It’s 9:30 p.m. and I’m leaving my house. It feels so strange that the neighbor’s kids are likely already asleep. I don’t think I’ve left to go anywhere after children’s bedtimes since before the pandemic began.
I don’t trust my internal sense of direction when it’s this dark, so I pull out my phone, open Google Maps, and type in “Draper Utah Temple.”
“Your location might be closed when you arrive,” my Google friend warns me.
“Oh, trust me, I know,” I say smiling.
I begin my 18-minute drive to the Draper temple. The temple sits on the Wasatch Mountains, meaning for the entire drive, I’m able to look up and see my final destination. It brings new meaning to the words Isaiah penned:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
It’s been 330 days since I last attended the temple on March 11, 2020. I suspected my visit that night might be the last one for some time. Earlier that day, the Church had announced that general conference would be broadcast only and that any missionaries scheduled to go to the Provo or England Missionary Training Centers would be trained by video conference.
I went into the temple that March night with questions in my heart, some of which I found answers to—others I am still searching for.
After the session, I returned to my car, turned on my phone, and was flooded immediately with a massive amount of breaking news alerts. The Church Educational System had canceled large gatherings like graduations and devotionals. Tom Hanks and Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. All travel to Europe was suspended.
During those hours I was in the temple, it felt like the whole world changed.
Five days later, on March 16, 2020, temples would temporarily close for proxy ordinances. And oh, how soon we all would long to go back inside one day.
Fast forward nearly a year to when a ward member posted on our Facebook page that we had the opportunity to clean the temple. I quickly volunteered. Cleaning the temple is always a treat. Cleaning the temple when you haven’t been in nearly a year? There aren’t even words to describe it.
As I drive, I check, double-check, and triple-check that my recommend is in my pocket. After Elder Ronald A. Rasband’s remarks in general conference, that small piece of paper has become even more precious to my heart as it can represent being “recommended to the Lord.” My heart soars that I’m going to be able to scan its barcode once again.
I walk in through the baptistry doors, scan my recommend, and sanitize my hands. Workers explain the necessary coronavirus protections before I can go inside. Even though that feels a bit different than what I’m used to, the differences are overpowered by the instant feeling of familiarity I find in the temple. It’s so great to be back inside, and part of me is glad I’m wearing a mask so no one can see my childish grin.
► You may also like: Elder Bednar’s remarkable story of how 1 temple stayed open nonstop for 3 days
For the next two hours, I get to help clean the temple. The fact that I am one of the 10 lucky volunteers let inside fills my heart with immense gratitude. In some ways, I have seen firsthand how anxious people are to be back inside the temple. Each week when we update the temple reopening list, I receive emails from Saints around the globe. Sometimes they’re celebrating when their temple has entered a new phase of reopening. Other times they’re expressing their deep desire to return back soon. I know that many won’t be able to return to the temple for a long time. And as I think about these people who aren’t able to attend yet, I think of President Russell M. Nelson’s comments about the painful decision to close temples, a decision he said was wracked with worry:
I found myself asking, “What would I say to the Prophet Joseph Smith? What would I say to Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and the other presidents on up to President Thomas S. Monson? I’m going to meet them soon.” To close the temples would deny all for which all those Brethren gave everything, but we really had no other alternative.
And yet, he closes the video by saying, “I’ve learned that even through clouds of sorrow, there can be silver linings found.”
Having temples closed is likely one of many clouds of sorrow during the pandemic. For me, there have been many times when just the sight of the temple on the horizon has brought me to tears as I’ve thought about how much I miss that place. But one of my silver linings has been feeling the power of my covenants strengthening me through this sorrowful storm.
The good news is temples are reopening. The tears of sorrow will end, and maybe even be replaced with tears of joy as more temples open worldwide. To borrow the words of a hymn, “There is hope smiling brightly before us.”
As I mop the floors, disinfect touch points, and empty trash cans, I use every moment to take in my surroundings. Temple artwork always captivates me. I recognize Josephine Bills, the model for the painting “And Thou Didst Hear Me,” who I wrote about for Deseret News. I notice paintings of the Savior. Some I’ve seen before, but I also find some I’ve never seen before. There is one of Him teaching a crowd of people. I wonder if He is in Jerusalem, or in the Americas, or somewhere else entirely. I wonder what He is teaching. As I see the faces of those in the crowd, I know His teachings are beautiful. You can tell they are clinging to His every word.
I also find a stunning painting of a baptism that I don’t think I’ve seen before. It’s breathtaking. When I round the corner and see the baptistry, the painting becomes even more meaningful. The font is filled, even though it hasn’t been used recently since the temple is in Phase 2 of reopening. But somehow that filled font stands as a witness to me of how anxious the Lord is to bring the blessings of temple worship back to us all. He is ready. His house is ready. Am I?
As I wander through my cleaning rotation, I contemplate the things I’ve learned within temple walls—the promptings I’ve received, the lessons I’ve learned, the Spirit I’ve felt. The memories feel so familiar. And yet, in some ways, the temple feels different. Yes, the feelings of peace and joy are the same. But the opportunity to feel those feelings has become infinitely more valuable to me.
Some of the artwork and the furnishings in the temple have changed, but I think what really has changed is the way I view the temple. Earlier this year, Elder Bednar said, “Our participation in temple worship is a sacred privilege, not an entitlement or simply part of our established routine. We do not come to the temple to hide from or escape the evils of the world. Rather, we come to the temple to receive the power of godliness through priesthood ordinances that enable us to confront and conquer the world of evil.”
That quote changed me. And it changed how I view my time in the temple. Every time I’m in His house is truly a sacred privilege—whether I’m there to attend a session or there to clean.
The time comes for me to leave and I find myself walking a bit slower than normal to the foyer. The time has gone by so fast and once I walk out those doors . . . I’m not sure when I’ll be able to walk in again. This very well could be one of the few times I am able to be inside this year.
But I take courage as I enter the cold air outside as I remember the power of the covenants I have made there. And that power can be with me wherever I am.
I get back in my car. It’s dark, and I still don’t trust my sense of direction, but I think I know how to get home. I’m wrong. I immediately take a wrong turn, but at least it gives me an opportunity to circle back around the temple. It is so beautiful on this clear winter night.
As I descend down the hill to my home, I see the glimmers of the Jordan River Utah Temple and the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple off in the distance. In that moment, I feel surrounded—not only physically, but also spiritually—by the Lord. And that feeling comes even outside of temple walls. The words of a beloved hymn come to my mind. The night is dark. And I may be far from re-entering His home. But He will lead me on.
Lead image: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
We know from scripture and the words of modern-day prophets that these latter days are a time of great turmoil—but also a time of great miracles. In this timely book, Elder Ronald A. Rasband shares a beautiful message of hope and light, reminding us what we can do to fortify ourselves and receive heavenly guidance. Available now at DeseretBook.com.