"After we are baptized we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. The Holy Ghost will be our constant companion as long as we live righteously. We can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost in different ways. Sometimes we will hear a still, small voice; have a feeling of peace; or have a warm feeling in our heart. The Holy Ghost can help us understand sacred things and will testify of the truth. As we listen to the Holy Ghost, we can tell right from wrong and feel comforted and loved.Also, for reference, the promise in Moroni 10:4-5
- Family Home Evening Manual, 602, http://www.lds.org/hf/art/display/0,16842,4218-1-6-154,00.html
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
My early experiences with feeling the Holy Ghost were largely related to a feeling that can most closely be explained as a "chill" starting at the base of my neck, moving down my spine and sometimes moved into my arms and legs. This is the only feeling I have ever associated with "feeling the Holy Ghost". I have never heard a still small voice or felt a "burning in the bosom".
The "chill" is how I felt when watching the first vision film at an Aaronic Priesthood Commemoration camp-out when I was around twelve. I felt that the story was true because I had that feeling.
I would sometimes feel the "chill" when learning about church doctrine that I had some kind of personal association with or felt like it was important in one way or another.
When I finished reading the Book of Mormon as a teenager and decided to kneel down and pray about it, I felt nothing. This was confusing to me. I was told that Heavenly Father would answer my prayer if asked sincerely. This was the first time I had asked for anything in a sincere way, so I knew that I would be answered. I had faith that God would answer my prayer and confirm to me that the Book of Mormon was a true book and it was a correct representation of what happened to Nephi and his family, etc. However, when I prayed about it, at the time that I really needed an answer, I received none. Now you might think that I would have decided to look further into this incident. Look deeper and find out why, but I didn't need that. I ultimately came to the realization that I already knew the answer to my question. I had prayed to know the truth, but I already knew the answer. I had been taught that it was true, so why question it? I had heard stories of this exact experience from others, who prayed and had no answer, so they figured it had to be that they already knew that it was true. I associated their "non-answer" with my own and piggybacked on their conclusion that I must already know.
Fast forward to my mission where I was expected to bear my testimony on a daily basis and had to provide a personal experience as an indication of my Church's truthfulness and I had to use the "non-answer" story as the basis for my beliefs. I had to have a better story than, "I already new it was true." so I continued to pray and read the scriptures so that I could receive a formal answer, but I never received one.
Still, I never questioned my beliefs. I never questioned the validity of the Church or anything else the Church and my parents had taught me for that matter. I continued to believe that everything I had been taught was true.
Fast forward again to recent years where I began readying about Church history. I had heard most of the stories but had a yearning to learn more and so I began reading into more of the uncommon stories that you don't hear in Church. I read these stories from Church approved sources, mind you, so I was sure that what I was reading was going to be spiritually uplifting. However, a lot of what I read just didn't jive with what I had been taught. For some time I figured that I just couldn't understand it properly because only God understands all. However, the more I read, the more it didn't add up and the more I began to question things. I started questioning my belief in everything that I had been taught from my youth up until now.
I found that I was feeling the same "chill" whenever I would feel sentimental about something, or when I was listening to a song that resonated with me. I began "feeling the spirit", as I was taught to feel it by the Church, at completely random and non-religious times, and I began to think about it more deeply. I thought about how I feel the spirit and what I should understand from the times that I have felt the spirit in that way. I began to wonder if I had been feeling the spirit at all, if I had ever felt the spirit.
I began researching the topic on the Internet and found articles discussing spirituality and how humans generally feel spiritual and found that the ways I had been taught to feel the spirit were not owned and copyrighted by the LDS Church. Could it be that I was associating a common human emotion with spiritual meaning that might have zero correlation with religion or spirituality? Could I be misunderstanding my feelings as being a confirmation that a Church teaching is true when all I was feeling was an emotional attachment to a teaching that resonated with my subconscious? Could I ever be sure? Does feeling the spirit in that way equal "this teaching is true" or could it mean "that sure sounds nice"?
I have since come to the conclusion that the "answers" I thought I received were not answers at all (in the sense that the LDS Church owns the truthfulness of that teaching in its entirety). Obviously, how I feel about certain teachings and doctrines can be an important aspect of what I believe, but did I still believe in the church as I previously did? I was not sure. The Church teaches that we should receive a spiritual confirmation of the things that we are taught so that we can obtain a testimony. I realized that I did not have a testimony of anything that I would call concrete. I needed to start over. I needed to start from the beginning and find out for sure what I believed. At this point, I began a personal journey that has led me to this point... abandoning my core beliefs in God, in Jesus Christ, in Joseph Smith, in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in general.