Relief Society Lesson 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord
I prepared another lesson on temples several years ago which began with a sentiment that I still find relevant today: We talk a lot in the Church about the blessings of the temple and all the peace, beauty, knowledge, truth, etc. that participating in temple ordinances can bring. Unfortunately, I think we too often fail to dig deeper into the meaning and our experience with the temple because we have set the temple up to be a tricky thing to talk about. This is a difficult lesson to teach precisely because it may be hard to get deep and meaningful discussion about the temple and our relationship to it. As a teacher, you must be aware of some class member’s discomfort in talking about something they might consider too sacred to talk about. You also need to be sensitive to the fact that everybody has a very different and deeply personal relationship to the temple. Many members of your class will see the temple of a place of peace and comfort. But you might also have sisters who have either not gone through the temple or have experienced very real pain and confusion there. This is not something to be afraid of or run away from, if anything I would highlight the beauty in our individual journey towards the divine.
In preparing this lesson, strive to avoid the usual rhetoric about the temple and instead focus on each sister’s individual experience. Ask questions that will lead to deep and meaningful conversation on this topic. Also, this is a Relief Society lesson, try to highlight Mormon women’s voices, stories and relationships with the temple.
Temples are symbols of all we hold dear.
President Benson taught us that “[The] temple will be a light to all–a symbol of all we hold dear.”
- What does the temple represent for you?
- Have you had experiences in the temple that make it dear to you?
I like to think about the temple through the lens of “sacred space”.
[The temple is] a constant, visible symbol that God has not left man to grope in darkness. It is a place of revelation. Though we live in a fallen world…holy places are set apart and consecrated so that worthy men and women can learn the order of heaven… (Ezra T. Benson)
Betty Jo Jepsen, a previous counselor in the Primary General Presidency, encouraged us to:
[C]onsider your visits to the temple as a personal pilgrimage to a sacred place, as the shepherds must have considered their journey to that humble manger. (“By Way of Invitation,” October 1992.)
D&C 109 tells us that the temple is specifically dedicated to be a sacred place where we can feel His love an receive revelation:
12. That thy glory may rest down upon they people, and upon this thy house, which we now dedicate to thee, that it may be sanctified and consecrated to be holy, and that thy holy presence may be continually in this house.
13. And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou has sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of holiness.
Sacred space commonly refers to a place where the human search for meaning, truth, and divine inspiration commingles with practices and beliefs. People from all faiths and cultures have sought to find or create spaces that invite the contemplation of divine mystery, and encourages an attitude of spiritual openness. A sacred space is not necessarily where answers are grasped or understood. Rather it is where questions are asked, conversations occur, rituals are perpetuated…and silence is heard—all in the attempt to find answers. (Excerpted from Santa Barbara Sacred Spaces)
- What is sacred space to you? (It doesn’t have to be the temple.)
- How does finding sacred space help to deepen your relationship with the divine?
We need temple ordinances and covenants in order to prepare to regain God’s presence.
There are so many wonderful quotes from our women leaders about making sacred covenants–this would be a great section to bring their voices forward. Here are some of my favorites:
In the temple we make eternal covenants with our Father in Heaven. We make promises to Him, and in return He makes extraordinary promises to us. The next time you go to the temple, whether for yourself or your kindred dead, pay careful attention to the promises God makes to you, His daughter. In every part of the temple, the hallowed halls of God’s house are filled with comforting covenants–personal, intimate assurances of His eternal love. (Virginia U. Jensen, “Come to Relief Society,” October 1998.)
We are reminded of our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament. The sacrament prayer helps us remember Him and His goodness. We can live worthy to participate in the temple ordinances. These ordinances are the culminating act of conversion of mortal men and women, which fulfills that need for an earthly commitment to heavenly knowledge. (Betty Jo Jepsen, “By Way of Invitation,” October 1992.)
The covenants we make with the associated ordinances we receive in the temple become our credentials for admission into God’s presence. These covenants elevate us beyond the limits of our own power and perspective. We make covenants to show our devotion to build up the kingdom. We become covenant people as we are placed under covenant to God. All the promised blessings are ours through our faithfulness to these covenants. (Silvia H. Allred, “Holy Temples, Sacred Covenants,” October 2008.)
Covenants are deceptively simple, clear symbols that we can all grasp intellectually with ease. But only as we live with them and return to them often for meaning in the joyous and sorrowful passages of our lives do we begin to understand how deep their roots go…The many levels on which we can understand our covenants suggests two things to me. First, we cannot judge other people. We do not know where they are in their spiritual journey. There may be parts of the gospel that are a great joy and strength to us but that seem mysterious and uncertain to someone else who is involved in learning about other aspects of the gospel. And second, all experience is for our good because we learn in no other way. (Chieko Okazaki, “Aloha,” 1995).
Through temple ordinance and covenants, we can receive protection and God’s greatest blessings pertaining to eternal life.
Sister Rosemary Wixom taught us in April 2014 that:
Temple ordinances lead to the greatest blessings available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They are those ordinances necessary for our exaltation in the celestial kingdom. As we strive to keep our covenants, our feelings of inadequacy and imperfection begin to fade, while the ordinances and the covenants of the temple come alive. Everyone is welcome to walk that path to eternal life. (“Keeping Covenants Protects Us, and Empowers Us.”)
Likewise, President Benson tells us that the “temple ceremony was given by a wise Heavenly Father to help us become more Christ-like.
There is power associated with the ordinance of heaven–even the power of godliness–which can and will thwart the forces of evil if we will be worthy of those sacred blessings. [Our] community will be protected, our families will be protected, our children will be safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord.
This would be another good place to open the class up for discussion:
- How have you been blessed through temple ordinances?
- How can we use our experiences both within the temple and outside to become more Christ-like?
We have the privilege of opening the doors of salvation to our ancestors.
This may be a good section to keep short as genealogy and vicarious temple work really deserve their own lesson. However, I do like the discussion question offered in the lesson manual, and if you have time, I think it could generate some beautiful stories and experiences:
President Benson said, “When I think of genealogy, I see people–people I love.”
- How does this observation influence your approach to family history and temple work.
- Encourage class members to share their own personal experiences.
Children and youth need to learn about the blessings of the temple.
The lesson manual includes a lovely anecdote about Sarah Dunkley Benson, mother to Ezra Taft Benson. He recalls:
I am grateful to the Lord that my temple memories extend back–even to young boyhood. I remember so well, as a little boy, coming in from the field and approaching the old farm house in Whitney, Idaho. I could hear my mother singing ‘Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?’
I can still see her in my mind’s eye bending over the ironing board with newspapers on the floor, ironing long strips of white cloth, with beads of perspiration on her forehead. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, ‘These are temple robes, my son. Your father and I are going to the temple…
Then she put the old flatiron on the stove, drew a chair close to mine, and told me about temple work–how important it is to be able to go to the temple and participate in the sacred ordinances performed there. She also expressed her fervent hope that some day her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have the opportunity to enjoy these priceless blessings.
These sweet memories about the spirit of temple work were a blessing in our farm home…These are choice memories to me.
I think this is a beautiful story, not only because President Benson is sharing a memory that is meaningful to him, but also because he is honoring the experience of his mother. It also speaks to the important example parents set for their children.
- What are some things we can do to help children and youth prepare for temple ordinances and covenants?
As an aside, this conversation can be incredibly guilt-inducing for mothers who haven’t gone to the temple or have difficulty with it. I would highlight this quote from President Linda Burton:
It may be worthwhile for us to check ourselves now and then to make sure our homes are places we are prepared to feel the Spirit. As we prepare our homes to be places where the Spirit is welcome, we will be prepared to feel more “at home” when we enter the house of the Lord. (“Prepared in a Manner That Never Had Been Known,” October 2014.)
The temple is a painful place for me and while I go on occasion, I will never be like Sarah Dunkley Benson who rejoiced in her experiences in the temple and spoke openly about it with her children. However, I can make sure that my home is filled with a loving spirit. I can make sure that my children feel loved and that they know the spirit of God is in our home. That way, if my children choose the temple to be one of their sacred spaces, they will feel at home and comfortable in that space.
Increased temple attendance leads to increased personal revelation.
Ezra Taft Benson promised that regular temple attendance would increase our personal revelation:
In the course of our visits to the temple, we are given insights into the meaning of the eternal journey of man. We see beautiful and impressive symbolisms of the most important events–past, present, and future–symbolizing man’s mission in relationship to God. We are reminded of our obligations as we make solemn covenants pertaining to obedience, consecration, sacrifice, and dedicated service to our Heavenly Father.
Do we return to the temple often to receive the personal blessings that come from regular temple worship? Prayers are answered, revelation occurs, and instruction by the Spirit takes place in the holy temples of the Lord.
Silvia H. Allred spoke to this point in her October 2008 talk, “Holy Temples, Sacred Covenants”:
The temple is a house of learning. Much of the instruction imparted in the temple is symbolic and learned by the Spirit. This means we are taught from on high. Temple covenants and ordinances are a powerful symbol of Christ and His Atonement. We all receive the same instruction, but our understanding of the meaning of the ordinances and covenants will increase as we return to the temple often with the attitude of learning and contemplating the eternal truths taught.
You can open the class up to discussion at this point and ask what blessings sisters have received by attending the temple regularly. It is also important to allow space for women who haven’t been to the temple or choose not to go regularly. They also have just as much access to personal revelation and it is good to validate their experience.
*Many of the quotes from women that I used in this lesson were found on the General Conference Sisters website. They have quotes from our women leaders broken down into topics. This is a wonderful resource and I would encourage you to use the voices of women, especially while teaching Relief Society, as much as possible!