Most often when we talk about testimonies, we refer to feelings. We talk about “feeling the Spirit,” or “feeling good” about a decision, or “feeling impressed” to do something. And yet, when we try to describe how we felt, or exactly what something felt like, we discover it’s very hard to explain. President Boyd K. Packer taught:
"We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit. The scriptures generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears."1
“Feeling” the Spirit takes practice, patience, and persistence. Many of us have felt it, but we haven’t recognized it. In other words, we know, but we don’t know that we know. Learning to feel the Spirit is a lifelong process. So how does the Spirit feel?
Feeling the Burning in the Bosom
Perhaps the feeling described most often when discussing a testimony is a “burning in the bosom.” This expression is used in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the translation process for the Book of Mormon (see D&C 9:8). It’s also used in the New Testament, describing the time when the resurrected Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus with two disciples who didn’t recognize Him. After Jesus departed, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Many of us hope for, long for, and pray for this type of “burning,” powerful witness, and some of us get discouraged when it doesn’t come. We might even feel ashamed or worry that we are less spiritual than others because we’ve never had our heart burn within us. Our mistake is when we assume that a witness of the Spirit must be the burning in the bosom. If you have never felt the burning feeling described by these verses, it doesn’t mean that you’ve never had a witness, that you’re not worthy, or that you don’t have a testimony. Don’t be discouraged; you’re in good company. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
"I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom 'burn within' them. What does a 'burning in the bosom' mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word 'burning' in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works. Truly, the still, small voice is just that, 'still' and 'small.'"2
Elder Jay E. Jensen shared this comment from another member of the Quorum of the Twelve:
"As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time."3
I know people who say they have felt this burning feeling, but I also know many who have never felt it. And that’s okay! Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s a heartwarming story”? Do they literally mean their heart felt warm, or is it just an expression? Perhaps the “burning in the bosom” can range anywhere from a heartwarming feeling to a feeling of physical heat.
One of the most important principles to learn in your quest for spiritual knowledge is that the Lord communicates differently to different people. Again, a witness of the Spirit is not limited to only the “burning” feeling.
Get more powerful insights from John Bytheway in How Do I Know If I Know?
It's spiritual gut-check time! The mission age has been lowered, and now more than ever, young people are asking themselves important questions:
- How do I know if I really have a testimony?
- Am I ready to serve a mission?
- What does the Spirit feel like?
John Bytheway suggests that we "F.E.E.L." the truthfulness of the gospel through our feelings, our experiences, the many evidences we encounter, and our logical conclusions about how a loving God interacts with His children on the earth. Like gradually turning up a dimmer switch, understanding all the ways we F.E.E.L. our testimony will help it grow brighter.
As you read, you may discover that your testimony is stronger than you thought, and you'll also become more excited and motivated to let your light shine!