Latter-day Saint Life

Are We Confusing Emotional Experiences with Spiritual Experiences?


I have been concerned over the years that too often our youth (and, unfortunately, even some of our more experienced members) are prone to confuse sentimentality with spirituality, tears with testimony. Let me illustrate. One Mutual night as I came out of my bishop’s office, I noticed that the members of the Laurel class were huddled in the hall and in the midst of what seemed to be quite a fascinating discussion. They appeared to be talking about one of the young women in their class who had, during the last year, slipped out of Church activity.

I heard one of the young women say, with confidence, “Well, I can tell you this much—she doesn’t have much of a testimony.” One of the others challenged her. “How can you say that? How do you know?” The first young woman replied, “Well, think about it for a minute. I’ve seen her bear her testimony many times, and I’ve never seen her cry once!”

There was a pause, a moment of reflection on the part of 12 young women, and then a rather visible concurrence. Most of them nodded in agreement.

Many years ago, I taught several classes of high school juniors and seniors in seminary. My fourth period class was a remarkable group. During the first part of the year, however, I noticed that nearly every devotional to start the class and set the spiritual tone involved some kind of death story. Somebody was dying or giving their blood or something of that sort.

I took the class president aside after the third week and asked, “Fred, what’s the deal with the devotionals?”

He replied, “Yes, aren’t they great?”

I said, “I mean, why all the morbid stories in our devotionals? Why are we so hung up with death?”

Fred responded politely, but the look on his face betrayed the fact that my question had totally mystified him. “Brother Millet,” he came right back, “how else are we supposed to get the kids to cry?”

I said, “Oh, I understand.” Then we visited about what a spiritual experience really is.

There’s no question that when we have a genuine spiritual experience, we may be touched emotionally. Tears come easily for some of us, and there should never be the slightest embarrassment about such a thing. And yet we do ourselves and our youth a tremendous disservice if we begin to believe that an emotional experience is always a spiritual experience. Tears may come, but they should never be manipulated or elicited or sought for.

In the classroom, for example, there is plenty for the gospel teacher to do by way of study, prayer, preparation, organization, and presentation; he or she must not seek to usurp the role of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the Comforter. He is the Revelator and the Converter. He is, in reality, the Teacher. We strive to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands. We may seek and pray for an outpouring of the Spirit, but we must never attempt to manufacture the same. It is not in our power to do so.

President Howard W. Hunter, in speaking to Church Educational System personnel, said:

I think if we are not careful as [teachers] . . . we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself. I have watched a great many of my brethren over the years and we have shared some rare and unspeakable spiritual experiences together. Those experiences have all been different, each special in its own way, and such sacred moments may or may not be accompanied by tears. Very often they are, but sometimes they are accompanied by total silence. Always they are accompanied by a great manifestation of the truth, of revelation to the heart. Give your students gospel truth powerfully taught; that is the way to give them a spiritual experience. Let it come naturally and as it will, perhaps with the shedding of tears, but perhaps not. If what you say is the truth, and you say it purely and with honest conviction, those students will feel the spirit of the truth being taught them and will recognize that inspiration and revelation have come into their hearts. That is how we build faith. That is how we strengthen testimonies—with the power of the word of God taught in purity and with conviction (“Eternal Investments,” 3).

We often talk about our Savior Jesus Christ and God the Father, but how much do we really know about the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead? On the other hand, can we imagine doing anything in the Church without the guidance or influence of the Holy Ghost? The Holy Spirit is intimately involved in every aspect and facet of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is, for example, a revelator, teacher, testifier, comforter, agent of the new birth, sanctifier, and sealer, to mention only a few of His roles. Unlike more inspirational explorations of the Holy Ghost, Robert L. Millet's The Holy Spiritfocuses on the person of the Holy Ghost and examines His varied assignments in a way that is both spiritually strengthening and intellectually enlarging. Nothing has been written for decades about the Holy Spirit with so much breadth and depth.

In The Holy Spirit, you'll find:

  • Sound doctrine about the Holy Ghost that is in harmony with scripture and latter-day prophets.
  • Personal experiences and inspiring stories from our history to help us both understand and draw upon the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • A helpful reference of prophetic teachings about the Spirit and His role in our lives.

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