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One of the most unique aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its use of temples as a form of worship and as a means of uniting families and connecting individuals to God for time and for all eternity. No other major Christian denomination has temple worship and temple ordinances as part of its faith. Unquestionably, Latter-day Saints are most fortunate to have access to these revealed ordinances and to have access to the power and knowledge available to those who worthily and regularly attend the temples that literally dot the earth.
For me personally, attending the temple has been a wonderful and enriching experience. Quite literally, each of the ordinances has significant meaning in and application to my life, and I continue to find myself intrigued by all that the Spirit teaches me as I regularly attend the house of the Lord.
However, too many Latter-day Saints go to the temple for the first time unprepared for the experience. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), thirteenth President of the Church, expressed his concern about how poorly we prepare the youth for their temple experience:
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.1
Similarly, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015), former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote, “Members of the Church are not willing to talk about [temple] matters . . . Lacking knowledge, some [who have not been through the temple] develop strange explanations about the work of our temples.”2 In 1971, the First Presidency of the Church sent out a circular letter stating, “It has come to our attention that many of those planning to go to the temple for the first time are not properly oriented as to what to expect there. Under such circumstances they may fail to receive adequate understanding from their experience in the temple.”3 A lack of preparation certainly increases the likelihood that those attending for the first time will not have the positive experience the temple is intended to provide. As an example, I knew two young men who were best friends and who received their endowment on the same day, in the same temple. One of the two had a wonderful, uplifting experience and seemed well prepared for what he encountered during his endowment. His best friend, however, was not as well prepared and, in many ways, found his first experience in the temple less than uplifting, some- what confusing, and not the spiritual experience he was expecting. During their endowment, these two young men were taught the exact same things in the exact same ways but had two very differ- ent experiences—largely because of how prepared (or unprepared) they were.
In part, proper preparation is the responsibility of the individual who is seeking to participate in the ordinances of the temple. However, those who have not yet attended the temple often don’t know where to start in their personal preparation. Consequently, those of us who have already participated in baptisms for the dead, the temple’s initiatory and endowment ordinances, or a sealing ceremony have a responsibility to make sure that those who know nothing of the details of these sacred rites and ordinances are sufficiently prepared for what they are going to experience, so that they will have a positive experience when they go to the temple.
Elder Khumbulani Mdletshe (b. 1964), of the Seventy, suggested that going to the temple for the first time should carry the anticipation and surprise a young child might feel at Christmastime. When we go to the temple for the first time, we should understand that God has a great gift for us—a gift we are about to receive. Just as little children are traditionally thrilled by the gifts given on Christmas, members of the Church should find their experience in the temple even more satisfying than the largely material gifts on that holiday.4 However, for some, this is not their experience—mostly, as President Benson suggested, because of their lack of preparation. A friend of mine shared an analogy that he uses to describe how many members approach temple preparation. It goes as follows:
Imagine you live in a culture in which children are told how wonderful oranges are. Throughout their entire lives they hear about how awesome and delicious the fruit is, but the children are always forbidden to partake of oranges—because their palates are not yet mature enough to appreciate this wonderful fruit. Indeed, they are not even allowed to see an orange, let alone watch an adult partake of one. Nevertheless, they are told time and again that eventually the day will come when they too will be permitted to taste of oranges, and they are excitedly informed that they will absolutely love everything about them.
Finally, the time arrives. The young man (or woman) is now older, and it is determined that he is ready to partake of the beloved orange. On the appointed day, this budding young adult is placed alone in a room with a singular orange. It is perfect and plump, ready to be eaten. However, the young man is given no instructions as to how to eat the orange. He has no experience eating them and has never seen another person eat one. With slight anxiety, the youth picks the orange up, sniffs it, and then—not knowing the orange needs to be peeled—takes a small bite of it. It is remarkably bitter to the taste, and the experience is shocking. Our friend feels like he has been deceived by the many adults who spoke of how absolutely wonderful oranges are. The young adult determines that he hates oranges and, frankly, distrusts those who misled him about how supposedly wonderful they are.
Had this young person been given some instructions about how to eat an orange, he most likely would have had a pleasant experience, but the lack of knowledge—and lack of preparation for the experience—left him terribly disappointed, surprised, and a bit jaded.
In some ways, this is how some of us approach temple preparation for our children, grandchildren, and friends. We tell them over and over again how great the temple is going to be for them—and we gush over how they are going to just love everything about it—but then we do such a poor job preparing them for it that some end up having needlessly negative experiences their first time attending, as they aren’t really sure what to do with the things they learn and experience in the temple.
This isn’t to suggest that there is a singular way to enjoy the temple any more than there is only one way to peel or eat an orange. Just as an orange can be peeled by hand, cut into wedges, turned into juice, and so on, so also there are many approaches to understanding and enjoying the temple. Yet, in both cases, we must instruct those preparing to partake. If we do so, we increase the likelihood that they will have a good experience—and that they will understand that in order to fully enjoy what they are about to receive, they must peel back the skin and really sink their teeth per se into the meat of the orange or ordinance. If we do not properly prepare them, they may just be left with the bitter taste of the outer peel—which is not truly what the endowment or the orange is about.
If, because of the newness of the experience, those we love have a bad experience their first time in the temple, it may be partially our fault. In addition, if their first experience is poor, they may not want to return. We really must do a better job of preparing those whom we love to have a sweet and wonderful experience in the temple. We can do that if we will give them a bit of clear instruction and help establish clear expectations.5
Just as the orange, if eaten properly, is sweet and delicious to the taste, one’s first encounter with the ordinances of the temple can be delightful. However, if one is unprepared, his or her temple experience may be different than expected and, thus, confusing or disappointing. As we will address in this book, symbolic clothing, gestures, stories, architecture, and even policies can sometimes surprise and confuse patrons. If they are properly prepared to expect and understand these symbolic elements of the temple—and if they are more aware of the policies and practices associated with temple worship—they are more likely to have a positive, Spirit- filled experience. Families and friends really should be more proactive in preparing those who are about to enter the temple.
It is for this purpose that this book has been written. Each of the questions addressed herein was actually posed to me by members who were about to attend the temple for the first time or who had recently gone through the temple for their first time and wished that they had been more prepared. While I have carefully avoided discussing in detail those things we make a covenant not to reveal—and I have been cautious to stay within the bounds set within the temple itself—nevertheless, I have tried to speak candidly and informatively about what one will experience in the house of the Lord.6 It is my earnest hope that all who enter the holy temple will find meaning and beauty in what they experience and be sufficiently prepared so that they can strongly feel the Spirit of the Lord therein.
Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1998), 251–52, emphasis added.
Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1980), 30.
“So You Are Going to the Temple,” Joseph Fieldling Smith, Harold B. Lee, and N.
Eldon Tanner, circular letter, February 12, 1971, 1.
Elder Khumbulani Mdletshe, personal correspondence, June 11, 2018.
My summary of personal correspondence from John Harrison, May 1, 2018.
Ed J. Pinegar recently wrote, “As the Encyclopedia of Mormonism remarks, members
of the Church can discuss everything about the temple except [the] specific details regarding the temple ceremonies—the signs and tokens and the specific language of the ceremony and covenants.” Ed J. Pinegar, The Temple: Gaining Knowledge and Power in the House of the Lord (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2014), 198.