The Spirit vs. Emotion: can we distinguish dissimilarity between the two?
How is the spirit different from emotion or is it really that much different at all?
We first look for a response from the Holy Ghost to testify of the truth of Christ, the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and Joseph Smith the Prophet. From there we rely on him to testify of other gospel truths and commandments. Then if we choose to follow the Spirit, we ask for his guidance the rest of our lives through the gift of the Holy Ghost which comes after baptism.
How does this spirit work? How does it testify? How can we really know?
I’ve heard some people say, yes surely you believe it, and have hope that it is true, but you don’t really know, you can’t know, you have no real proof? I ask what proof would be sufficient? Usually a response is given that a personal miracle or angelic manifestation would suffice. Yet we know of many individuals in the scriptures who saw angels and miracles yet still chose to rebel and rationalize these events to support there unrighteous cause. What would it really take to know? When we stand up on fast and testimony meeting and say “I know” we really mean it! But how? How do we really know? It is true we live by levels of faith and levels of knowledge and we are not all on the same level at the same time. Maybe some of us just have hope and belief. This is the start. How can we base so much on a feeling? Question is, is it just a feeling or is there more to it? If there is more, what is it? How does one recognize it? How does one know his mind isn’t playing tricks or that the mind wants to believe its true so badly that it creates emotions and thoughts that lead to what one thinks is the spirit talking to him? How does one know he is not being deceived by false emotions, teachings and prophets? How can we have faith in something we can not see or completely understand?
There are answers to all of these questions, but it takes time to experience it and get a personal answer, and to try to explain it can be difficult. But nevertheless we can try our best. What does salt taste like? Salty! What does the spirit feel like? Spirity! No one can really tell you, you have to experience for yourself. How do we figure out what salt tastes like? We try it. If you never try it, you’ll never know. Same goes for just about anything. So where does that leave us and how does that apply to the gospel? It’s been said by their fruits you shall know them. Well does this gospel produce good fruit or bad fruit? How shall we know and decide? If there appears to be a small spot on the fruit is the whole fruit bad? Should it be thrown out or preserved? What is the purpose and use of the fruit? Some times the bruised ones make the best jams and pies. How shall we judge the fruit? Who shall decide its purpose? God and God alone has and continues to declare these distinctions through the scriptures and his prophets. Through these tools and the Holy Ghost we find the way to judge.
It is my learning that there are those in the church who sometimes run into stumbling blocks regarding doctrines, histories, and the unexplained among other things. These things if left unattended properly can sit and stew and create a loss of spirit and a gradual denial of testimonies. This is one of Satan’s greatest tools against the latter-day work. Philosophies of men mingled with scripture. When faced with these stumbling blocks turn to the lord through all his resources. Prayer, scriptures, Holy Sanctuaries called temples, family and friends and church members and leaders can all help you to better understand things and help lead you in which actions to take to help overcome your stumbling blocks. It is my experience that there is always an answer if we are willing to look for it. The best way to gain knowledge is to go to God directly through prayer and ask. We first gain knowledge and understanding to allow for faith; we then take it to the lord for confirmation through the Holy Ghost. We can not have faith without knowledge; we can not have faith in something we don’t understand.
It is the first principle of revealed religion to understand the nature and character of God. Knowledge, experience, and most of all manifestations of the Holy Ghost increase our faith.
We’ve been taught to judge things as a whole and not to cast it out by lack of understanding of individual pieces. The core of the belief and main principles should be judged. If these can be shown to be good then we can know the rest is good. Imagine if we judged the church by the members only and not by the core doctrines.
I have often thought I felt prompted to do something or to do a good deed. Sometimes I question whether or not it was the spirit or just my mind making it up. My question is, does it really matter where it came from if it is persuading you to do good?
Considering the following scripture:
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
How can I know when I have the Spirit of the Lord with me? Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m just feeling “good” or if my feelings are genuinely righteous.
Here’s the list of the kinds of things young people say they feel when the Spirit is with them, and what they feel when Satan tries to take over—making them unhappy, or tricking them with counterfeits. Do these feelings match your experience?
When you have the Spirit:
1. You feel happy, calm, and clear-minded.
2. You feel generous.
3. Nobody can offend you.
4. You wouldn’t mind everybody seeing what you’re doing.
5. You are eager to be with people and want to make them happy.
6. You are glad when others succeed.
7. You are glad to attend your meetings and participate in church activities.
8. You feel like praying.
9. You wish you could keep all the Lord’s commandments.
10. You feel in control—you don’t overeat or sleep too much; you don’t feel uncontrollably drawn to sensational entertainment, lose your temper, or feel uncontrollable passions or desires.
11. You think about the Savior often and lovingly; you want to know him better.
12. You feel confident and are glad to be alive.
When you don’t have the Spirit:
1. You feel unhappy, depressed, confused, and frustrated.
2. You feel possessive, self-centered, or resentful of demands made on you.
3. You are easily offended.
4. You become secretive and evasive.
5. You avoid people, especially members of your family; and you are critical of family members and Church authorities.
6. You envy or resent the successes of others.
7. You don’t want to go to church, go home teaching, or take the sacrament. You wish you had another church calling or no calling at all.
8. You don’t want to pray.
9. You find the commandments bothersome, restricting, or senseless.
10. You feel emotions and appetites so strongly that you fear you cannot control them—hate, jealousy, anger, lust, hunger, fatigue.
11. You hardly ever think of the Savior; he seems irrelevant to your life, or worse, part of a confusing system that seems to work against you.
12. You get discouraged easily and wonder if life is really worth it.
The mere fact that young people easily put this list together is a powerful reassurance that they do have the key to discernment.
If you find Satan’s influence too much with you, then get help. Counsel with your parents or a Church leader; ask for a priesthood blessing; go to the Lord in fervent prayer for the clearness of mind and conscience that are signs of the Lord’s Spirit.”
I’ve talked to people before who are concerned that they have never felt the overwhelming feeling or a burning of the bosom from the Holy Ghost. It is true, there are truly no words to describe this feeling. They are the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. Certain individuals wonder why they haven’t received such a response and think that perhaps they are doing something wrong. Preoccupation with this is actually a bad thing. It can lead to frustration and question of ones testimony. They start to make excuses and rationalize that what other people are feeling is not the Holy Ghost and therefore maybe the church is not true. They chalk it all up to natural emotion and personal desire to believe something is true.
What other ways does the Spirit manifest himself?
If you are open and worthy to receive these spiritual confirmations there are other things you may feel besides the burning in the bosom. Many say they feel an inner peace, an enlightenment of soul. Others say it sounds good and tastes good to their soul. Others say it makes them feel happy and inspires them to want to do good and help others. Others have feelings of forgiveness towards those who have done them wrong. Some how you naturally feel closer to God and you feel his warmth and love. Almost like a good hug or a gentle sensation filled with hope. All evil thoughts and feelings depart. You feel more patient, thoughtful and you desire to pray and thank Heavenly Father for all he does for you, for His plan and His Son’s atonement. Truly if we are experiencing any of these feelings we can be sure it comes from God and His Holy Spirit.
On the other side of feelings that we can have, if something is not true or not good or is perhaps not a good choice that God would have us make we can recognize the lack of the Spirit’s influence. When I go to Heavenly Father in prayer and ask him for help when making some decisions that impact my life I listen to see how I feel. Sometimes after I ask for something I may feel unsettled or confused, I may feel nervous or doubtful. You may even have a stupor of thought which causes you to forget momentarily the thing which you asked him. These feelings of course are not associated with the Spirit and we then can know that the thing is wrong. Sometimes a response like this can be just as powerful to know that God is answering you and that your feelings are not created by raw emotion alone. I find this especially when it changes your mind about something you had previously thought passionate about. However before we discard anything we should ask ourselves some serious questions.
Am I worthy of the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Do I have faith that he will answer me? Is my question sincere, and am I humble and open to truth? Am I willing to submit his will before mine? Do I have a good agenda? Am I listening to my true thoughts and feelings? Sometimes it is good to ask for confirmation to a response you feel you have received. The spirit should not leave you doubting.
Sometimes what we are asking for may not be a bad thing or a wrong thing, but simply there might just be a better thing or a better way. We should be in the habit of asking ourselves what is best. The Lord would have us do what’s best. Sometimes our choices are not between good and bad, but between good and best.
Is it enough to just ask and do nothing more? No, if something seems good then we must test it out and prove it to be good through faith in action.
Compare Alma 32: Here in lies the key on how we can come to know and not just believe.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
One can feel the spirit through emotion but we should be careful of what that emotion is leading us to do. A dangerous fast ride down a highway can feel good and exhilarating but the emotion is based on wrong actions. The same as a relationship where you think you feel good and loved, but it is not based within the bounds the Lord has set. Emotions therefore must be tested against true principals. If they inspire to do good, it is from God, and if it is just a cheap thrill and does no good, it is not of Him. Our responsibility therefore is to first come to understand what these principals are and then test them in prayer and in action. Then we will be able to distinguish the similarities and dissimilarities between the Spirit and emotion. Remember that “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Helaman 4:24). Even though you have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit will dwell with you only when you keep the commandments. He will withdraw if you offend Him by profanity, uncleanliness, disobedience, rebellion, or other sins. Keep yourself clean. Fill your life with goodness so you can be worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. As you continue to strive to serve the Lord and keep his commandments the Holy Ghost will be a blessing to you throughout your life. Of these things I can surely testify.