PUT YOUR OWN HOUSE IN ORDER
Given by Owenna Nagy
Valley Forge Pennsylvania Stake Conference 9/11/2011
As the reality of a temple in Phila. gets closer, we’re all feeling something different. Many have great plans for being able to increase their temple work. Others who hold temple recommends but who haven’t been in a very long time, for a variety of reasons, are sorting out whether distance was really the main obstacle or not. Others are eagerly working toward qualifying for their very first recommend so that they can stand in that holy place. And still others with perhaps only a minimal understanding of temples, frankly aren’t sure what all the buzz is about, and wonder if it will ever have anything to do with them.
I would like to share some things I personally have learned along the way as my own testimony of the temple has developed.
When I was in my late 20s, early 30s, I was facing a number of problems that so far exceeded my coping skills that I was drowning. We had six children (four birth children, plus a niece and nephew whom we were raising) living in a cramped upstairs apt. while my husband was grinding away to complete his Ph.D. In addition to grad. student poverty, and the challenges of raising a blended family, a black cloud of depression and doubt hung over everything. I was burdened by all these things that I thought were somehow my own failures, and I felt it was my duty to fix everything. I begged for help through prayer and fasting, but so far as I could tell I was on my own. This went on for a couple of years. One morning in prayer, the following thought was spoken into my mind with great power, “first put your own house in order.”
This was scarcely the answer I expected since I was looking for help fixing everyone else. The interpretation of this admonition has expanded line upon line in the intervening years, until it has become a powerful part of my way of thinking.
My immediate understanding of “put your own house in order” was that my emphasis should be my personal repentance, nor everyone else’s. My response to everyone else should be to give loving encouragement, not to try to “lovingly” “make” them do what I knew they should. I learned that the more you treat others lovingly, the more you ease the way for them to learn from the Spirit. Put your own house in order is not the same thing as saying ignore the family’s problems and just think about yourself, but more like the Lord saying “you’re of more use to me as a loving example than as a nag.”
Yet another time, “put your own house in order” came to mind to encourage me to put as much care into preparing FHE for my family as into preparing a lesson for church.
Another time “put your own house in order” was used to make me aware that my heavy involvement in a community action group, which had been right for a season, now needed to be set aside to attend to matters at home.
There was a period of several years when I didn’t go to the temple because my attendance had become a source of tension in the home. First put your own house in order came to my mind giving me permission to step back for a season and nurture my family. After the passage of a five years, that very same phrase let me know that it was time for me to resume temple attendance.
But the most powerful use of this scripture came to me in a most unexpected way several years later. I was (still) in anguish over the spiritual welfare of my family. We were dealing with some rather severe problems at home, and I really felt like the ship was going down. This phrase came to me at this time with an entirely different meaning. It was the house of my eternal extended family that I needed to help put in order through family history and temple work. The connection between help with family problems and temple work was that I needed to get the whole team on the case – not just people on this side of the veil. There were relatives on the other side who would be freed to help my family if they were brought into the gospel through vicarious baptism and temple ordinances. This connection between temple work and calling on the powers of heaven for my earthly family had been quite lost on me before.
Some time later I came across Bishop Vaughan Featherstone’s promise that “if we will faithfully attend to our temple work, unseen angels will watch over our children,” confirming what the Spirit was teaching me. It is the great principle of vicarious work on which so much of the work in temples is based. I was familiar with the principle that “they without us and we without them cannot be made perfect”, but had applied it only to me helping them with work for the dead, not to my ancestors to whom I have been sealed in the temple helping my family here.
In the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith prayed that “no combination of wickedness shall have power to rise up and prevail over thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house.”
Few of my family’s challenges have miraculously gone away. But the hope I live with has been dramatically changed, as I have tried in my own weak way to put my own eternal house in order. I’m such a back slider, and too often I don’t continue as I commence, and there are many distractions in life. But my peace is wrapped up in the Joseph Smith’s promise that “When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother.” (Teachings PJS, 320-32)
This is why I count myself among those who love going to the temple. Do not doubt that the blessings of the temple are for everyone, after the proper preparation has been made. Why should we doubt ourselves? We were born at this time to be a temple worthy, covenant keeping people. Each of us – sent here at this time to be a light to our families and those around us.
The Lord watches over us all, whether we have been to the temple or not. Our names are written on His palm. But He calls us all to come closer, to claim the crowning blessings of the temple.