It’s Totally OK If Spiritual Experiences Don’t Make You Cry

Eyes tearing up, crying.

This article is more of a public service announcement than anything else, so let’s get right down to business. Understanding the language of the Holy Ghost is a challenging thing—especially because he speaks to each person slightly (or extremely) differently. We do know, however, that some of the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” In other words, the Spirit is very involved with our feelings. Some people might interpret this to mean that when you feel the Spirit, you get emotional, and you oftentimes shed a few tears. But that’s not always true.

A dangerous assumption

Crying man in suit.

Of course, many people cry when they feel the Spirit, and that’s great, but it’s not a requirement. And there’s a danger in assuming that feeling the Spirit should equate with feeling emotional or crying. For example, each and every Latter-day Saint is striving to build a Spirit-based testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. We want to have spiritual experiences. We want the constant companionship of the Spirit. But if the only spiritual experiences we accept as valid are those that cause us to weep, we may be missing out on vital testimony-building experiences that manifest themselves in different ways. And we may feel broken or culpable when tearful experiences simply don’t come.

Take me, for example. Several years ago I served a full-time mission. I spent almost every waking minute for two years concentrated on and dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cried one single time on my mission: the very last day.

I’ve heard it said, in so many words, that if you don’t cry on your mission you’re doing something wrong. That kind of mentality can destroy a missionary who feels the Spirit differently than others. I’m simply not much of a crier. And if you’re not, either, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling the Spirit, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

The danger of fabricating spiritual experiences

Light bulb

The last thing I want to do is downplay the validity or quality of sincere tearful spiritual experiences. There’s nothing wrong with them. But when we assume that this is the only way the Spirit works, we open ourselves up to a dangerous situation.

For example, I recently heard a complaint from some Latter-day Saints about the way their Relief Society lessons play out. They felt like too many lessons seemed purposefully designed to be touchy-feely and evoke tears. Too often, lessons were grief-stricken or dealt solely with heavy, emotional topics.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dealing with real issues in class, but these members felt more like the instructors were attempting to fabricate spiritual experiences by simply trying to elicit tears from the class. Because surely if people are crying, they’re feeling the Spirit. While it may be well-intentioned, this kind of scenario exhibits a misunderstanding of how the Spirit works.

President Howard W. Hunter warned of this kind of scenario back in a 1989 address given to Church Education System personnel:

Let me offer a word of caution on this subject. I think if we are not careful as professional teachers working in the classroom every day, 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 to 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. Other times they are accompanied by joy. Always they are accompanied by a great manifestation of the truth, of revelation to the heart.

Discover for yourself

Silhouette of person with sunset in background.

You have to discover for yourself how you most often feel the Spirit. It might be accompanied by strong emotions, or it might not be. For me, the Spirit most often feels like a sudden flood on intelligence or light into my mind. I suddenly understand something or find a connection I was unaware of before. I learn truth, and it feels good. Other people might simply feel peace, or happiness. But there are also plenty of people who do get emotional when they feel the Spirit. Maybe you’re one of them, or not. I wish you all the luck in the world on your journey to figure it out!

How does the Spirit communicate with you? Let us know in the comments!

P.S. As, you’ve probably realized by now, this article is written from a man’s perspective. As it so happens, there’s a very similar article on our website written from a woman’s perspective that you can read right here. Check it out!

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.