As promised, here I am to share some thoughts about LDS garments as well as some other principles of my faith. I know that among members of my faith as well as many who are not, there are so many questions rolling around about how, when, and how much to wear the temple garment these days. What is “right?” Will you be in trouble if you don’t wear them? Who is interpreting the instructions about when to wear the garment in the “right” way? Who has it all wrong? Is this a symbol of losing your faith if you do x, y, or z without them?
It’s not just on this blog where the topic has come up over and over again. It is all over social media. And in discussions. And deeply intertwined in hearts. I think there is a big shift as many are trying to dig down and figure out how they really feel about this part of our religion. And sometimes the “figuring out” is messy.
I do think there are some very valid questions asked on this blog. Some are asked here with real intent seeking to understand. Thank you for those! They help me dig deeper into what I believe. And I love to hear and learn from the perspectives of others.
As a preface, this is a post about the garment, not my children. I love to discuss any questions about my beliefs and faith. But out of respect to my children, please keep them out of the comment section. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. If you leave comments, please remember that true growth and learning happens best when we have mutual respect.
What are LDS garments?
Before I dig into my thoughts let’s first back up and talk about what garments are in the first place. I love this description from the church website:
From ancient times, men and women have embraced sacred music, different forms of prayer, religious vestments full of symbolism, gestures and rituals to express their innermost feelings of devotion to God.
The variety of these forms of expression is as wide and diverse as the human family. Yet all have the same ultimate purpose: to connect the believer with the object of their devotion in the most personal way—to draw close to God.”
To those outside a particular faith, the rituals and clothing may seem unfamiliar. But for the participants they can stir the deepest feelings of the soul, motivate them to do good, even shape the course of a whole life of service.
The nun’s habit. The priest’s cassock. The Jewish prayer shawl. The Muslim’s skullcap. The saffron robes of the Buddhist monk. All are part of a rich tapestry of human devotion to God.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are no outer religious vestments in ordinary worship services.
However, many faithful Latter-day Saints wear a garment under their clothing that has deep religious significance. Similar in design to ordinary modest underclothing, it comes in two pieces and is usually referred to as the “temple garment.”
My favorite part is this explanation of the “why” of the garment: “to connect the believer with the object of their devotion in the most personal way–to draw close to God.” How beautiful is that? Sometimes I don’t think we teach this part as fully as we could.
How does a garment help draw us to God?
It acts as a reminder of the covenants we have made with Him. There are marks in the garment that symbolize and remind us of different things we can do to remember Jesus. Because of this, I love to think about the garment being like “putting on Christ” each day (Galatians 3:27). And when we truly try to follow Jesus, we are automatically drawn closer to God.
What are the instructions for wearing the garment?
When we chose to go to the temple for the first time to make covenants, we are given instructions to “wear the garment throughout our lives.” I think people have a wide variety of interpretations of what that means. Especially right now in our day and age. Some feel like the instructions are as straightforward as can be. Especially because it is recommended that the garment “should not be removed for activities that can reasonably be done while wearing the garment.” But others are really trying to figure out what that means to them. Because the instructions also say, “Endowed members should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to answer personal questions about wearing the garment.”
My first experience with garments
When I went to the temple for the first time, I honestly never thought twice about garments. I knew what the garment symbolized, but I didn’t think much about it. It was just what people did. So I did too, and never looked back. Sure, I was a little nostalgic leaving behind the sleeveless things I wore before. All those dresses I made myself from huge floral fabric. (Ha! That’s a story for another day!) But I went with the flow. That’s what my friends of my same faith did, too. It was just “the way.”
It helped that I was heading off on a mission. As a missionary there is a specific dress code. Garment-wearing was a given.
Over the years I have come to love garments. At first they were just a thing I put on each day. But little by little, the symbolism has become real to me. Like anything else in life, when we seek to understand, we find what we’re looking for. Oh, it’s not a done deal. I’m still sometimes seeking. On this and many things in life. I am far from perfect (whatever perfect might be). But I’m grateful for this beautiful daily remembrance of the covenants and promises I’ve made with God. A reminder that I can take God with me in this often-difficult journey of life.
A new generation of garment-wearers
Fast forward to this new generation where kids are so much more about the “why.” I think in so many ways this is such a good thing. As far as faith is concerned, digging into the “why” has the potential to help build much deeper roots.
Because the “why” is on so many minds, some are really delving in to figure out how they feel about the garment in their own hearts. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe they just don’t want to wear them. Or maybe it’s a whole combination of things. This is sometimes difficult for those who feel like the “why” is already explained and everyone should just “get” it.
But the process of discipleship is a long and complicated journey. We all take on religion in such different ways and from such different vantage points.
admonitions/commandments/covenants to help us stay close to God
So here’s the deal. There are all kinds of things that, like the garment, have the power to help us draw closer to God. We can find them in a variety of sources, specifically in the scriptures. But we also believe in continuing revelation. (See our 9th “Article of Faith” for more on that.)
As we study and work to follow Jesus, we have several admonitions. Here are some of the top ones that come to mind to me:
- Be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure…care for the poor and needy
- Kindle your faith and build a foundation on Jesus Christ. Strive to follow His ultimate example
- Repent daily
- be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins
- Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and utilize it in our daily lives
- Keep the Sabbath Day holy
- Partake of the sacrament each week, use it as a time for personal introspection and personal repentance
- Pay an honest tithe
- Go to church and to the temple regularly
- Keep the “Word of Wisdom“
- Wear the temple garment throughout our lives
- Stand as a witness for Jesus Christ
- “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth” — Genesis 1:28
- Keep the Ten Commandments
- “Feed my sheep” (one of the most beautiful admonitions ever in my opinion)…which leads to…
- The “two great commandments:”
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.Matthew 22:37–39
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
So many beautiful avenues to help us cultivate our relationship with God. We may believe fully in all of these things and work to do them well, but try as we might, we will all fall short. We also may not be on board with some of them, but really working to sort them out. Everyone is in a different stage of this journey through life.
The tricky thing about the garment
Although most of these things listed above are things we do privately and intimately in the fleshy tables of our own hearts, some are more visible in our outward appearance and actions. The garment is one of these. Which naturally makes it an easy target for judgment. I am sorry to say that I have been guilty of that judgment as well. Although I know full well that everyone has their own story, it’s easy to wonder why others may not do things the same way I do.
Someone may feel so confident in things like the way they keep the Sabbath day holy, pay their tithing, and yes, wear the temple garment that they have a hard time when others do it differently.
But we need to keep this human nature in check because it goes against perhaps the key element of being a Christian: strive to be like Jesus Christ. When we are judgmental of how others translate the “law,” it has the power to really hinder the growth of others. Not only that, and perhaps even more damaging, it has the power to hinder our own growth if we are too worried about what others are doing.
I’ve learned that there are many things we grow into in life. All the gospel principles, don’t you think? And I have learned, through trial and error, that just because you believe in something doesn’t mean your neighbor might have the same convictions. It is so important to give each other TIME and GRACE to take our own separate journeys.
Take away the “stumblingblocks”
Let’s go to the New Testament in the book of Romans for a minute:
But why does thou judge thy brother? or why does thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before they judgment seat of Christ.
For it is written…every knee shall bow…every tongue shall confess…so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way…
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.Romans 14: 10-13, 19
I believe that Christ will meet us where we are. Whether we are in the midst of some pretty damaging decisions or striving our best to follow Him. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior.
May we join Jesus in not waiting for others to be perfect to learn from them. May we recognize that everyone has their own stories. May we be cheerleaders for each other in any way we can. Because let’s face it, life can be brutal sometimes. We need each other.
Being truly converted is a personal journey
I think it’s interesting to note that the temple recommend questions have evolved so much over the years. As have many other things like “home centered church” and the “Strength of Youth” pamphlet. Where it was once filled with specific guidelines, it is now filled with nurturing explanations and encouragement. It is now called “a guide for making choices.” So many things have evolved in our church to give much more agency to make our own decisions and govern and nurture our own faith.
Why do you think this is happening? Has the church softened in handing over the opportunity to make our own choices and seek our own guidance? I don’t believe this is because we are lowering the bar, but rather we are raising it.
“There are some who would welcome a detailed dress code answering every conceivable question about the wearing of the temple garment. They would have priesthood leaders legislate lengths, specify conditions of when and how it should and should not be worn, and impose penalties upon those who missed the mark by a fraction of an inch. Such individuals would have Church members strain at a thread and omit the weightier matters of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 23:23–26).
“Most Latter-day Saints, however, rejoice over the moral agency extended them by a loving Father in Heaven. They prize highly the trust placed in them by the Lord and Church leaders—a trust implied in this statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith: ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’”Elder Carlos E. Asay
The “Gift” of the Garment
The blessing we need to look for is the transformation that comes to our hearts when we let God come on this journey with us. When we use our covenants to become closer to Him, and to remember to let Him into our lives. When we transform the “have to dos” into the “want to dos” because we want to change our hearts. We want to give them to God. That’s where the power comes.
If we are living a life of checkboxes and “have to dos” growth is hindered substantially.
But when we seek to understand the “whys” we learn to appreciate the things that can help us draw close to God.
I LOVED Emily Belle Freeman’s talk in our last General Conference. It speaks to all these thoughts:
Why should I walk a covenant path? Do I need to enter a house for making covenants? Why do I wear the holy garment? Should I invest in a covenant relationship with the Lord? The answer to these good and important questions is simple: it depends on what degree of relationship you want to experience with Jesus Christ. Each of us will have to discover our own response to those deeply personal questions...
[We can choose] “to tether our life with [God]. He has promised to walk with us in the way…we must remember: it’s not the course alone that will exalt us; it’s the companion—our Savior. And this is the why of covenant relationship.”
So will we be damned if we don’t wear the garment all the time, even when we’ve promised to do so? I just think sometimes we think about this all wrong. The garment is a gift. It’s a gift that helps us remember that companion: the Savior. The One who has overcome the world. When we put on the garment it has the potential to help us remember the covenants we make. The ones that help us let God in.
The garment is a gift. But only if we chose to make it so. And sometimes it’s hard to chose to make it so depending on which part of the journey we’re in. Aren’t we all so glad that life is long?
What is our responsibility as neighbors and friends (and strangers)?
So, if our neighbor or friend is wearing garments all the time, awesome. And if our neighbor or friend, or a stranger for that matter isn’t wearing that holy garment as much as we think they ought to, let us be like Jesus and love them anyway.
Let’s dig in even deeper with a question that has been asked quite often in the past:
Why would someone go to the temple if they don’t intend to wear the garment? Isn’t it morally wrong to promise to do something and then not do it? (i.e. wearing the garment).
Try as we might, we can’t know what thoughts are roaming around in the hearts of others, nor their deep-down intentions. Chances are that they may be as aware of the symbols and covenants as we have worked to be, or more so, and just doing it in a different way.
OR maybe they haven’t really given it much thought. Maybe they went to the temple to make promises to God but don’t relate the temple garment to that promise. Perhaps they just think it’s a nice reminder of the covenants they make. They may have different convictions, be in the middle of a faith crisis, have medical conditions, searching to dig deeper into the “why.”
The point is, most of the time we just don’t know what’s in the hearts of others. But isn’t that when we need to love even more?
If God is willing to give our neighbors leeway on that, then we should too.
WHAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO OURSELVES?
Perhaps you are reading this post and you are struggling with your own faith or garment conviction. If so, I challenge you to keep turning to God and trusted sources for answers. Convictions don’t just happen. We have to put in the work. We follow the thoughts we feed. May we dig deep to strengthen our own personal foundations. May we put ourselves in the places and spaces where we can deepen our connection with God. May we hold ourselves to our personal highest standards and push ourselves to let God in AND be loving and accepting of others and they way they chose to live their lives.
May we be the best cheerleaders to those around us as they work at their own pace in their own unique ways. And if they are different from us, may we love them anyway.
Back to the question at hand:
Back to my original questions about the garment from the beginning of this post:
“What is “right?” Will you be in trouble if you don’t wear them? Who is interpreting the instructions about when to wear the garment in the “right” way? Who has it all wrong? Is this a symbol of losing your faith if you do x,y, or z without them?”
We have our own choices to make as we “seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to answer personal questions about wearing the garment.” Sometimes our personal convictions take a long, long time to muddle through. Through hills of glory and sometimes valleys of sorrow. Sometimes we’re born with the answers. They’re easy. Sometimes we learn by trial and error.
I do know one thing: when we choose to let God into our lives, it is a blessing. And wearing the garment out of gratitude and sometimes hard-earned understanding rather than obligation has the power to strengthen our relationship with God. To remind us of sacred covenants that help lead us back to Him. And to “call” Jesus to our rescue in our loneliest and most difficult times. That is the blessing.
Some thoughts to end on
Some quotes I’ve written in my “notes” lately:
- Sometimes people get in the way of our growth. Sometimes we need to get out of the way and let people grow.
- Sometimes we focus so much on avoiding sin that we forget the gift of the atonement and the power of love.
- Find the “why”
- We’re called to be gatherers, not sifters.
- Take God with you. His presence in our lives isn’t earned, it’s always there. We just have to choose to let Him in.
Sending so much love on out there into cyberspace as we all work to determine what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and act on the promptings we receive.
Podcasts and posts that delve into church thoughts
- Some thoughts about the Mormon religion (posted before we were encouraged to use The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:)
- The Gospel According to Me
- Be In the World–A Conversation with Richard Eyre
- Growing up in a Religious Family — In the Arena Podcast episode
- God’s Many Voices — An interview with Michael Wilcox…perhaps my favorite podcast episode ever…part two is so good as well