Modern prophets have encouraged all worthy temple recommend holders to attend the temple regularly, and even to increase attendance as much as our situation allows. President Russell M. Nelson has said, “If you don’t yet love to attend the temple, go more often—not less. Let the Lord, through His Spirit, teach and inspire you there. I promise you that over time, the temple will become a place of safety, solace, and revelation.”
The core teachings within the temple do not change. Contrasted with our Sunday worship, where we constantly learn and discuss new topics, the temple operates on the same eternal menu. Why, then, are we asked to go so often when we hear the same thing? It’s important to recognize that our road to mastering our ability to learn by the Spirit comes through progressive stages—and repetition is a feature that helps guide us through those stages. As we earnestly seek revelation through repetition and learning by the Spirit, we will find that we can draw closer to the Lord than ever before. So if you feel stuck in your temple attendance, don’t give up; the more often we attend, the more we learn so we are better able to draw closer to the Savior.
Learning through Repeated Temple Worship
Before we look at specific elements of repetition in temple worship, it’s helpful to recognize the role that repeatedly returning to the temple plays in our spiritual progression. Think of the temple as a classroom—but not just any classroom. Because the temple is set apart from the rest of the world, with different constraints than those which typically dominate our lives, we live in a different way to enter. We dress differently when we are inside. We speak, act, and learn differently as we participate in ordinances. But while it’s important for us to return to the temple, sometimes it’s hard to make attendance a priority. One reason for this is that our daily lives typically are defined by what we accomplish, and it seems like an indulgence to go to the temple to pause and observe.
A real-world example illustrates how foreign it can be to simply stop and ponder. Jennifer Roberts is an art history teacher at Harvard University, and her students always receive the same first assignment: to observe a painting or sculpture in a museum for three hours straight. No phones, no books, no distractions. In explaining her reasoning behind this assignment, Roberts said that the students “needed someone to give them permission to spend this kind of time on anything. Somebody had to give them a different set of rules and constraints than the ones that were dominating their lives.”¹
When students undertake the assignment, they typically find that dedicating that amount of continued focus is extremely difficult. Minutes drag on for what seems like hours, and even being still causes physical discomfort. But once the students give up trying to fight the boredom, they start to discover new details. Unobserved themes and patterns emerge. The basic painting they initially encountered becomes more nuanced—not because it has changed, but because the student’s perception has changed through diligent focus.
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Temples are obvious works of art through their beauty and craftsmanship, so even a casual interaction with the temple can bring peace and speak to our hearts as does a masterful painting. When we repeatedly learn at the temple, however, our understanding deepens. Our worship is purposefully structured to allow us the necessary time to notice details beyond what we initially see on the surface. Like students observing a painting, our repeated temple worship gives us permission to have a dedicated focus on something outside of the demands of our everyday lives and notice the teachings of the Spirit.
Repetition in the Temple Is a Helpful Foundation
Now, let’s consider how repetition in the temple itself helps us learn by considering an example in our daily lives. For many of us, learning to drive is an essential skill. Developing that skill allows us to learn, work, and serve in ways that are impossible otherwise. We are excited by the opportunity driving opens to us, but we can be nervous about the magnitude of the responsibility. When I started driving, I obsessed over every task. I locked my hands in specific positions. I signaled early—and often. I scrutinized my mirrors. I worried that one missed detail would lead to a disastrous crash. Driving was new and strange.
Starting to worship in the temple can raise similar feelings of excitement and nervousness. When I received my endowment and in following visits, I hung on to every word of the ceremony, trying to retain each detail. I worried that I’d miss an important lesson or forget something later. The ceremony of the temple endowment can feel overwhelming at times. But, like driving, temple worship affords a heightened opportunity to accelerate our spirituality; my ability to follow personal revelation and to serve others expanded through temple worship in ways that I could not have anticipated.
In April 2017 general conference, Elder Cook spoke about the value of repetition. He explained, “Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters.” Repetition of specific words is found throughout all the ordinances in the temple. Even the words used for baptisms and confirmations are repeated again and again. This repetition encourages us to understand each word we hear in the temple and the teachings associated with them.
When we learn a new skill, we master foundational tasks through conscientious repetition. Driving begins with the basics: operating the pedals, turning the wheel, and checking the surroundings. Initially, this can be overwhelming—as my parents will readily attest, I struggled with the execution of those foundational tasks. But over time and with lots of repetition, I improved.
The temple contains similar foundational elements. In the endowment, events that are part of the plan of salvation are presented in video format, including the story of the Creation and the Fall. Once we become familiar with the narrative, we focus on the specific words in the presentation. We sit and observe, recognizing that our temple worship is like taking a scenic drive. We pass individual streets and homes, knowing that we only have time for split-second observations before moving on. Without a chance to pause or rewind the presentation, we heighten our scrutiny of what we hear.
Learning the specific words of the presentation of the endowment provides us with pieces to build on. Each time we leave the temple, we better retain the words that tell the story of the plan of salvation. So the next time we make that “scenic drive” through the presentation of the endowment, our familiarity allows us to discover new observations and add to our foundational knowledge.
Aristotle once stated, “It is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency.” When we develop a familiarity with the teachings of the temple, we free up the mental capacity to consider other things. We are enabled to devote more attention to detect individual lessons from the Lord.
Evaluating the Teachings of the Temple
It’d be tempting to feel that the hard work of understanding the presentation of the endowment is done once we have written it in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). But if we go to the temple with the intent of listening to what the Spirit speaks to us, each one of us will hear a different spiritual message from the same words. The beauty of the temple endowment is there is not a singular interpretation of the presentation. Mastering the foundational text of the presentation of the endowment prepares us to critically consider what we heard. In this instance, “critical” does not mean we’re looking for fault. Instead, it means we are carefully evaluating the teachings we hear and asking ourselves, “What am I learning from this story right now?”
The more experiences we have in the temple, the more we know where we need to focus. Let’s look at this again by returning to my example of driving. When our confidence behind the wheel increases from repetition, we learn that we only need to check our blind spot when we’re wanting to change lanes. We also can feel our speed without constantly checking the speedometer. Mastery of each foundational skill affords us the wisdom to know where to deploy our attention. Similarly, understanding the endowment’s words allows us the mental space we need to look for messages that have individual importance. We feel the emphasis of the Spirit to focus on parts of the presentation that the Lord wants us to see.
We may come to the temple with a specific question. Sometimes, that question may be answered immediately, but other times we may need to return to the temple again and again before we receive the answer we seek. We must also be open to receiving answers that we weren’t specifically looking for. For instance, on one occasion my wife and I attended the temple together but separately felt spiritual promptings that we needed to begin a family. This was not a question we had been discussing at the time. However, we each heard the message from the Spirit by listening beyond the words we already understood.
Thinking critically while we participate in temple ordinances allows us to hear the word of the Lord for ourselves. But I believe the Lord has higher expectations for us than just listening for His answers. If we come to the Lord with plans to achieve the righteous desires of our hearts, we can grow closer to Him and build our lives in a more holy way.
Creating from the Teachings in the Temple
There is a point where our skills transcend mere proficiency and we are able to engage in creative expression. Any skill—even driving—can allow us to demonstrate our creativity. I once had the opportunity to drive a Ferrari on a racetrack. That drive exhilarated me in a way that no daily commute ever could. Driving on that track and with that machine produced an emotional experience born from using my everyday driving skills in a unique way. When we fuse our skills and our ideas together, we create in ways that we couldn’t before. We can do the same in the temple. We can merge our righteous desires with what we hear from the Spirit to forge something new for our lives.
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We can go to the temple with a proactive mindset—not just to find answers to our questions, but to collaborate with the Spirit over the righteous desires of our hearts. We are not to be compelled in all things. Our heavenly parents want us to use our talents and abilities to find answers to our own questions and grow from that effort. We should actively pursue our righteous desires through careful planning and seek guidance and confirmation from the Spirit. For example, if we’re looking to improve our career, instead of just asking the Lord what we should do next, we should study new paths after examining our skills and experience. As we find a career path that looks attractive to us and we study it out in our mind, we can take that idea to the Lord to test if it feels right (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). Through the temple, we find the foundation we need to learn and create through the promptings of the Spirit.
We can merge our righteous desires with what we hear from the Spirit to forge something new for our lives.
The brother of Jared provides a practical allegory to temple learning and creating through the Spirit when he is building barges to travel to the promised land. First, the Lord directly provides him with foundational instructions on the overall design of the barges (see Ether 2:16). Next, the brother of Jared looks critically at that design and realizes that the ships will have no light or air, and he brings this problem to the Lord (see Ether 2:19). As to the question of air, the Lord answers the brother of Jared with an immediate solution (see Ether 2:20). However, as to the question of light, the Lord does not give the brother of Jared a solution, but instead invites him to provide one:
“And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire” (Ether 2:23).
Not only does the Lord not provide the brother of Jared with an answer, but He also eliminates some obvious options, leaving him to get to work. The brother of Jared ponders a solution and ultimately returns to the Lord with 16 clear stones that he has created himself, believing that the Lord’s touch will illuminate the stones for their journey:
“And I know, O Lord, that thou has all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
“Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou are art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men” (Ether 3:4–5).
The Lord accepts this plan, and the issue is resolved. The brother of Jared took the teachings of the Lord and combined them with his own ideas to find an answer to the righteous desire of his heart. It is a special experience when we feel like we are not just following the Lord but that we are working together with Him to create a life that will bring satisfaction to ourselves and bless others.
Finding Confidence through Repetition
The more we go to the temple, the more opportunities we have to test the principle of learning through repetition. Our successes build confidence in our ability to find answers to our problems and to persevere in tough times. Sometimes that confidence is hard to recognize until we take a step back to see how much we’ve grown, or see someone else going through a similar struggle.
Soon, my daughter will be old enough to get her driver’s license. In anticipation of that, I’ve occasionally supervised her driving down our quiet neighborhood street to help her develop a feel for how a car handles. From these short drives, I understand better how our heavenly parents teach us. I give her specific instructions and watch her struggle to execute them with her limited skills. She asks me questions, and sometimes I answer them, but other times I invite her to suggest solutions and safely test them out. I can see her grow more confident each time we go out, and I feel fulfilled knowing that she is becoming more independent with every lap around the block.
Watching my daughter learn to drive reminds me of the feelings of hesitancy that I had learning to drive long ago. The contrast between our current abilities is considerable, but the only real difference is that I’ve had thousands of repetitions throughout my decades of driving. I know one day her ability will match or surpass mine. I’m no perfect driver by any means, but returning to drive day after day has developed my skill so that I can confidently get myself to new places. Through our repetitions at the temple, we are endowed with the confidence to build our own lives in new ways. We just have to keep going back.
- Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (2021), 175.