There was a question posed on Twitter that I found very interesting and I have been thinking a lot about. The blog By Common Consent posted, What was the best advice you received before attending the temple the first time? There were some good responses, and some silly responses, but it got me thinking about my own experience attending the temple for the first time. (Responses can be read here)
I have two friends who are just a few months older than I am and we had all received our mission calls and were entering the MTC each of us a week apart for three weeks. So, we decided and organized it so that we would all attend the temple for the first time during the same session. That was a great comfort to me, really, not only having my two best friends there, going through the same thing I was, but also the fact that the ordinance room in the temple was filled with our families and friends from the ward and stake — parents and leaders and teachers we had known. I distinctly remember thinking at one point that I did not know what was going on or why, I was confused and not sure if I really wanted to understand what was going on during the temple ordinance, but I looked around and I saw my father, my friends’ fathers, my Scout leaders and Priesthood leaders, our bishop and a former bishop all sitting there during the session. I can remember feeling calmed and comforted as I thought of those men whom I trusted and admired, and I remembered various times when they spoke of going to the temple regularly. I thought that if these men, whom I trusted and admired, could sit there and come back again and again and enjoy attending the temple, then it must not be as bad as I was imagining it to be. There must be something more to this whole temple ceremony and endowment ordinance than I was understanding at the time. I trusted their belief in the temple until I was able to build my own belief in the temple.
This was a Saturday morning session and afterward there was a get together with food at one of my friends’ houses and we enjoyed the rest of our Saturday. The next day at church I remember meeting with one of my Young Men leaders who was not with us at the temple the day before. I still remember the advice he gave, which is what I tweeted at By Common Consent when they posted the question.
“You knew the Church was true yesterday. It is still true. ”
That advice stayed with me as I pondered the temple and the Church. He was right. What I knew about the Church was independent of my experience in the temple. I knew the Book of Mormon was true because I had read it, I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet because I had done what he had done and pondered and prayed to know the truth, I knew that Jesus was the Christ and my Savior because I had felt his love. All of this was unaffected by anything that happened in the temple. These things were still true.
I believe this is the sort of situation that President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was describing in October’s General Conference when he said, “my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith” He was not saying that you should never doubt but he was saying that you should first doubt the doubt, and instead remember all of things that you do not doubt. Remember all of the things that you have already experienced and come to believe. Hold on to the truth you already have and do not throw it all away because there is one aspect of the Gospel that does not make complete and perfect sense yet. Return to the basics of the Gospel, have Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and apply the Joseph Smith Story and the Moroni Promise again and again. “Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.”
And so, this is the advice that I would give to one attending the temple for the first time: You knew the Church was true yesterday. It is still true. Remember what you believe to be true and how you came to believe it to be true. Apply the same process to what you learn and experience in the temple.
Though, there was another piece of advice mentioned as a response to the Twitter question that I feel should also be mentioned: “You don’t need to memorize everything; people will be there to help you.” There are certain parts of the endowment ordinance where some things are recited, and it can be overwhelming for someone attending for the first time who is not familiar with what is going on. Even worse, though, I feel is the person who decides to attend the temple for the second time. The first time you have an escort, and you have a little slip of paper pinned to your shirt identifying you as a first-time attender, and everybody is extremely willing to help. But the second time you attend, none of that is there, and you appear just as anybody else attending the temple, and it is often assumed that you have years of experience and understanding. Do not be afraid to ask for help, help is available and will be given.
The very first line of the endowment ordinance is, “Brethren and sisters, we welcome you to the temple and hope you will find joy in serving in the house of the Lord this day.” I don’t think there is anything in that sentence that would indicate that I should not share it here, and I feel this sentence, itself, is a good piece of advice for someone attending the temple for the first time. “We hope you will find joy in serving in the house of the Lord this day.” Attending the temple should be about about finding joy and serving and we need to remember that we are in the house of the Lord. Keeping those three things in mind during one’s first few experiences at the temple should help one feel the influence of the spirit and learn what one needs to learn at the pace that one is able to learn it.
One final piece of advice I would give is: Keep coming back. The best way to become familiar enough with the temple ceremony and the endowment ordinance so that it no longer seems scary is to keep coming back and attending the temple regularly. The more you experience it the more it will make sense, and as it becomes familiar you will be free to focus on other things during the ordinance, to listen to the spirit and learn directly from our Heavenly Father. The first several times you will be much more focused on doing everything right, but once that becomes natural, once you are familiar enough with the process, you will be able to concentrate and learn from the doctrines presented.
The temple is the purpose of our life here on earth, or, I should say, the ordinances performed in the temple are the purpose of our life here on earth. We live so that we can learn all that is necessary to enable us to return to our Father in Heaven, sealed together as families by his holy priesthood. Family is what it is all about, and ensuring that families can be together forever. When I saw my wife (before she was my wife) dressed in her beautiful white temple dress sitting in the Seattle Temple, I knew that she was the one I would marry and spend my forever with. I have also had wonderful temple experiences with my mother and father together, as we performed vicarious sealing ordinances so that my mother’s parents could be sealed together as an eternal family, and my mother sealed to her parents. I strongly encourage all who desire to know more about who they are, where they came from, and where they can go to study the Gospel of Jesus Christ, read and ponder the scriptures, and develop a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father. And then, come to the temple, where you can feel more closely his presence, where you can learn more fully about his plan for you, and where you can assist in his work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
I hope this advice has helped any looking for such advice. And for those reading who have attended the temple, I pose the question now to you — What was the best advice you received and what advice would you give? Please, leave a comment.