Letter to a reader
This is going to be a little difficult to write because it is both a sacred and a sensitive subject. It is sacred because it involves personal revelation that is intended to be just that – personal. It is sensitive because I know from many years of experience and dialog with other members of the church that not everyone feels the same way or has had the same experiences I have had with the Holy Ghost and in particular, the feeling of the burning of the bosom that I have experienced.
You asked if I thought if everyone can experience or feel the burning of the bosom. I like what Elder Oaks had to say about that: “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.”
Burning of the bosom
Elder S. Dilworth Young said, “It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right. Once one recognizes this burning, this feeling, this peace, one need never be drawn astray in his daily life or in the guidance he may receive.” Elder Romney taught this many times – that we can make life’s decisions correctly using instructions in D&C 9:8-9.
Elder Packer taught, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” Another apostle said, “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.”
Some do feel the burning
So, from both personal experience and from what we have been taught by Apostles and Prophets, yes, we can and many do feel the burning of the bosom at various times in their lives. But for many faithful members, and perhaps most, the burning of the bosom is either very rare or non-existent. I guess it all depends on how you describe it or what you expect. If Elder Oaks can say that he has never felt caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion then I accept that.
I guess I am the exception and can say without a doubt that I do often feel a warm sensation in the area of my chest when I am engaged in something that I know pleases the Lord. In contrast, I have felt a cold feeling or absence of warmth in that same general region of my chest many times in my life when I have engaged in actions or even thoughts that offended the spirit. For me it is a very real and discernable sensation that has blessed me throughout my life since I was a youth.
You asked about my experience at Ricks College in regards to receiving an answer to prayer. This was not my first experience with revelation, nor was it the last, but it was one of the most powerful and tangible up to that point in my life. It has also been one of the most memorable and influential spiritual experiences to come upon me even though it occurred over 35 years ago. As I noted, it is sacred, but I do feel it is appropriate to share with you since you have asked.
I was 17 years old at the time. It was in the Fall of 1974. My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five so I feel that I grew up as a member, attending Primary, Sunday School, MIA and Seminary. However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church. In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.
Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker. I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel. Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.
As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had. A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.
Led by the Lord
As I left the devotional assembly I pondered the message I had felt from the spirit long and hard. Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again. Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply. I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord. I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far in leaving my sins behind.
On Friday, I determined that I was going to put the promise to the test. My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer. I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily. It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself. I am confident that I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.
The second hour was not so easy. In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others. Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery through which I had passed. I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.
Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion. I asked again and again for relief. I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days. I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.
Opposition is real
It was towards the end of the third hour that I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits. As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin. I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments. My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.
Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment and just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and despair were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me. I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing. A tangible feeling of peace came over me and a feeling of happiness, almost euphoria entered into my heart and mind. It was powerful!
Warmth filled my being almost from head to toe. I did not see, but I sensed light all around and within me. Now this is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced. I did not see anything with my eyes. I did not hear anything with my ears. But I knew that I was not alone at that moment. I began to hear words, no, full sentences in my mind and saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.
I cannot adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and heard in my heart, but I will tell you that I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me. I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with the same kind of confidence that I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week. I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.
That’s why I say that from then on, everything changed. I knew that I would soon be going on a mission. I knew I would marry in the temple. I knew that I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years. I knew I would serve in a leadership capacity in my local ward and stake. I saw myself doing all these things and especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching. It was amazing to me.
Now, as I said this is personal and sacred. One who is not familiar with the revelatory process could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins. Anyone can say what they like, but it was real to me and nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred. The feelings that accompanied this revelatory experience are indescribable but filled me with joy.
Summary and conclusion
Yes, what I experienced that night at Ricks College so long ago was much more than a burning of the bosom. It was a tangible immersion in the spirit. I felt like I was baptized by fire and yet I knew at the same time that I had so much more to do to qualify for a real born again experience. It was the beginning of a long path to realize the dream of being able to teach and speak like I had seen demonstrated to me by an Apostle of the Lord. I still have a long, long ways to go.
Thanks for asking me to share this with you. I think I would like to post it on my blog. I haven’t felt inspired to write much there lately but this experience might do some good for someone else. I hope I have answered your questions about the burning of the bosom and about the reality of the revelatory process. I am a personal witness that it is real. The Lord answers prayer and will give to us what we ask for in faith, if it is something that we need and will be for our good.