Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Woman's Mormon Temple Experience

It breaks my heart to see so many people struggling in the wake of excommunication. It is like a sea of disquiet. I know I can help one soul at a time, but right now the pain is overwashing anything I could do, so I'm mostly just listening.

There is so much discourse about women's terrible temple experiences, how the endowment ceremony hurts them, how it keeps them unable to understand their place and who they are as women. Right now all the stories seem to be about how unequal and terrible it is. But I believe in the power of stories. Parts of my story can only be shared one-on-one, in person, when moved by the Spirit. But right now I feel constrained to share something publicly. Maybe seeing how I process my temple experience can help someone else who is trying to understand.

The first time I even imagined that someone could have a problem with the temple was when I met a woman who I consider a kindred spirit—a better version of me. I had just been transferred to my first area after being trained by a sister who rather despised me. I was dejected, but excited to hopefully start missionary work for real. When I met Sister Martin*, we hit it off right away. We felt the same way about missionary work, had a similar sense of humor, and both refused to eat fungus. It was exactly what I needed to give me confidence to do the work the way I felt called.

But later, as we worked together and chatted between doors, it came out that she didn't like the temple. Not only didn't like, but felt extreme anxiety regarding it.

This was strange to me, because my first temple experience had been years earlier, and powerful. It was just after the injunction to no longer allow people to receive endowments unless they were marrying or serving a mission. But I kept feeling this nagging impulse to go. I didn't know why at the time, and it was a very difficult decision to make. In order for me to go when I did, my parents couldn't be there. I ended up with just me, my mom's sister, my dad's mom, and my roommate as an escort.

I don't know if I could have done it, knowing what I know now as a parent. It wasn't until a few short months later at my grandma's funeral that I realized I was the only grandchild she was able to see go through the temple before she passed away. I still believe this is why I needed to go through when I did.

And, despite everything, I loved the experience. As a person who grew up in the military, I never really felt at home anywhere until I walked into that initiatory room. I was filled with a certain sense that I was doing the right thing, I was in the right place, and I was home. That first week, I went back every day. For months after, I attended multiple times per week, until it finally settled to once per week. I loved the temple. There, I was wanted.

So it baffled me that anyone could have had a negative experience. And it wasn't the parts I thought it was, either. It was the parts that had to do with giving up part of yourself, with submission, that made her so uncomfortable and unable to go back. But we talked, we swapped feelings, and I think we both left that companionship a little more understanding of each other's perspective.

Fast forward several years. I was married, and my husband was uncomfortable with the temple. It was too hot, he said. But because I had better perspective, and because I wanted to give him space to develop his own relationship with God, I waited until he was ready to go with me. Eventually, I realized I needed to attend more often than his willingness let me, so I started going alone sometimes. But it was hard. Everything about the temple was beautiful, and I couldn't help sensing how very different my lived experience in marriage was to what I had expected and hoped.

A few short years later, and I walked through the temple with a broken heart, and a broken sealing.

Even now, writing about it, my heart is still broken. I type by feel, looking at a blurry screen. Since then, it has not become any easier to go to the temple as time has passed. As I write this, I attended for the first time in several months only a day and a half ago. I couldn't leave fast enough.

The peace and belonging I once felt at the temple is gone. I feel like an intruder, an impostor. Despite knowing I am worthy in every measured way, my heart is not whole. Even more than going to Church, going to the temple rends my soul a little more every time.

Now, I not only worry about those who struggle with the temple, my own tears mingle with theirs. Now, I get it.

So why do I go?

Believe me, I have asked myself that question many times. I don't think I have all the answers. Some of the things that are said and promises made in those walls feel empty to me now. But I still believe in them. I believe in the reality of them, even if I feel that they will not apply to me. And, through the tears and pain, I rejoice for those who have been blessed by the fulfillment (or process of fulfillment) of the blessings that come.

There is something beautiful about submission to imperfection and pain, about believing in something that doesn't seem to get you good scientific results. Have you ever thought about it?

Once upon a time, there was a man who had done nothing wrong. His life was worked in service to others. He transcended known physical laws to bless the sick, heal the broken, and bring others to God. He wasn't an Adonis. He wasn't much to look at. But He had the power of the Spirit, and those thirsty for the influence of God felt it, knew it, and gave up everything to follow Him.

He didn't have to do it. He suffered some of the most degrading tortures known to man. For His efforts, He was mocked and ridiculed. He, also, had nowhere He belonged. His own neighbors hated Him. Those He was sent to save often reviled Him. The only ones who would listen to Him were, for the most part, those who were too despised and worthless to do anything else.

He submitted to imperfection and pain. Why? So He could learn by His own experience how to succor—how to minister to and heal—His people.

Don't get me wrong. Following the priesthood leaders, submitting myself to them, is excruciatingly difficult at times. But it is not an act of debasement. It is an act of discipleship. It is empowerment. It is easy to rail against imperfection, to try to correct all the injustice I see around me. But it is another thing to submit. To let go of control, of influence, of temporal power. To return unrighteous dominion or imperfect understanding with a soft voice, with patience and long-suffering. It is power to own oneself, to refuse to react. To free oneself from being controlled by one's own pain. To learn to take the reins of my life and act.

There is nothing I would not do for Him, because there is nothing He has not done for me. I will go to Church among women with relatively happy marriages, women who can raise their own children because their husbands sacrifice by going to work every day, women who don't have to know how to wire an outlet or change out a toilet, because they have men around them who will do it for them. And I will keep my head bowed in the face of their misunderstanding and my other-ness, because He went like a lamb to the slaughter.

What I have to give isn't so much, in light of that.

A few guidelines before commenting:

Please do not say "it will all be made right in the next life." I know that. It is no comfort. I mourn, all the same. And it isn't the point of this post.

Do not discuss the particulars of the temple experience. There are more things that can be discussed than most people think, but I will not do it in a public, written, online forum. I cannot edit comments on Blogger, so they will simply not be posted.

*names changed just because I can


  1. I hope that one day I may be one of those you feel inspired to share your experience with. I'll avoid, as requested, the often trite and over used platitudes, and instead simply be glad for the strength you have found.

  2. Thank you for being a great example of a Mormon woman is is both passionately compassionate and passionately faithful. This post is beautiful.

  3. Thank you for this post! Struggling with battles on my own this has given me a feeling.
    Not sure what it is, but I'm sure it means a lot.


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