"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 17, 2012
Temple Ready
by Marian Stoddard

Our first temple class was made up of a reactivated couple whose kids were grown, a single brother, and a woman who had been widowed some years before she found the gospel. When we were called to teach temple preparation, the Relief Society president, a friend of mine, asked if “Mary Ryan” was included, and I said, “Yes.”

“Good,” said the president. “She has been asking me when she could go to the temple ever since she hit her anniversary date four months ago, and I’ve been telling her that’s up to the bishop. Now that you two are called, she can get ready.”

We had the advantage that time, as we have not had with any subsequent group, of having our class set on a weeknight instead of on Sunday. This meant that we had a full hour, and if we ran over it didn’t matter, unless it was a problem that night to any of our class members.

We started out by explaining that these lessons were like the missionary lessons, in that it didn’t matter how many weeks it took, only that all the material was covered and their questions were answered. In fact, we said, this was their opportunity to ask any question they needed; if there had ever been anything that went past them in Sunday School and they didn’t want to bring the class to a halt to make an inquiry that no one else appeared to need, this was their chance.

If they asked anything we couldn’t answer immediately, we would find out and bring an answer the following week, or as soon as we could manage.

There was an immediate question: What is the Book of Abraham exactly and how did we get it? Since we had a number of scriptures from Abraham in the first lesson, this was a very good question. Once that was satisfied, we began. Everyone felt very comfortable stopping to ask a question when they needed, which was great. It meant we were doing something right.

That first lesson is on the plan of salvation. It covers the pre-mortal life, the council in heaven, the creation, the fall, mortality, and the three degrees of glory, with lots of scripture readings and sometimes unfamiliar concepts.

It took four weeks for this class to be done with it. We stopped and answered a lot of questions, and I cannot imagine any possibility of doing it in one week — none. You would have to gloss past the readings by reference and not stop and read them; and I think no matter how familiar your learners were, you would be doing them a disservice. How can you skim past the premortal difference between Jehovah and Satan, or the principles of 2 Nephi 2, that opposition is necessary and the Fall was part of the plan?

As we put it, we are not living Plan B; this is and always was Plan A. That takes some discussion.

The next lessons are on worthiness standards, temples in other times, the meaning of ordinances and covenants, and symbols. There are a lot of scriptures to read and discuss, and a lot of concepts not known in other traditions, which have been lost to the rest of the world.

We all took turns reading, and Mary sometimes stumbled on unfamiliar words; long passages were a struggle. She came from a working-class Irish Catholic background, and didn’t have the advantage of a lot of education. (Talking with her much later, I realized she has some type of visual learning disability, and rather than evaluation and help, she says she was constantly told she was stupid.)

She had a strong testimony and motivation, but she began to feel overwhelmed. I could see a couple of times that the others’ questions were going over her head, and she wasn’t clear on the answers as quickly as they were, sometimes not clear at all, but she waved off our attempts to stop and explain further.

One night she stayed after the others were leaving, and told us that she felt she wasn’t ready.

“I can’t go to the temple. I don’t know enough.”

My husband asked, “Mary, do you feel the Spirit when you pray?”

“Yes, I think so. Yes, yes I do, definitely.”

I said, “Are you prepared to covenant that you will do whatever the Lord requires of you, for the remainder of your life?”

Her tone strengthening, she answered, “Yes. I am.” Her posture straightened.

“Then that‘s all you need. The things you don’t know yet, the Spirit will teach you as you go to the temple, and as you go again. If you can promise with your whole heart that you will serve and follow Him, that’s all that’s required. That’s all that matters.”

We can study our whole lives and not reach that absolute surety, because that surety comes from the heart of faith, not our education, our learning, the examples of others or our upbringing. All those things can help, and they are good, but each of us has to make that choice not to fear and not to hold back.

We have to experience the love, the guidance and counsel, and trust it. Our promises must be perfect even though we will not live up to them perfectly. The Atonement will make us perfect as we continue in the right path, persevering, striving to live up to those promises.

Thankfully, she believed us and continued. The bishop and stake president found her ready and worthy. Mary went to the temple, and found great joy in doing so. She never misses a Sunday, and participates in everything the ward offers. She still feels, five years later, that she has much to learn, but is reassured that her Heavenly Father will continue to lead her along.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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