I’m 17 and have been a member of the church all my life. Had many instances where I feel that I’ve truly felt the spirit (Sacrament, Personal Scripture Study, Firesides, etc.) I believe this Gospel to be true, but I have a recurring thought that the spirit is just my own brain searching for meaning in life and that it’s not really the truth. How can I surely know of the Holy Ghost’s actuality?
First, I apologize that I wasn’t able to respond to your question sooner. I hope you will forgive me and still find it helpful. Your question reminds me of some who say that we can’t rely on our emotions because they can deceive us. That is true in part. I have been carried away by passion in the wrong direction on occasion, fortunately for the really important things, the Lord stopped me before I went to far. It is important to remember though that reason can also lead us astray. Terryl and Fiona Givens, in their book, The Crucible of Doubt, explain it this way:
“Emotion is not a defect in an otherwise perfect reasoning machine. reason, unfettered from human feeling, has led to as many horrors as any crusader’s zeal.”
Surely, this is why the Lord has said, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” Doctrine and Covenants 8:2. The scriptures tell us to ponder. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said this,
“Pondering, which means to weigh mentally, to deliberate, to meditate, can achieve the opening of the spiritual eyes of one’s understanding. Also, the Spirit of the Lord may rest upon the ponderer as described by President Smith.” Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life
If you are patient, obedient, and seeking, you will have spiritual experiences through out your life. In my experience, learning to recognize the Holy Ghost takes time and practice. Sometimes we mistake him for our own voice or thoughts. Here is a great example that a friend recently shared with me. He said,
“I recently had an impression that told me to do something. The reason I’m absolutely certain that it was not my own brain is that I didn’t really understand what the prompting was. I first responded like,’yeah, I know. I followed that.’ Then it came again as if I hadn’t. So I was stuck thinking,’what is He getting at?’ It was only after further pondering that I realized the meaning and followed along with it.”
The Holy Ghost will bless our lives, and the lives of others in many different ways. Here’s another story that i love, shared with me by a friend, ”
My late father’s birthday is tomorrow. It has become something of a tradition for us to go to the temple on his birthday. One of my sisters has been instrumental in collecting names for our temple trips, and despite being descendants of many of those “old Mormon families” whose temple work is “done back to Adam”, she manages to find relatives whose work is lacking.
In getting names for tomorrow, she was praying for guidance where to go. Her attitude was, “Dad, you do the work on that side and find a way to let me know whose name to prepare on this side.” She got the firm impression, “Do my cousin.” But of course, Dad’s cousins are already all finished. Right? Old Mormon families and all. But she got the same impression, so she started looking around for any of Dad’s cousins whose work might not be done. Found one: Died as a child. Found another: Died as a child. Another: Died as a child.
Then she found him, my father’s father’s brother’s son. He had left the Church at a young age, and has not yet received his endowment by proxy. So guess who I’ll be going through the temple for tomorrow?
As “miracle stories” go, this is a common one and not very impressive to most. But I find it sacred. I’m also quite proud of my sister.”
In my experience, my ability to hear and recognize the Holy Ghost, and the closeness I feel not only to him, but to Heavenly Father and Christ has grown over the years. It’s like a talent, that grows and develops as you work on it. I encourage you Adam to seek for spiritual experiences. Be ready to receive answers in your mind and in your heart. Write them down to reflect upon during hard times. Writing them down could also help you see how your ability to receive the Holy Ghost grows over time. I have had experiences to sacred to relate to you here in this format, but I can promise you from my experiences that God is real, he and the Savior and the Holy Ghost are real and they want to bless our lives. We just need to humble ourselves and open the door.