward to do family history work, so we focused on helping them get started with it. I’m going to teach you what I taught them.
My partner, Emily, and I would make an appointment to visit one of the youth in our ward in their home. We’d then hop onto a computer with them and take them on a tour of Family Search.
Here are the steps you can take to find a family name for the temple in literally ONE minute!!
If there’s no information on the person in Family Search just look at the dates the person was alive and where they lived: did they go through the Great Depression? Were they alive during a war? What might their life have been like?
Filling in those details makes your ancestor so much more real!
Use Awesome Resources
Both were wonderful, but since I hadn’t gone through the temple yet I wasn’t sure how to use the information in them.
And even after going through the temple I had so many questions but wasn’t sure what I could talk to people about. So I just kept feeling confused.
It wasn’t until February 9, 2015 when I purchased the book Your Endowment by Mark Shields that I really started to understand the temple. As I read his book I began to understand the language of symbolism in the temple better, I began to get clarity on parts of the temple I had found confusing or weird, and I began to feel drawn to the temple like I’d never been before.
Which is why whenever I find out that someone I know is about to go through the temple for the first time, I buy them a copy of Your Endowment.
Seriously, check out my Amazon account for proof:
I bought that book ELEVEN times because it literally revolutionized my temple worship. I can’t recommend it highly enough!!
Another resource I just found out about is a video by my friend John Hilton III. It dives in DEEP to exactly what to expect before your first visit to the temple. Basically John is giving us all the chat we wish we’d had before we received our endowment!
Below are links to these awesome resources:
Your Endowment by Mark Shields
What it is: a quick lesson in understanding the symbolism of the temple experience. It adds deeper meaning and clarifies some things that might feel weird! It literally REVOLUTIONIZED my temple experience!
Putting it all together
I spent almost 10 years thinking the temple was a “have to do” part of the gospel instead of a “get to do.” But as soon as I stopped looking at the mechanics and started looking for the symbolism; and as soon as I started taking names of my own dear family members; that is when the temple came to life for me.
It now feels like coming home every time I enter, and I want to be there all the time.
So if the temple has felt weird in the past, I encourage you to keep trying! Chances are a little change of focus will make a big difference!
David O. McKay quote: Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005): 277
Mark Shields quote: Your Endowment (Cedar Fort Inc, 2009)