It was a wonderful night. We ate a pizza, played with their baby, and visited until I started to doze off on the couch. When my brother offered to take me back to the hotel, we decided to do a quick drive by of the National Mall. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was “open” at night, so we didn’t plan to stop. But once the glowing monuments were in view and we saw people walking around, we decided to pull over.
In any other city, it would be a well-known central attraction. It’s beautifully and fittingly done in a very rough, chunky style. And it’s big: twelve feet tall and cast with four tons of brass. It was beautifully illuminated at night and gave me that warm, snobbish feeling you get when you visit some special place that “the tourists don’t even know about.” (Even though you realize deep down that you’re also a tourist and you only bumped into it because you were looking for a parking spot.)
As we jaywalked from there to the National Mall, we ended up right at the Lincoln Memorial. My first observation was actually very pedestrian: the site has surprisingly clean and accessible bathrooms. Even at midnight!
But then, after attending to those more basic needs and walking up the 98 granite and marble steps to the glowing interior of the monument, we were overwhelmed with a powerful reverence that we hadn’t anticipated.
I had never thought of the Lincoln Memorial as a Temple. However, it is labeled as such and meant to be just that. It was modeled after a Greek temple. And the inscription above Lincoln’s head refers to the building as a temple.
I’ve been slowly working through a couple Lincoln biographies since the Spielberg movie came out in 2012. And as I stood in the Memorial and re-read these great speeches, I was awestruck by their current strength and finality—literally engraved in stone—as compared to their fragility at the time they were given. They came at a time of crisis and insecurity. It would have been hard then to be confident in the outcome of the Civil War and the successful abolition of slavery. Lincoln himself was plagued by insecurity and frustrations. I can only imagine what a shock it would be for any of his contemporaries to see his scribbled ink transformed now to bold engravings on a temple commemorating his life’s work.
And then the most unique thing happened. I was overcome with a deeply reverberating sense of calm. I felt then that I have—that each of us has—a temple under construction. The work we do today might seem daunting and our circumstances hopeless. But in God’s eyes, our efforts are just bricks that we are laying in a grand temple that will someday stand as commemoration of our labor. God sees our own futures clearly and has a positive view of their outcomes. And while our simple works of kindness, endurance, and faith may never lead to wealth or worldly fame in our own lifetimes, they are valued and revered in the eternal view.
Spencer W. Kimball said, “Let us remember, too, that greatness is not always a matter of the scale of one’s life, but the quality of one’s life. True greatness is not always tied to the scope of our tasks, but the quality of how we carry out our tasks whatever they are. In that attitude, let us give our time, ourselves, and our talents to things that really matter now, things which will still matter a thousand years from now.”
My own efforts at work, home, school, and church are continually fraught with challenge and frustration. I’m busy and tired. Much of my best work is not recognized externally. And I exert far too much energy worrying about my professional development, my compensation, or my perceived importance among peers.
I hope that as this week begins I can take the longer view that I glimpsed while standing late at night in the Lincoln Memorial. I hope I can worry much less about external praise or career progression and instead focus serenely on my own future temple—a beautiful monument built by simple acts and sincere labor.