What Is Reverence, Really?
March 2022

“What Is Reverence, Really?,” Liahona, Mar. 2022.

What Is Reverence, Really?

As we expand our understanding of reverence, we increase our ability to be reverent in even the most unlikely situations.

a young man wearing headphones and carrying a sacrament tray

Because of some unique experiences I have had, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of reverence. Here’s how President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, defines it:

“Worship often includes actions, but true worship always involves a particular attitude of mind.

“The attitude of worship evokes the deepest feelings of allegiance, adoration, and awe. Worship combines love and reverence in a state of devotion that draws our spirits closer to God.”1

What comes to mind when you think of reverence? Would the following scenarios be considered reverent or irreverent in a sacrament meeting?

  1. A child drawing in her coloring book.

  2. A young man passing the sacrament while wearing headphones.

  3. A man jumping and waving his arms wildly.

  4. A young woman playing a game on her phone.

  5. A missionary randomly yelling.

  6. A woman always sitting in the foyer, never in the chapel.

  7. A man lying on a mattress in the chapel aisle.

  8. A group of members making gestures and loud noises.

  9. A teenage girl sitting under her chair.

  10. A woman pacing back and forth in the back of the chapel.

Most of us would agree that a missionary shouting in sacrament meeting is much less reverent than children drawing pictures to keep themselves occupied. But let’s take a moment to review our assumptions about reverence by walking through these 10 true scenarios—each of which I have experienced personally in Church meetings.

  1. A child drawing in church. This practice is commonplace and accepted readily by nearly all members. We know that this is usually not irreverent unless we allow ourselves to be distracted by it.

  2. A man passing the sacrament while listening to music on his headphones. This would be wildly inappropriate in most cases. But let me share “the rest of the story.” I knew a man who has a strong testimony and has served a mission and accepted a variety of callings. In recent years, however, he was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder. Wearing headphones lets him listen to soft, peaceful music and helps block out the ever-present voices in his mind. He is able to feel the Spirit and reverently serve others with the help of his headphones.

  3. A young man jumping and waving his arms wildly. The rest of the story: This nonverbal brother with autism becomes excited every time he sees the bishop on the stand. He communicates his enthusiasm by flapping his hands and jumping.

    a group of children in Primary; one has a service dog, and another is in a stroller
  4. A young woman playing a game on her phone. The rest of the story: This sister combats her social anxiety by quietly playing games on her phone. In fact, she is better able to reverently listen and receive the speakers’ messages because her anxiety is focused elsewhere.

  5. A missionary randomly yelling. The rest of the story: While I was in the missionary training center, a missionary in my zone had Tourette’s syndrome. Periodically, he would shout in class, the lunchroom, and Church meetings. His yelling was not seen as irreverent; we quickly saw that he was prepared to serve, eager to share the gospel, and full of the Spirit.

  6. A woman sitting in the foyer each week and never in the chapel. The rest of the story: While I was working for the Church in Salt Lake City, a sister wrote to our Disability Services office about her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder because of her military service. Because a cell phone ring or other sudden noise could spark a flashback, she never sat in the chapel so that she didn’t unintentionally hurt anyone.

  7. A man lying on a mattress in the aisle. The rest of the story: When I moved into a new ward, I was surprised to see a brother on a moveable hospital bed in the chapel. This man had many disabilities and was only able to attend church in this way. I quickly realized this was typical for this ward, and I adapted quickly. His being there was not irreverent but, in fact, quite the opposite. After all, didn’t the Savior heal a man who had been lowered down on his bed by his friends into a crowded house? (see Luke 5:18–20).

  8. A group of members making loud noises and large gestures. The rest of the story: Deaf congregations can be “loud” to hearing attendees. For the deaf community, it is not irreverent for someone to make noises, laugh, or cough loudly, but it is considered irreverent for members to sign about worldly things during sacrament meeting.

  9. A teenage girl sitting under the chairs. The rest of the story: When I was a teenager, one of the girls my age always sat under her chair in class. This young sister had grown up in many foster-care homes and only felt safe in an enclosed area. Since then, I have recognized that we cannot expect students to learn when they are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Students must feel safe if they are to learn and, most importantly, feel the love of the Savior.

  10. A woman pacing back and forth in the foyer. The rest of the story: This is, in fact, me. I have struggled with anxiety for over a decade, with bouts of severe anxiety and other health issues. During these times, the only way I can attend church is if I am able to move. Pacing or playing with a tactically fun trinket in my hands is sometimes the only way I can pay attention to the speakers and feel the Spirit. 

Satan capitalizes on the fact that we do not always know the rest of the story, that we do not always know what challenges our brothers and sisters are facing each day. He wants us to forget that most members are doing their very best, whatever it may look like to others. The scenarios I listed above may be rare, but they represent the many personal struggles that our fellow members are navigating in their church attendance.

I believe Satan would want us to believe that our worship is inhibited by the struggles, differences, or weaknesses of others. In reality, I have found that it is precisely during these moments of seeming disruption that I am taught the most about the love of my Savior.

What I’ve Learned about Reverence

woman using sign language

1. Reverence is a choice and a skill.

It is up to me to feel reverent. Too often I do not feel reverent because I let myself be distracted. As I develop my spiritual discipline and train my spirit to focus on what matters most, I am better able to take full responsibility for my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

2. Reverence is not one-size-fits-all.

A family friend who was in prison for 17 years welcomed the Spirit into his cell by building intricate models of the temples out of paper. Reverence can be present in any situation if we welcome the Spirit.

3. Reverence can be encouraged but is a personal choice.

Reverence comes through an inner commitment to nurture an “attitude of worship.” It can only be present as we genuinely feel and show our love for the Lord and for other members. My dad once told me that when we accept responsibility for our reverence, our perspective changes from “You’re messing with my worship here!” to “You are OK. You are welcome here. You are not messing up my reverence because I choose to be reverent.” Then we realize that others’ actions don’t have to get in the way of our personal relationship with our Savior and Heavenly Father. Of course, taking personal responsibility for our own reverence does not mean that we should ignore how our behavior may impact the experience of others. Our efforts at personal reverence can be an extension of our love for them as our brothers and sisters.

The Savior’s Ministry

In a beautiful example of ministering, the Savior had compassion on the man possessed with a legion of spirits. Although the man had been yelling and went about unclothed, Jesus did not refuse to heal him. It was only after being healed that this man was able to sit “at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind,” asking that he might remain with the Lord. (See Luke 8:27–39; see also Mark 5:1–20.)

Similarly, Jesus did not tell the boy with an unclean spirit to stop wallowing, foaming, and gnashing before He would make him whole (see Mark 9:17–27). He saw these conditions as mortal experiences, not spiritual defects. It was only the Pharisees that He turned away as their self-righteousness and pride prevented healing.

As you and I expand our definition of reverence, we will be better able to teach and minister in the Savior’s way. We will remember the worth of each soul in the sight of God (see Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). We will be able to be reverent in even the most unlikely situations.

Perhaps reverence in the Lord’s eyes has less to do with sitting still and speaking softly and more to do with the stillness of our minds and the softness of our hearts.

The author lives in Texas, USA.


  1. Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart (1988), 125.