Two Powerful Lessons Learned from Selfish Temple Attendance

Thursday night, my husband and I planned to attend the temple, seeking to commune with the Lord on some of our future plans. We got a late start and so determined to just spend some time sitting in the foyer as we had done a few times in the past.

At the front desk, we handed over our recommends and the workers asked if we planned to attend a session. “No,” we replied. They proceeded to inquire of our plans. “Sealings, initiatories…?” “No, we just wanted to spend some time sitting and pondering.” The workers appeared taken aback before encouraging us to enter the adjoining waiting room where members and non-members alike typically sit as loved ones are sealed, and to do our pondering there.

My husband and I sullenly went to sit. We had never had an issue being allowed into the temple proper with the intention of only pondering before. It was more upsetting than may have been anticipated to be so apparently barred from entering the House of the Lord. It was in this moment I realized that if our testimonies had been in a faltering or failing state, an experience like this could very well discontinue our efforts to attend the Church.

Gratefully, neither my husband nor I are in such a place. But that doesn’t mean the situation was sitting well with either of us. After a quick, confused moment I returned on my own to the front desk.

I explained that we had never been denied from entering before and was there some doctrine or principle that indicated it was inappropriate to attend the temple without participating in an ordinance? The workers were shocked and apologetic, and hastily offered for us to speak with the temple president. In my surprise, I agreed almost immediately.

We were promptly brought to the president’s office where we sat in counsel with him and his wife for a solid 15 minutes. He explained that while there is no error in wanting to commune with the Lord while not participating in the ordinances that it would not be conducive to maintaining a “house of order” to allow throngs of ponderers to the celestial room without them having performed some work first. He went on to describe, with obvious guidance of the Spirit, that while this desire was in no way wrong, we were not living up to our privileges by not participating in the ordinances. That there is a power that comes as we serve in that capacity that enacts the Holy Ghost and the power of revelation in an unparalleled way.

As the president spoke, I received an impression. A reminder of a previous impression.

Before we left the house, my husband and I had discussed our temple attendance and decided that we would just go to sit and ponder a short while. But I had received the impression then that we needed to participate in an ordinance. I asked my husband multiple times if he was sure he didn’t want to do work, and he replied the same each time. So I didn’t mention that I felt contrary. I aimed to support him in what he felt he needed and wanted. And in doing so, I prioritized him above even God.

I was instantaneously disappointed in myself. I strive to be worthy of the Spirit and his guidance – and I was worthy of it! But I failed to follow through on his instructions, and that is as good as not having the gift of the Spirit at all.

Sheepishly, I listened until the president finished his dialogue. I could have sunk into the floor. We had been thinking so selfishly, acting so immaturely. We should just be told to be on our way. It’s what we deserved.

But in his Christlike kindness, the temple president and his wife proceeded to teach us an incredible lesson.

They implored us to stay.

They offered to move us to the front of an initiatory group, or into a quick sealing session to accommodate our returning home soon to our children.

When we explained we hadn’t brought the proper clothing – not anticipating doing work – they didn’t even bat an eye as they offered to pay for our rental clothing.

The president and his wife escorted us personally up to a sealing room where we were blessed to participate in binding husbands and wives, children and parents, and where our own covenants seemed rejuvenated and powerfully enacted upon us again.

Our minds were pressed with the importance of the lessons this experience was teaching us.

  1. Christ first attends to our spiritual need, and then the physical – even when we only ask healing for the needs we see and feel ourselves.

We were undeserving of these blessings – of this complete forgiveness of our shortsightedness, pride and complete lack of consideration for anyone other than ourselves. Granted, our intentions had been good – to commune with the Lord in His house could not be wrong. But we fell short of understanding the invitation to do so and the sway it could truly have on our hearts and minds if we let it.

But that’s how the Savior works.

During His mortal ministry, Jesus had many afflicted souls come unto Him, asking for relief and healing. But how He responded to these is so revealing of His understanding.

First – Christ forgave them. This was what they were really, unknowingly seeking and He knew it. He met their spiritual need for sanctification and cleansing first.

And then – Christ healed them. Not because their being physically whole was essential to their salvation, which was His main priority, but because he loved them, completely.

This day in the temple, I felt like the blind man. I had come to the Savior, with good intent, to be healed of the infirmities I could see and feel. But He knew better. There were spiritual deficiencies that first needed instruction and correction – and then, in his Supreme Goodness and everlasting mercy, He proceeded to heal me. Despite how undeserving I had been in this instant. He took me completely as I was and made me more than even I expected.

2. The Lord requires we give something of ourselves, and then He gives us everything.

The Lord is the most absolutely gracious and generous being in all of existence. But that being said, He does not give something for nothing, ever. Even when he visited Nazareth with the intention of teaching and healing those who had been childhood friends and neighbors, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 58).

He requires our faith, our whole hearts, our spirits, our desires, our sacrifice. In coming to the temple with the expectation only to receive, we fell dramatically short of where the Lord asks us to be before He will bless us abundantly. And yet, He met us where we stood and gently led us to where we needed to be. And then the blessings immediately and powerfully came, as they always will when we first give of ourselves. You see, we give something and He gives us everything.

My husband and I left the temple, with humbled hearts praising God. Only He can take experiences spawned by our disobedience, our stubbornness and imperfections and make them become memories of His hand in our lives.

Five Steps to Overcoming the Imprisonment of Doubt

With each new adjustment made by the church, including the recent announcement of the change in wording of temple ordinances, it seems we see more and more Saints fall away. This pattern is disheartening and a test of the faith of remaining members. How is it that those whom we have loved and who have served as fellow disciples become subject to the ways of the world or distrust spread by the adversary?

In the famous verses quoted by Joseph Smith that initiated his personal search for truth we find a compelling analogy. James 1:5-6 reads:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

I believe this imagery is fascinating and quite telling of the experience our brothers and sisters who fall away may have. The vision of a wave is seemingly consistent in its behavior of churning, billowing, tossing and washing upon the shore, yet those waves are never actually in control of themselves. Rather their motion and movement is acted upon by various elements – the time of day, the pull of the moon and its orbit, the rise of oceanic storms, gigantic tectonic plates and their own movements….

So it is when we allow ourselves to doubt.

To doubt does not mean we never have questions. Quite the opposite! The scriptures are replete with pleas for us to “prove”, “test” and “experiment upon the word”. Doubting begins when we fail to test the word and rather allow unanswered questions to fester in our minds and hearts to the point when we no longer believe we would receive a confirming witness.

Once we have obtained this state of disbelieving, we become subject to the spiritual elements that rock and eventually demolish our faith. Suddenly our believing is dependent upon testimonies and counter-testimonies, upon changes made or unmade either by the church administration or the world, upon the wiles and whims of the adversary and his followers. We are victims of doubt and are imprisoned by its will.

So how do we ensure that we do not become victims of doubt, but that instead we can “seek” and “find” the answers to our hearts’ questions?

1. We must possess a desire to know of the truth.

I would add to this that our desire to know must be greater than our desire not to know. If we are fearful that the answer may not be what we wish it to be – that the truth will require us to repent or abandon favorite sins – then we cannot ask with real intent and our desire is nullified.

2. Know how you will receive your answer.

Just as counterintuitive as it is to obtain a knowledge of gravity from someone who has never experienced it, we cannot expect to learn spiritual truth from carnal sources. We must seek it instead through personal spiritual encounters and the Holy Ghost. No other source or testimony can come close to approximating the power and endurance of our own individual witness.

3. Acquaint yourself with the nature of God.

God is unchanging. That is not perfectly reflected by the administration of the church because the church’s role is to help exalt us fallen humans. We change and because of that the church will sometimes adjust to reflect humanity’s godly progress. But those changes are always based in eternal truth of which we do not know the whole.

It’s also important to remember that God delights to answer the faithful prayers of his children. Without this hope we could hardly be compelled to pray to him with the expectation that our questions will be addressed and consequently move ourselves towards a state of doubt.

4. Repent.

Repentance is a privilege. What a blessing it is to know that we can be granted the power to improve! These desires are evidences of our own potential for godhood and are reflected even in those not of our faith who aim to be better today than they were yesterday.

As we repent, we enact the power of the Atonement in our lives and draw nearer to our Savior Jesus Christ. It is through him that all good things come, including the answers to the queries of our hearts.

5. Seek diligently.

Diligence is required because the answers we seek are unlikely to come always in our own timeframe. We must faithfully continue in our quest for truths until such a time that our seeking aligns with the Lord’s timing. But we can be assured, as taught by Elder Jeffery R Holland, “some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (“An High Priest of Good Things to Come”).

I add my testimony that as we apply these principles individually we will be enabled by the grace of God to overcome the imprisonment of doubt and to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost for the questions that may arise as we practice faithful discipleship.

Two Ways We Ask for and Receive the Atonement

Last night I was up with my newborn daughter. She had awoken at 2:30 for her regular feeding, but she only nursed for a short seven minutes before she unlatched and started showing signs of discomfort. Over the next forty-five minutes she spat up and vomited all the milk she had just consumed.

In my concern I took to Google for answers. I’ve come to the conclusion that her little body has been reacting negatively to the milk proteins I’ve been consuming.

My baby eventually drifted back to sleep but I couldn’t. I continued researching and mentally planning how I would cut dairy from my diet.

I turned to Heavenly Father in prayer. I prayed that my milk would be compatible with her small body, that it wouldn’t be rejected. I prayed that I could accommodate her with my diet, for diligence and selflessness to make this major diet change. I prayed for rest for both of us when it seemed slow-coming.

As I concluded my heart-whispered prayer I recognized the voice of the adversary in my mind.

How audacious to ask these things. How am I worthy of such spectacular displays of Godly power? I am literally asking him to change the composition of my milk and my child’s body. Who am I to do so? Who am I to ask for diligence and discipline when those gifts certainly must be earned?

Not a second later another voice countered these malicious thoughts and filled me with marvel and gratitude.

You are asking for the Atonement.

I was struck. I hadn’t seen it from this perspective before – but I truly was asking for the Atonement.

I was asking for Christ’s enabling power to make more of my milk and my child’s body than they were on their own.

I was asking for Christ’s enabling power to make more of myself than I was on my own, despite my own personal development efforts and desires. I knew I needed him.

And I knew then too that God is anxious to answer our pleas for the Atonement and we will not be denied regardless of the enormity or outlandishness of what we feel we have asked.

But how was it that God could grant me my ask?

How interesting is it that while God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) He does respect people’s agency?

God respects our ability to choose so much that He will force neither trial nor blessing upon us without our consent.

We are able to receive our asks of the Atonement by giving our consent to be blessed in two primary ways:

1. We give consent to be blessed through our obedience to commandments and through keeping our covenants.

In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 we read:

I the Lord am bound when when ye do what I say…

We literally bind the Lord to bless us as we follow his commandments. I have seen ample evidence of this in my life and it makes my heart sing that it is a pleasure to keep the commandments of God.

We also give consent as we make and keep sacred covenants.

The covenants of baptism, priesthood ordination and temple ordinances all come with specific blessings which we become worthy of as we hold to those covenants. This is elaborated in Doctrine and Covenants 130: 18-19:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in Heaven Before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated –

And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

The opposite of this also holds – if we are disobedient or fail to live our covenants we give consent to be tried by consequences. For the Lord has said …”if ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10).

2. We consent to be blessed when we ask for blessings.

The Lord delights to bless us. The “work and [the] glory” (Moses 1:39) of God is centered solely in exalting His children.

When we ask for blessings, we more easily allow God to meet His purposes. He sent his Son for that very reason – and when we ask for blessings we are utilizing that precious sacrifice by them both. It is because of this we are assured:

Ask and ye shall receive, seek and he shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.

When the Spirit spoke to me in the night, I was reminded of these truths. I was asking for the Atonement – and Heavenly Father loves when we ask for the Atonement to take effect in our lives, either by our actions or by speaking the desires of our hearts. He will not turn away any who worthily and humbly seek to be blessed through the unrivaled gift of our Savior.

Finding Joy in Death

Last week, a good friend of a good friend passed away. This young man had bravely and faithfully fought cancer for five exhausting years, almost since he and his wife had been married.

The news of his passing left us – virtual strangers to him – in tears. We mourned for his wife and 3-month old twin sons. We were shaken by the gap left by his singular life in the world.

It struck me how it was likely that this man and his family did not know how far he reached in impacting the lives of those around him. We knew him from our home Stake but had never personally been close to him. Still we knew his story. We had heard through various sources and mediums of his courage and humor and goodness in the face of pain and suffering and personal loss. He brought faith to a hopeless situation. It was undoubtedly what caused him to live long enough to see the birth of his little sons.

In contemplating more, a couple realizations struck me of tender mercies we experience through death.

1. Rarely do we admit it but the power is in each of us to have dramatic impact on others’ lives. The choice is not whether or not our lives leave a mark, but rather what kind of mark we allow them to leave. Do we leave the world bitter and indifferent at our passing? Or do we leave it rejoicing in the fact that we had lived?

We find joy in the passing of our loved ones when it becomes clear how their lives positively influenced others. This is their legacy. And we have been blessed with additional hours and days to build ours.

2. The beauty in death comes especially as we take that next step out of this world and into the arms of our Savior. In our sorrow, it took concerted effort to turn our minds to thoughts of this man’s reunion with a loving Savior.

“While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.” Alma 28:12

What a meeting that must be – for us to finally fall at the feet of our Rock, the Being who made life for us not just endurable but exalting. I long for my opportunity to tell my Savior in person that whatever goodness I felt or helped others feel was all from Him. That if I had kept the faith and finished my course, it was all and only His doing.

3. Joy is found in death as we are released from sorrow, pain, and affliction by virtue of our Savior’s sacrifice. President Uchtdorf taught in this last General Conference that “…your death will be temporary. Your spirit one day will reunite with your body. This resurrected body will not be subject to death, and you will live in the eternities, free from pain and physical suffering.” There isn’t much room for our personal mourning when we contemplate how much we each carry through life as our burden and that we finally, through our passing, can lay it down at our Redeemer’s feet and say “It is finished”.

May we all build a legacy founded on and pointing to Christ, and retain a primary remembrance of the joys that come from the reunion we hope to have with our Savior; the knowledge that life is temporary – everlasting joy and happiness need not be. As we do, there can be no sting in death, our own or those of our righteous fellow disciples.