There’s something really important about understanding that we are whole and worthy beings. Worthy of love. Worthy of attention, care, and concern. Worthy to walk with the Lord. One of the first lies Satan will tell you is that you are not worthy, because he can build all sorts of other delusions based on that one lie. Don’t believe it.
When I was 14 years old I fell into a group of kids that appreciated my witty humor, snarky attitude, and rebellious nature. They didn’t care that my hair was frizzy and I was overweight. Quite a few of this group were members of the church as well, outcasts in their own right, but I definitely didn’t think I was with a bad crowd.
The leader of the group, or rather the loudest and most charismatic, was a skinny blonde boy. In any other group he would have been the court jester, but in this group he was king. As the year went on, I fit into this group more and more, but I also became subversive to it. I didn’t always want to hang out by the high school theater during lunch and talk about the stupid things they were talking about.
I’d often go behind the gym alone and throw a baseball against the wall instead of eating. Or I’d find a new kid or one of the beautiful Down’s Syndrome students to hang out with because I adored them and their loving humor. It was refreshing and comfortable. This subversion wasn’t always appreciated by my group of “friends” and I would sometimes even be mocked by them.
Of course, I could dish it back just fine, but I never really felt like I was part of their group. I just didn’t have anywhere else to go, so when I was forced to be in social situations I would gravitate towards them. But we never hung out after school. I’d go home and take my dog for a walk, or when I got older I would drive out to volunteer at a trail-riding stable and eventually started training horses. I was determined to do something more meaningful than just sit around and make fun of life.
Eventually, sometime during my Junior year, I think the leader of this ragged band of misfits saw me as a powerful ally. He declared me his girlfriend and we ruled our derelict court for nearly a year. Somehow I was able to persuade him to take the discussions with the missionaries. We had some good times together, some great adventures, some spiritual moments, and he was baptized. It felt like we were unstoppable.
But during the summer between my Junior and Senior years I worked at the horse ranch and met a guy that I ended up really liking. He was a year younger than I was, but went to the same school. I honestly didn’t even know he existed until that summer, but he was kind. He didn’t need to make fun of others to be popular. We started dating that summer, and my court-jester-made-king boyfriend went back to his castle without me.
The other church members of the group kept him coming to church and seminary so I saw him often, but it wasn’t great. I had lost a bunch of weight and was now circulating in more popular circles because of my new boyfriend. He was the cross-country and track star and had a lot of friends who were going to actually make something out of their lives. It was good for me. Until the day he decided we couldn’t be together anymore because his pastor told him he shouldn’t date a Mormon.
Whatever, I thought. I’m leaving soon anyway. I got my acceptance letter to BYU-Provo. And I was back on the radar of my little band of misfits. The king and I got back together out of habit more than anything else, but I was mostly distracted by other things I wanted more. I spent a lot of time out at the ranch, I got a job, and during the summer following my Senior year I left my little town by myself a lot. I hiked a volcano, did some overnight solo hikes, and in general just tried to quench my thirst for adventure.
I also let a lot of things happen between that boy and I that I shouldn’t have. It really messed with my emotions. The morning I left for BYU, my parents had our station wagon packed down with all my stuff and we were pulling out of the driveway, when this boy rode up on his bike to declare his love for me and that we’d find some way to be together again. Part of me reveled in the attention, but a larger part of me was deeply aware of the pathetic scene of teen love between a boy who wasn’t going anywhere and a girl who knew she was leaving for good.
My first year at school was a shock. I was surrounded by seemingly perfect little Mormon girls, all beautiful and saying all the right things, and I found myself an outcast once again. I probably could have found a way to be part of their show, but I’ve never been able to be convincingly inauthentic so I stuck with what I knew. I was just me. And I attracted my own little band of BYU misfits. I was literally branded a rebel, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the part.
I hadn’t really done anything that needed serious repentance until that boy moved out to Utah during the summer after my Freshman year. I stopped going to church because Relief Society in that environment was unbearable. My young self-righteous self believed that I was better than their perfect-on-the-surface show. I never lost my testimony of my Savior, though. I had developed that at a relatively young age, and always knew the gospel was true. I just didn’t know anything else.
That summer and following school year was a complete wasteland. I never slept at my own apartment, went to school just enough to maintain a decent GPA, and committed every sin in the book. I believed all of the lies I was told by my boyfriend and the enemy of my soul. I even believed I couldn’t pray anymore because I wasn’t good enough for God to listen to.
My boyfriend became abusive, and I found comfort with his roommates who had pity on my plight. They helped me find other ways to numb the pain. I had abandoned the idea that this boy had come to Utah to be with me, and that we would get married in the temple and have a family. I couldn’t even tell which way was up because all sides were misery. I wasn’t worthy, and I felt that profoundly.
Then he cheated on me. And I was left knowing that I had given up everything that had ever made me happy for him and he could just walk away like none of it mattered. And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell (Alma 30:60).
I sunk into a deep depression. Like, really deep. I couldn’t even cry. I just laid in my bed for two weeks. I did get up to go to work, but I delivered pizzas so I could drive around in my car and just be in my darkness. A coworker of mine who also delivered pizzas noticed that I wasn’t my normal sassy self and started riding with me on my deliveries. I told him everything. He took care of me. He came to get me when I wouldn’t get out of my bed and he drug me to his parent’s house in Orem so I would eat. His parents were so kind to me.
Weeks passed and I started to feel a little better. I could at least function. I ventured to say a prayer. Alone in my room I began to pour out my heart to the Lord. I held nothing back. I wept the tears I had held in for years, and said the prayer I hadn’t said in so long. I think I eventually fell asleep there on my floor because the next thing I remember was waking up to daylight. My eyes were so puffy I could barely open them, my head pounded, and my neck hurt from sleeping on the ground.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was my snake. I had a little corn snake who lived in an enclosure there on the ground. As the blurriness cleared I saw that he had shed his skin that night. I heard in my mind, “So have you, Sister. You’re going to be okay.” I smiled. I felt so light. I felt like I could do anything, and I was prepared to do anything that was needed to feel that way forever. I just wanted to be, do, and feel good all the time. There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains… on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy (Alma 36:21).
A neighbor who I barely knew at the time came over and invited me to go to church. It was rather nonchalant and I said yes before I even had time to think about it. When I arrived I realized that is was Testimony Meeting. I knew what I needed to do. I bore my testimony that day of the Savior’s love, of the power of redemption. And when the meeting was over I went and talked to the Bishop. What shall I do that I may have this eternal life? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God? I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake everything, that I may receive this great joy (Alma 22:15). I told him everything.
This Bishop loved me, and I knew it. I was prepared for anything. He had every right to call the honor code office and have me expelled. He had every right to send me back to California in sackcloth and ashes. But he didn’t. He called his counselors, and together they poured their love on me. My first 20 years were solidly behind me. Or so I thought.
Three weeks later I met Shiloh, who would one day be my husband. At the time, I was just living on this cloud of euphoria, having found a new life to live into. Shiloh was handsome, fun, kind, and intelligent. But he was also a little edgy. It felt like a homecoming. I could be myself and also be, do, and feel good. I very quickly fell in love.
But the adversary doesn’t let us get away so easily. Within a few months this boy, who I thought I would never have to see or think about again, ran into me while I was working. Knowing where I lived he came to see me. He told me his horrible plight of trying to make ends meet living in Utah, the betrayal he felt as his friends and new girlfriend left him, and something in me felt pity for him. That pity was used against me, until I found myself again hanging around him.
I hated every moment of it. I would lie to him so I could get away and find a quiet place to take Shiloh’s calls. I lived for Shiloh’s texts. Shiloh was my anchor as I floundered in tumultuous seas. But I wasn’t always nice to Shiloh, and eventually we grew apart. One of our mutual friends did everything she could to keep us connected, but it was an uphill battle. Everyone tried to intervene, to save me from myself, but none of that mattered. I wanted Shiloh to rescue me, but he didn’t.
Then, one morning, this boy’s dad came to Utah and took him back to California. Maybe he had been planning that and just didn’t tell me, but it felt like God just said, “Enough is enough,” and took this thorn out of my life. The abruptness of it threw me off, and I struggled for a few days trying to make sense of it. But because of good friends I had made during my time back in the church I was able to quickly shake it off and put the pieces of my life back together.
It was so awkward to find a way to convince Shiloh that I was back from the shadows, but he let me back into his life so easily and we were inseparable. I even had another boy tell me that if I ever wanted to be asked out on a date I should stop hanging out with Shiloh because it was confusing to everyone. I didn’t realize there were so many who wanted to take me out, but that’s probably because I didn’t care. Shiloh and I weren’t “together” but there was no one else in the world but him.
I was still seeing the Bishop during all of this. I had been working on coming back into full fellowship in the church. And I was working on always being honest. What I wanted more than anything else was for Shiloh to know what I had really been through. I never wanted him to feel like he was being deceived, and I was clearly damaged goods. The words of my patriarchal blessing, that one day I would meet a righteous priesthood holder and a deep love and desire to be sealed together would develop, haunted me.
I tested the waters one night and said, “Sometimes I wonder if any righteous priesthood holder would ever want to marry me if they knew everything about some of the dumb things I’ve done.” Shiloh replied, “Any righteous priesthood holder that’s good for anything would never hold what you’ve done against you.”
It felt like the Lord was speaking to me himself. For 6 years I hadn’t felt as whole as I did in that moment. I wasn’t even back in full fellowship in the church yet. I wasn’t technically “worthy” to go to the temple, or even take the sacrament. But something spoke peace to my soul and told me that I am innately worthy. I am worthy of love. That is the only kind of worthiness there is, and it is inalienable.
Oh, how I felt so deeply connected to Shiloh. He won’t take credit for what he said, but who he was at that moment allowed the spirit to speak to me through him. Of all the sweet, funny, and clever things he had said and done during our dating years, nothing took hold of my heart as much as that one declaration of my inherent worthiness. Not long after that night I told him everything. He just held me as I cried. He told me he loved me and kissed my head. The following January we were married in the Oakland Temple.
Looking back I can see how nearly every moment of weakness I had was predicated on a feeling of inadequacy and unworthiness. I needed to prove that I was worth the attention. That I was worth getting to know, or that I was worth loving. Then, once the foundation of continuous unworthiness was laid, the adversary led me to and fro as he desired. It took simple but profound compassion, on the part of the Lord, my Bishop, Shiloh, and a host of true friends, to free me from this bondage. And it takes consistent effort on my part to continue to believe.
You are worthy. You don’t have to do or be anything. Just by your inherent nature as a divine being you are worthy of love. While at times you may feel broken, you are always whole in your Savior’s arms, encircled with love and safety. Don’t let the inadequacy of our language allow the adversary to convince you otherwise. You have nothing to prove. You are worthy to walk with your Savior.
I know that throughout the history of the church we have used words like “worthiness” and “qualify” to express what is a sense of needing to feel prepared for greater light and knowledge. It is so very true that there are things we can do to be prepared to understand the mysteries of eternity. There are portions of truth which we hold ourselves back from by not fully turning towards God. But this has nothing to do with our worthiness to receive his love and message. This has nothing to do with whether or not we are qualified. God doesn’t keep score. He calls to all of us, and then we choose.
So, what about baptismal readiness or temple recommend interviews? Isn’t that how we prove we are worthy? No. These interviews are not a test of worthiness. They are not to see if we have done the spiritual work required to qualify us for blessings. I know this is the language that has been used, and that’s okay. We’ve always tried to do our best to put words to things we are learning and sensing. No, these interviews are not God’s way of checking up on us. He doesn’t need to do that. He knows us.
These interviews are a place for us to declare the desires of our hearts. In declaring we are testifying of our love and sacrifice. We are given an opportunity to say out loud that we have prepared ourselves to understand the things of eternity. This matters, because we are embodied beings who have a whole host of feelings and emotions attached to our physicalness. This is why ordinances are such a gift. They help us connect our spirits to our bodies by uniting them in a singular moment of otherworldly glory which we can then take with us through our mortal sojourn.
Our declarations in interviews create a space for integrity. Integrity is the quality of being whole, complete, and fulfilling the measure of our creation. We arose out of an innate desire to be great beings of joy and light. Our integrity includes being truthful but is not defined as being truthful. Our integrity is the full expression of our divinity and perfection. From it comes our ability to be godly because we are whole, complete, divine, and wonderful beings. We tell the truth because we have integrity, we are wholly divine, and gods have no need for lies. But our integrity also includes our kindness, our compassion, our love, our devotion, our sacrifice, and our preparations for godhood.
Interviews become an ordinance, where we can use our physicality to declare our integrity in preparation to enter into a new world of godliness. At baptism, this is the covenant to become part of the body of Christ, with our dedication to stand as a witness, to take upon us the name of Christ, and to behave as such. In the temple, this is all of the covenants to live as an exalted being, even in this mortal sphere, as we are prepared to receive even more light and knowledge beyond the veil. The interviews are where we physically declare that we are prepared and ready to make and keep sacred covenants which move us forward on our godly paths. This simple spoken declaration prepares our physical selves to unite with our spiritual selves in the growth of our godly selves.
So, why all the nitty-gritty questions? Because that’s where we are right now, and that’s okay. We like to have things spelled out a little more. Did the Israelites need the ten commandments in order to make good choices? They had been given the higher law but still wanted to know more details. We seem to always want more details. “Is this going to be on the test? How many pages is this supposed to be?” You know, that kind of stuff. We don’t like uncertainty. And unfortunately sometimes the details distract us, as they did the Israelites.
Perhaps some day our interviews will be called Temple Declaration Ordinances, and we’ll just declare ourselves prepared to receive further light and knowledge. For now, we have a list of best practices to serve as the foundation of our declarations. That’s okay. If we are declaring our integrity then whether we say that in one personalized declaration or through several uniform questions and answers it is the same. Our integrity has been declared and we are prepared.
Our worthiness is innate, whom God calls he justifies, or qualifies, and he has called us all (Romans 8:30). So the only thing left for us to do is to declare our intentions, not for God’s sake, but for our own. The interviews are for us. Not for God, and not even for the church. They are for us. And they can be an ordinance unto us, with all of the blessings that come from making and keeping covenants. You are worthy to walk with the Lord. You are qualified. Recognize it. Feel it profoundly. Prepare yourself to receive more, and declare it.