One of the most frequent questions I receive from readers is “how should I prepare to go to the temple?” Or if it is not for them personally, “how do I help someone else prepare to go to the temple?” It is an important question, and one that should be carefully considered.
Preparing to go to the temple is one of the most important things someone can do, not only for the first time they go, but for the rest of our lives. The temple experience is incredibly rich in symbolism and meaning, and only a lifetime of study can reveal all its teachings. Elder Boyd K. Packer once related an experience he had with President David O. McKay in the Salt Lake Temple:
Not long before [President McKay] died, when on infrequent occasions he would come to our meetings, he stood one day in the meeting and began to discuss the temple ceremony, the endowment. I will never forget! He stood there in that tall majesty that was typical of him. He had his big, bony hands on his chest and looked at the ceiling as he began to quote the endowment. (We were assembled there in the upper room [of the temple] and it was not inappropriate to discuss that there.) He quoted it at some great length. We were enthralled and inspired and knew we were witnessing a great moment. Then he stopped and looked again at the ceiling for a moment or two. Then he said, “I think I’m finally beginning to understand.” That was very comforting to me. After nearly sixty-four years as an Apostle, he still had things that he was learning. Then we knew we were in the presence of not only the teacher who was teaching, but of a student who was learning. ((Packer, Charge to the David O. McKay School of Education, December 1996))
If a prophet of God, who had been an Apostle for sixty-four years, was just beginning to understand the temple experience, then how far do we, as members of the Church, have to go before the temple will begin to reveal its treasures to us?
But going the first time is a particularly unique experience, which requires special preparation. We must prepare our hearts and minds to be taught in a different way than we are used to, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). The temple ceremonies are very different from the meetings of church on Sunday. There we go to participate in the most sacred ordinances of the Gospel and to make solemn covenants with God that are eternally binding.
The endowment, in particular, is an ordinance that is presented in a ritual format that we are not accustomed to in our modern pop culture. It strikes us differently than anything else we have participated in, and for good reason. The temple experience does not belong to this world, for it is authored by our Heavenly Father. We should not expect it to be similar to what we experience in our daily living, because our Heavenly Father wants to teach us His eternal truths, and He does so in His own way, which some LDS scholars have noted is a perfect pedagogy, or mode of teaching. We must prepare to have open minds and hearts, and to be taught the way the Lord wants, and by His Spirit.
When people have asked me how to prepare, I have told them that the Temple Preparation Class given by the Church, usually at the ward or stake level, is one of the best ways to prepare to go to the temple. A few weeks ago my wife and I were called to be the Temple Preparation instructors in our ward. We accepted the call gladly, and we look forward to teaching about the temple every Sunday in Sunday School. Because I have had so many inquiries about temple preparation, I’m going to post my notes from every lesson here on TempleStudy.com. Hopefully this will be an additional resource for those looking for information on the topic, and also provide a place for discussion on this topic of preparation.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you about temple preparation, and some of the most basic principles and concepts we must learn to prepare for temple worship, the first time we go, and for the rest of our lives. I hope you will join with me in exploring this subject, and that you will share your experience and thoughts in the comments.
Thanks Brother Haymond! I know I was one of those people who asked this question, and I’m grateful for the reply you gave me. I look forward to your thoughts.
“It strikes us differently than anything else we have participated in, and for good reason. The temple experience does not belong to this world…”
I think this is one of the most important things that people should understand about the temple. You SHOULD feel as though you are stepping into something foreign, the temple should NEVER feel like anything of the world. You’re in the Lord’s house, not a movie theater!
One of my personal observations on symbolism in particular is the connection between symbolism and revelation. I think that the level of symbolism used anywhere is directly connected to the level of revelation required to understand the teaching. The immersive, highly symbolic environment of the temple indicates to me that there is a high level of revelatory teaching meant to happen there. The temples are, in a way, monuments to revelation, the whole environment and experience being designed by God to draw us into direct communication with him. I think it can be fairly easy to describe and understand the purpose of the temple, the challenge is to use it’s many different applications properly and effectively in our lives.
We have to learn how the Spirit teaches through symbols, then the temple can become a great urim and thummim to us. I think if you can wrap your mind around the fact that EVERYthing in the temple is symbolic and that you understand that you’re starting a journey into a new way of learning that will take you places that you have never dreamed, then your first trip to the temple can be what it should: A journey of awe and an appreciation of the majesty and glory of God.
I’d heard that there was an apostle who had said something like this, but I’ve never seen the actual quote or reference. Thanks!
For additional references, see What is an Endowment?.
Though this was written a decade ago, I want you to know how appreciative I am of your thoughts here. I have a daughter that will be going through the temple for the first time soon. I am DEFINITELY going to ask her to not only read this, but let me know what her thoughts are on what you said here. Thank you so much for your thoughts on symbolism and their connection to revelation. These will surely change my next temple experience.