After I quit attending the LDS Church in 2019, I attended four Protestant churches, wondering if I could find a new faith home. That’s a fairly small sample size, and I didn’t attend anywhere longer than a couple months, but it was enough to identify why the Protestant sermons and Bible discussion were so different from LDS sacrament talks and Sunday School or Relief Society lessons. No one told me how to feel.
At some point in my decade-long faith crisis, I looked around a Church meeting and realized it didn’t matter what I chose to believe — my problem was that I no longer felt what I was supposed to feel.
Testimonies are part knowledge and understanding, but a good portion of a testimony is feeling. Do you feel peace at Church? Did you have a burning in your bosom when you prayed about something? Did you feel the spirit when you obeyed? Feelings are the cosmic game of Hot or Cold we play with Heavenly Father.
You know how to play Hot or Cold. One child leaves the room during Sharing Time. The rest of the Primary children hide an object. Then the child comes back in and the other kids all yell “Hot!” when he’s getting close, and “Cold!” when he goes the wrong way. The goal is to keep going in the “Hot” direction until you find the object.
Being guided by the Spirit works the same way. The Spirit sends you a warm fuzzy feeling when you’re getting closer to Christ, and you get a cold prickly feeling (stupor of thought) when you’re getting further away from Christ. Not only can we rely on the Spirit to tell us Hot or Cold, but LDS speakers and teachers spend a lot of time telling us what will give us warm fuzzies and cautioning us against actions that cause the cold pricklies.
We also have discussions about how to tell the difference between the Spirit and our own feelings. There isn’t really a definitive answer to that dilemma. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you don’t. Having the proper feelings means you’re feeling the Spirit, right?
We should be grateful for all things. We should be of good cheer, feel joy when we do service, feel peace in the temple, feel the spirit of Elijah prompting us to do family history work, love our families and know our most important work is within the walls of our own home. Further, we serve willingly, we choose not to be offended, we want to share the gospel with others and we feel blessed to have the gospel in our lives. We feel promptings of the spirit, we enjoy spending time with our families, we work to make our scripture study time meaningful and if we are bored at church, it’s because we didn’t prepare well enough.
Certainly, there are scriptures that tell us how to feel. “Be of good cheer” (John 16:33). “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). The LDS Church took this and ran with it. Part of Mormonism is being instructed in how to feel.
Church leaders and exemplary members want us to be happy, of course they do. Church leaders themselves are happy so they are well-qualified to give us advice in how to be happy just like they are. And there’s the rub – we are to be happy doing the same things and in the same way that Church leaders and exemplary members are happy. Obviously this includes Church service, marriage, parenthood and enduring to the end.
This works for a sizable number of people. Many Church members find meaning and purpose and joy doing just what the Church tells them to do. Having a good community and prioritizing your family are good things. Feelings build community. Look at sports – entire communities spring up because people have intense feelings about which group of people is the best at getting the ball from Point A to Point B.
When my feelings went wrong, I doubled down on my efforts to do all the behaviors that used to produce the right feelings – more scripture study, more temple attendance. That backfired, and I ended up worse off because I felt betrayed by my own obedience.
Instead of feeling grateful for modern-day prophets, I felt patronized and irritated that they demanded my respect and trust while not being very respectable or trustworthy. Instead of feeling the joy of serving the woman I ministered to, I felt like the ward was taking advantage of me. Instead of feeling peace in the temple, I felt worthless. Instead of hoping for a family relationship to heal, I just wanted out. And Church was just so boring.
The pressure to feel a certain way caused me problems. My feelings were as wrong as I was. We aren’t allowed to have certain feelings. When I had the wrong feelings, I felt guilty and disobedient, which naturally made things worse. What I eventually learned is that you can’t force your feelings. You can influence them, but feelings just are. They exist. You acknowledge them, try to understand why you feel a certain way, and deal with the information. I’m sure this sounds remarkably obvious to most of you, but for someone who was raised in an emotionally unhealthy environment, this took a lot of practice.
When my feelings apostatized from the Church and took me with them, it felt like I wasn’t really in the driver’s seat anymore. Which left me with the question: when can I choose my feelings and when are my feelings unchangeable?
- Attitude changes: During my Church years, I prayed to like callings that I didn’t want and to feel charity for people I didn’t like. It mostly worked. I had faith-building experiences in learning to love callings and accept people.
- New information: Wheat & Tares spends a lot of time acknowledging that feelings about the Church change when you find out more about Church history and what was and wasn’t taught in Church. Knowledge influences feelings. You can’t unlearn something; you can’t just choose to not feel betrayed. Information and experiences cause feelings that can change previous feelings.
- Personal identity: When your feelings root into something fundamental in your personality, they’re not likely to change. Denying these feelings is what people refer to as cognitive dissonance or an identity crisis. Sexual orientation is a feeling rooted in our identity. Feelings about fairness and justice also spring from deep places in our identity.
The Brethren want us to trust our feelings as spiritual manifestations of objective truth, right up until we disagree with them. The problem is that when you’ve taught people to accept strong feelings as evidence of truth, you can’t unteach that. *In a teary voice* I believe, with every fiber of my being, that Heavenly Father has confirmed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost that he wanted me to stop attending Church.
- Do you have a testimony of sports? Can you have a faith crisis involving sports? What I’m getting at is if you have similar feelings about secular activities that you have about spiritual activities.
- Why do feelings change? Can we change our feelings back? Would you want to change your feelings back?
- If you could change one feeling, what would it be?
- To those who have become disenchanted with Church, when did you stop feeling the way you were supposed to feel? Did you learn information before your feelings changed, or after?