How To Recognize When You Have the Spirit, and When You Don’t

The Five Prepared J. Kirk Richards

I remember having a conversation about the Spirit, with my college roomate. He was 3-4 years younger than myself and preparing for a mission. He said something about how it’s not possible to have the Spirit with you all the time. I agreed, but called to his attention those days when everything just seems right. Though everything doesn’t go right, you’re not bothered by it. You’re just a little happier than normal, a little more interested in other people, their joys and problems, and overall just a better person. You rarely recognize these days as their happening, but look back at the end of the day, and think “wow, today was truly a good day.”

He agreed that he’d had those days. I suggested that on those days, the Holy Spirit had been with him throughout most of the day. He was excited and said something to the effect that he’d never thought of it in that way, but that it made perfect sense.

If we’re more aware of those days as they happen, I think we’ll literally “hunger and thirst” after them, as the scriptures say. The Spirit can be addicting after a fashion, because who doesn’t want to feel good and be happy? The only way to help make those days happen more—and avoid days that are opposite of them—is to recognize both, and do better at the things that make those days occur. When we start stringing those days together, one after another, that’s when the Lord can really start to accelerate our personal progress toward perfection. That’s when we truly start to “always have His Spirit to be with us” as we covenant in the sacrament prayers each week.

Here’s an awesome set of parallel lists that help us do exactly that, from the Aug. 1978 Ensign:

When you have the SpiritWhen you don’t have the Spirit
1You feel happy, calm, and clear-minded.You feel unhappy, depressed, confused, and frustrated.
2You feel generous.You feel possessive, self-centered, or resentful of demands made on you.
3Nobody can offend you.You are easily offended.
4You wouldn’t mind everybody seeing what you’re doing.You become secretive and evasive.
5You are eager to be with people and want to make them happy.You avoid people, especially members of your family; and you are critical of family members and Church authorities.
6You are glad when others succeed.You envy or resent the successes of others.
7You are glad to attend your meetings and participate in church activities.You don’t want to go to church, go home teaching, or take the sacrament. You wish you had another church job or no job at all.
8You feel like praying.You don’t want to pray.
9You wish you could keep all the Lord’s commandments.You find the commandments bothersome, restricting, or senseless.
10You feel in control—you don’t overeat or sleep too much; you don’t feel uncontrollably drawn to sensational entertainment, lose your temper, or feel uncontrollable passions or desires.You feel emotions and appetites so strongly that you fear you cannot control them—hate, jealousy, anger, lust, hunger, fatigue.
11You think about the Savior often and lovingly; you want to know him better.You hardly ever think of the Savior; he seems irrelevant to your life, or worse, part of a confusing system that seems to work against you.
12You feel confident and are glad to be alive.You get discouraged easily and wonder if life is really worth it.

If you make this into an awesome poster, let me know, and I’ll share it here on MLH (or if you want it exclusive, still send me a copy so I can hang it on my wall).

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Tevya Washburn

Website Creator at FiddlerStudios
Designer & creator of Mormon Life Hacker. Tevya keeps a personal blog, & another called Sacred Symbolic, about learning the Gospel through symbolism. Currently serving as: YM Secretary.

11 comments on “How To Recognize When You Have the Spirit, and When You Don’t

  1. kramer says:

    Your “When you don’t have the Spirit” list shounds too much like depression.

    1. Glenn Thigpen says:

      ‘Your “When you don’t have the Spirit” list sounds too much like depression.’

      Actually, numbers one, three, five (but only the part about avoiding people), eight, and twelve are, from my own personal experience, descriptive of depression.

      However, I do not subscribe to all of those negative symptoms of not having the spirit with one. There are some days when I am not actually depressed, but yet I don’t have the joyful feeling that comes from the spirit, yet I do not find in myself most of the negative traits that are listed.
      I do think that it is easier to fall prey to those traits if one does not have the spirit with them. But I believe that most of those negative traits are more descriptive of one rebelling against the spirit.

      Glenn

  2. Michael Bess says:

    I think the article provides an excellent insight into experiences of the spirit that we likely do not readily recognize. However, as a social worker I interact with many forms of mental illness (unrelated of course to worthiness), and the list while accurate for the general population seems that it would be somewhat discouraging to those who suffer from depression or mental disabilities. Tevya, what do you think the fruits of the spirit would look like for someone with those illnesses?

  3. Some great points and comments. Thanks to all of you for pointing these things out. I don’t think the list is supposed to be a precise formula for all. I had very severe depression (an sometimes still suffer from it) over many years, combined with social anxiety disorder. I agree that suffering from depression or mental illness does not necessarily mean you’re unable to have the Spirit with you, as a strict reading of the “don’t have the Spirit” list might suggest. I would think things would be somewhat adjusted and applied individually in those instances.

    Doing my best to answer Mike’s question: for me personally it meant that I was better able to cope with my depression and social anxiety. I saw it for what it really was: a weakness given me to help me be humble, but also to strengthen me as I relied on the Lord, and worked to overcome it. When I felt the Spirit, I wasn’t immune to anxiety or depression, but felt empowered like I could function “normally” in-spite of it. I felt like I was winning a battle with Satan, who didn’t want me to achieve my potential, which was being limited by those dual trials. On the other hand, when I didn’t have the Spirit, I felt like it dominated me, like I was unable to operate. I felt a loss of hope, and an inability to face situations I knew would be particularly difficult based on my anxiety. That would be my best to describe somewhat adjusted feelings for those with depression, from my own experience. Anyone else want to add?

    1. Michael Bess says:

      Just a half formed thought. I wonder if a fruit of the spirit, for one who struggles with an emotional or mental disorder, is acceptance of the existence of that disorder. Since this is an area that relies heavily on personal experiences, I’m hesitant to try to categorize it explicitly, but I’m imagining my own struggles and those times where the symptoms would not relent despite all that I could do. It wasn’t until after I met Shiloh, and then years after that where I was finally convinced she accepted me for all my problems, that I was able to accept my own depression. In the moment, depression unrelenting, a fruit of the spirit was to be able to accept that I was thus afflicted and that the low portion of the cycle could pass with time. Its that ‘acceptance’ that I’m proposing as a tasty hidden fruit for the depressed.

  4. Jacob Stimpson says:

    there are some new and really great articles on “light” and the spirit from Elder Bednar
    http://www.lds.org/pages/mormon-messages?lang=eng#patterns-of-light-the-light-of-christ

  5. Jenny says:

    Thanks for sharing the list of parallels. Living the gospel, which brings the spirit, certainly does make like much happier.

  6. Jake D. says:

    If you’re going to claim to know when you do/don’t have the spirit you need to test the spirit. When you feel like you have the spirit have someone put your car keys into one of 10 identical boxes. You should be able to use the spirit to discern their location more than random statistics would show.

    If you can do a scientific test like that then we’ll know when the spirit is there.

  7. Laura says:

    I don’t like this list at all! Makes me feel horrible! Please take it off the internet! It’s giving people the wrong idea as to what the Spirit is/ and when He’s with you!

  8. Adam says:

    I agree with most of the comments here. This list is misleading to say the least.

    A list, exactly like this one, was printed on the front and back of a small card and given to us by our mission president to carry around in our wallets. We were supposed to take it out and reflect on it when needed. Now that I’m 35, with a family and some experience with depression, I look back on this card with strong repugnance. These points were brought out continually as evidence against me (and others) when I just wanted to sit and read/write letters instead of playing basketball on P-Day, or when I was feeling worn out – emotionally and physically – from long days of tracking, etc. I had elements of depression then, but I didn’t know it because I thought that I was missing these good feelings because I was just sinful and unworthy of the spirit (Since everything in the Ensign is obviously doctrine, right? ).

    I wish I could go back in time and tell myself then that, yes, when we have the spirit we can feel those good emotions, but that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. And we have to be careful with that – in judging others and in particular, judging ourselves.

    Here’s a bad case scenario from my own life. Around the year mark of the mission, my depression seemed to hit a low and I felt as if I was going crazy and I didn’t know why. I thought it must have been the lack of the spirit as indicated on the card though I was sure I was doing everything I was asked to do. My companion and I were arguing on the bike ride home from a fallen-through appointment and I increasingly felt so upset, so hopeless, so sad that I rode away from him when he wasn’t watching and he lost me for hours. I must have looked crazy – this skinny, wet, white boy in the middle of a random Mexican suburb in the middle of a summer afternoon rainstorm – sitting on a street curb crying my eyes out. I know now that I was experiencing a deep depression – an acute inability to deal with the constant stressors around me. It was no one’s fault; not my companion’s and not mine. It was simply the last straw. I didn’t know anything about depression so I though my feelings were from “Satan.”

    We worked it out, eventually. But I locked myself in the other apartment room for almost 2 days, only coming out for food and the toilet. I laid on the bed there drawing, writing, reading, listening to “prohibited” CDs – trying to feel whole again and get my mind “right”. I was able to come out of it, but I needed that space that only depressed introverts can understand.

    So back to the main point. The paradigm presented to us through the list on that card almost destroyed myself and many other missionaries I knew. We needed compassion and honest answers and not some stiff upper-lip religiosity written in an outdated magazine. After my breakdown I learned to think more for myself and dismiss those unrealistic pressures found on the card. I then became successful by missionary standards and exercised compassion to those I was called to lead when the time came. I advised them to throw out the cards, pay close attention to their own mental/emotional needs, and not be afraid to reach out for support.

    My goal isn’t to insult the poster – I can understand his feelings somewhat in posting this. But, instead, to encourage everyone to take in consideration their own needs and realize that depression is not a sin in itself and that many times it cannot be overcome by more diligent attention to “Sunday School Answers”. Seek professional help or the ear of a trusted friend. Take a step back and breathe – and know that God does love you and is sending his spirit to buoy you, though you may not feel it now. Give it time and put one foot in front of the other, faithful that you’ll have a clearer day soon.

    I don’t believe that the call to perfection is what we LDS think it is. I believe the call to perfection is in its literal sense, a call to become _complete_, which can only be done by accepting Jesus and starting down the hard life-long road of discipleship. There’s nothing we can do to earn that brand of perfection, that’s why Jesus offers it to us freely. So, in my mind, seeing depression as an imperfection that keeps us from God is beyond the mark. Experience the depression, embrace it, get familiar with it to eventually banish it. But by all means, know you’re complete in Christ and he has already made you “perfect” in that regard.

    I’m done. Sorry for the long post. I just have a heart for sincere people in depression.

    1. Adam, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m actually an introvert myself, and have dealt with depression most of my life. So I can certainly understand where you’re coming from. I still like this list. I don’t think it’s perfect, but feel like it gives some pretty good guidelines. Though they can be misleading, as you pointed out.

      Having recently read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I would say this list definitely seems to present an extrovert-bias. That’s very common for the US, where it came from and was initially published. While not perfect, I still think there’s much value here.

      It’s important for us all to remember that it’s not scripture, nor the law of God. Thus if this list was a problem in your mission, it was not because of the list itself, but rather a Pharisaical devotion to it. It was treated as if it were scripture, when instead it’s someones idea of a practical guideline (and one that probably works very well for most extroverts that don’t have regularly recurring depression). That kind of holier-than-thou attitude (which can be supported by scriptures too, when twisted a bit) is very common in missions, and a problem I’ve often pondered whether or not there is a solution to?

      I’ve found much empowerment and help from the principles taught in the book The Happiness Advantage. A brief summary is that we can program our brains to be more happy. It doesn’t eliminate depression, but it certainly puts us on a higher starting level. Much of it appears to agree very well with the Gospel, as you can read in my previous post about his TED talk.

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