As a licensed psychologist and faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve paid special attention to the interaction between our spiritual well-being and mental health. I am aware that faithful adherence to gospel principles does not eliminate mental health challenges, just like such adherence does not eliminate physical, financial, or other challenges. Trials are an important part of our existence. But even though obedience does not eliminate these difficulties, it can help blunt some of the negative effects. I have found, time and time again, that certain spiritual practices can help ease some of the pain associated with mental health issues. When these practices are combined with appropriate professional intervention, even more peace can be found. Let me suggest three ways in which regular temple attendance can help ease our emotional burdens.
Temple Attendance Can Encourage Discipline
While serving in a bishopric, I had the opportunity to interview many members for temple recommends. The list of questions is familiar and public. Members who answer in a temple-worthy fashion acknowledge they are living a disciplined life. They strive for moral cleanliness. They keep the Word of Wisdom. They pay an honest tithing. The final question of the interview is perhaps the most searching: “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?” I would usually remind members that although they only had to meet with church leaders once every two years to declare their temple worthiness, they should ask themselves that final question on a regular basis. I’d encourage them to continually analyze their lives, looking for areas of improvement towards greater Christlike discipleship. Dealing with mental health challenges requires discipline. Altering longstanding patterns of thought will not happen in a few days. Those who strive to change their thinking and behavior need to be consistent, day after day, as they work towards healthier patterns. People who live a temple-worthy life are already in the practice of disciplining themselves; this characteristic can be a boon as they work towards greater mental health.
Temple Attendance Can Develop Mindfulness
Many mental health issues are a product of distorted or inaccurate thinking about ourselves and our situations. Thoughts such as “I’m no good” or “I can’t do anything right” can lead to feelings of sadness, perhaps spiraling into major depression. Beliefs like “I can’t control anything” or “My future is bleak” can cause feelings of worry, which could ultimately lead to an anxiety disorder. Part of the process of improving mental health is learning to identify such distorted beliefs and change them to be more accurate. Many individuals I’ve worked with tell me they feel their emotions are out of control. They feel they do not have good insight into the way they think about themselves. I believe, in many cases, this is an accurate description. Most people are not in the habit of “thinking about their thinking.” We must learn to become reflective, striving for greater insight into our thoughts. Meditation and mindfulness are wonderful tools to help with this. We need to learn how to just sit and be calm; free from distractions. The temple is a wonderful place to do this. After completing temple ordinances (which can be calming in and of themselves), members are free to enter the celestial room where they can sit in a beautiful, serene setting. There are no distractions. There are ample opportunities for peaceful reflection, becoming aware of thoughts and feelings. Taking advantage of these undisturbed opportunities can train us in methods that can ultimately help with mental health issues.
Temple Attendance Can Increase Peace
In addition to providing a place where we can be more mindful, the temple can be a place of peace, where we can receive a needed recharge to our minds and spirits. We are accustomed to seeing certain commodities as limited, such as finances or physical energy. Most people cannot spend money without restraint; there is a limit to the amount they have and once it is gone, it is gone. No one can run their bodies without adequate rest. Even the most physically fit will eventually run out of strength if they do not give themselves time to recover. We are not as accustomed to viewing emotional strength as a limited commodity, but it truly is. If we weary our minds with emotionally demanding thoughts and circumstances, day in and day out, with no respite, we will eventually run out of emotional strength. Such times can be very distressing to the point of becoming clinically urgent. Just like we need adequate rest for our bodies, and disciplined spending for our finances, we need times when we can disengage and let our minds rest as well. Temple service can be a wonderful method for this emotional recharge. Temples are places of respite. If we choose, we can leave all worries behind for the few hours we spend in the Lord’s house. They are places where the Holy Ghost always abides, who through His comforting power can provide us with the “peace of God which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Creating time for regular temple worship can provide your minds and hearts with needed relief, which then allows you to have more strength to deal with mental health challenges.
Make temple worthiness and attendance a priority in your life. Experience the peace and joy that comes from serving others while there. And enjoy the fruits that can help you develop greater skills to cope with mental health struggles.
Dr. David T. Morgan is the author of Enduring the Refiner’s Fire: Emotional Resilience for Latter-day Trials and several other books that can be viewed at Amazon.com. His writings contain insights and solutions to apply gospel principles to emotional challenges. You can see more content, connect with him on social media, or ask questions on his website, www.drdavidtmorgan.com.