A few weeks ago, I had a very mediocre temple visit. I was stressed about all of the things on my “to do” list, and had a nasty headache, so needless to say, by the time I went inside, I felt frazzled. I drummed my fingers impatiently on my armrest, and when the session ended, zipped out as fast as I could. It wasn’t until I was in my car driving home that the remorse set in and I realized that I had spiritually wasted my trip.
I’ve tried to make a habit of going to the temple weekly, but every once in a while, I’ll have a week when my visit feels lackluster. I’ve realized that attending the temple is a lot like fasting, in that being inside and involved requires us to make certain sacrifices. Instead of giving up food, we give up time, which can sometimes be difficult. Also like fasting, attending the temple can be less fulfilling when we have the wrong attitude about it. Temple attendance, however, can be an edifying experience that blesses both the person doing the ordinances and the person we are doing them for.
In order to truly appreciate the spirit of the temple as well as the covenants we make there, we need to go into it prepared and, while inside, be more involved with the experience. With a greater effort on our part, our temple trips can be more consistently inspiring. Here are a few things you can do to improve your temple experience.
1. Clear your schedule of as many things as possible before going.
Though many of us try to make the temple a priority, sometimes we can go to the temple haphazardly, throwing it into our already busy schedules as if it’s merely a task to be done instead of a chance to give ourselves to the Lord. Sandwiched between things we need to accomplish, our temple trips can be made with too much haste, and we can be too distracted while inside.
One thing that helps me focus better in the temple is completing as many errands as possible before going in, even if it puts my temple opportunity at the end of the day. Without the weight of everything I have to do on my mind, I can truly put the Lord first while in His house.
Sometimes squeezing a temple trip into a busy day really is the only way to get ourselves there. If so, we should consciously decide to leave our mental “to do” lists outside so as to get a more focused and gratifying experience inside.
2. Take a family name.
I once had an Institute teacher tell me that going to the temple without taking your own family name is a lot like getting baptized without the gift of confirmation. Your experience will still be a great one, but it will be missing a key element that really completes it. That comment has really stuck with me, and I’ve found it to be true for my own temple experience.
Ask your relatives if they have names that you can take, or learn how to find one yourself on familysearch.org. Taking a family name, particularly one that I’ve found myself, gives me an increased awareness and feeling of the Spirit of Elijah. It really personalizes each ordinance when I realize that I’m connecting members of my family to the rest of my family for eternity. It also helps me to remember the “why” of the temple.
Taking family names has changed my temple experience, and I know it will do the same for you. You’ll feel an increased love for your own family and an increased gratitude for the Plan of Salvation and your part in it.
3. Pray beforehand and with purpose.
It makes so much sense to pray before attending the temple, but we often don’t even think to do it. The truth is that without prayer, our temple experience may not have a whole lot of direction, and direction is a key component of fulfillment.
Before going to the temple, pray that the person who you are standing proxy for will accept the work you do for them. It’s easy to forget that even though we’re doing proxy work for other people, they still have the agency to say no. Let Heavenly Father know that you care about their spiritual well-being. When you pray for them, just like when you pray for friends and neighbors, you’ll come to love them and appreciate being there to do ordinances for them.
Also pray also for answers to life’s questions or for strength when you’re struggling. Around the time I was endowed, I was battling severe and crippling anxiety. I had never dealt with anything like it before, and I was terrified. I distinctly remember preparing to go to the temple a second time and pleading with Heavenly Father for comfort to know that I was making the right decisions in my life and that I would get over my anxiety. As I sat through that second session, I was overcome by the sweetest peace I have ever felt. In the midst of all of my heartache and pain, I felt joy. You will be okay, kept running through my mind, and I believed it. It took me a while longer to really feel okay, but I got my answer in the temple that day. Since then I’ve gone to the temple with a purpose and a prayer—and both always leave me feeling better about my temple visit.
4. Take care of your physical needs prior to attending.
Attending the temple is a commitment, and just like any other commitment, it’s best made when we are at our best. That means that we should prepare both spiritually and physically before going inside.
If you’re like me and you sometimes get headaches at random or have other physical issues, prepare yourself with proper medication so you’re not hurting during a session. Make sure to drink lots of water and eat good foods before going inside if you become weak without those things. Try exercising (when possible) before going inside so that your mind is refreshed and invigorated. Even making sure to use the restroom before you enter a session can make a big difference in helping you stay focused on the ordinances you are participating in. Being physically healthy and prepared beforehand will make your temple experience more comfortable and will prepare your mind for revelation Heavenly Father might want to bestow upon you.
5. Read scriptures at the end of your time in the temple.
Chances are that no matter which temple you attend, there are lots of copies of the scriptures available to you before you begin doing ordinances and also when you are finished. I’ve read scriptures while waiting for a session to start, and it’s a great way to pass the time. What I didn’t think to do until recently was read scriptures after my session. Wow, was that an incredible experience.
After completing a temple ordinance, our minds are naturally more receptive to the Spirit and insights we might not have had before. When we read our scriptures after we finish the ordinances instead of before, we read them with increased spiritual sensitivity and a unique focus. The temple is one of the best places we can be spiritually in tune to receive insight and revelation, but too often we walk out of the temple without even touching the scriptures.
Try reading them! See what answers and insights flow into your mind after making sacred covenants. You might get the exact inspiration you need in your life just by opening them.
After my lackluster trip to the temple, I was talking with my mom about how long it felt, how repetitive it was, and how awful I felt for thinking that. What she told me really humbled me. She said, “Remember that the person you are there doing work for has not experienced temple ordinances before, and they’ve been waiting an even longer time to have them.” It’s both a true and remarkable thought.
Many of us have gotten into the habit of attending the temple regularly, which is a great thing, but sometimes we allow it to become just a habit, something we do all the time, like brushing our teeth. We risk growing complacent with our temple experience and covenants rather than being excited to be there every time. When we remember that it is a new experience for someone else, we can recognize the beauty and power of the temple, the remarkable gift of covenants, and that temple attendance is much more about becoming than it is about doing.
Our temple experience is further enriched when we always remember how we felt the first time we went through, how remarkable the promises were to us, how serious we took them and how careful we were to live up to them afterward. If we always remember those things, attending the temple will always be rewarding.
And, as my mom said, if we ever get a bit selfish with our time and impatient about our temple experience because our schedules just seem too busy, we should remember that some of our brothers and sisters have been waiting dozens to hundreds of years for someone to spend two hours doing their work for them. In those two hours, eternity is made possible for every one of us. It would be a shame for us to not recognize the gift that is.