Gut Feelings: what they are and why you should trust them

Think back to a time when you had a gut feeling that you shouldn’t do something, and you did it anyway. In the aftermath, did you think, “Why didn’t I go with my gut?” Or, perhaps you had a gut feeling that you should do something, and you didn’t. Did you ever think, “I should have trusted that feeling,” or “I wonder what would have happened had I trusted that feeling?”

Now, take a moment and ponder the questions I’m about to put to you.

Here are questions:

  • First, what is a gut feeling? If you had to define what it is to a family member, friend, or child, what would you say?
  • Second, what is the purpose of a gut feeling? Does it serve a purpose? And if so, what do you think that purpose is?
  • Finally, where do you think gut feelings come from? And depending on how you answer that, consider the question, “How is it even possible that we have gut feelings at all?”

The Gut Feeling Defined

So, why do we call it a “gut” feeling? Dictionary definitions of the adjective “gut” imply that we associate this term with the: internal part or essence of who we are. It’s also related to the idea of courage, or inner strength. The connotation of the word also implies that we associate the idea of a gut feeling with something that is instinctive to who we are, even involuntary. It’s not only at the center of who we are, it is inseparable from who we are.

This is interesting in light of the fact that involuntary reactions and processes in our body are normally things like: blinking, breathing, reflexes, the heart beating, flight or fight responses, and so forth. And, here’s something even more interesting. The “gut feeling” often times—even frequently—disagrees with our other involuntary or instinctual actions.

We may instinctively feel attracted to another person and want to be with them, but our “gut feeling” warns us that our other instinctive feelings needs to be set aside, or given less importance in light of a higher sense—that this person will not be good for us in a relationship in the long run. Or, we may feel instinctively that we need to leave a dangerous situation, but our “gut feeling” tells us that we need to respond to a higher sense—that we need to save someone else from the danger if we can.

We may want to eat food because we “feel hungry” and yet have a “gut feeling” that the food we are choosing will not help us become healthier and may, conversely make us less healthy. Our “gut feeling” may instruct us to seek for better food even in light of the fact that we are hungry, or thirsty.

Such examples suggest that our “gut feeling” is our highest and most important instinctual guide. If it is high enough to sense when other instincts are in error, then it is, all of the sudden, the most important and best instinct we have—and therefore, should be followed.

The Origin of the Gut Feeling

How did we, as humans, come to possess this “gut feeling,” this instinct that somehow senses the rightness, wrongness, or even future impact (for good or ill) of all other impulses and their accompanying actions? The very idea that it can see things—even foresee things—that the rest of our physical, emotional, and conscious reasoning self cannot suggests that it has a higher origin.

In the Bible Dictionary we can learn much from the spiritual identification and explanation of the “gut feeling.” It is called the light of Christ. Meaning, our “gut feeling,” which many people call our conscience, is actually a spiritual instinct installed in our mortal form by Christ. It is a portion of His light—which is His power and His knowledge of truth. This Light of Christ not only gives us a fundamental sense of right and wrong, it is the power by which we become beings of reason at all.

The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:2; John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also the “light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-13, 41).

…its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost.

Our “gut feeling” then is really another way of saying the “light of Christ.” Such an understanding also gives us motive to trust it and to follow it. If our “gut feeling” is actually a deep, spiritual instinct given to us by Jesus Christ then it suddenly makes sense when we say things like, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that,” or “I wish I had trusted my gut. I can see now that…” Christ is all-knowing. And though we aren’t, a piece of His light is in us and that piece knows things deeply that we can’t see or put into words consciously. Our “gut” knows! How cool is that!

Light of Christ versus the Gift of the Holy Ghost

A lot of people, even learned members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, struggle with the difference between the “light of Christ” and the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” So, let’s address that for just a moment.

Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers. All I can talk about are the few insights I have received and how I’ve come to see it in my own life. These insights have helped me make sense of the difference. They may or may not help anyone else. They also may be understood (especially as metaphors) differently in the context of someone else’s life. So, what seems clear as a bell to me may seem like a glass of muddy water to someone else. But the fundamental point is this: if you really want to understand the difference, go to the Lord, pray about it, study, ponder, and you’ll get your own metaphors. I do not in anyway promise that these metaphors will work for you. Perhaps they may get you on a track of thought that will facilitate personal revelation of your own.

Analogy #1

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that heaven and hell aren’t merely two static places. We believe in multiple kingdoms of glory. Whatever law we are willing to abide by, that is the extent of the glory God is able to give us. The more Christlike we become by living the laws and commandments of Christ, the more of His glory we can receive in the life to come. For details on this doctrine read Doctrine and Covenants 88:13-40. It’s clear and direct.

Generally, however, we break down heaven and hell into the three degrees of glory: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. And, if the blessings we receive correspond to that glory, you might say that the light of Christ (or that gut feeling) is a telestial blessing. It’s a basic knowledge of right and wrong with the potential to lead us to the next level of heavenly guidance. The terrestrial blessing would be the “power of the Holy Ghost” or direct manifestations/communications from the Holy Ghost (another member of the Godhead). These communications go beyond a mere gut feeling and are powerful witness of truth (when we hear it or see it, etc.). We may sometimes doubt a gut feeling (initially), but direct manifestations from the Holy Ghost are full of power. We may doubt them later (if we dismiss them and do not act on them), but in the moment there is no doubt that we are being taught, or are feeling that something is true. A celestial level blessing would be the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just a burst now and then.

To elaborate, the gift of the Holy Ghost does the following (as far as I can tell):

  • He (the Holy Spirit) validates the gut feeling, so that we know for certain that what the light of Christ is telling us is true before we act. This is critical. We don’t merely suppose that our gut feeling could be right. We know it is and know that if we don’t follow it that we will be going against our own benefit and against the will of God.
  • He (the Holy Spirit) teaches us how to act on the direct messages of truth He delivers. The powerful messages that come to us from the power of the Holy Spirit can’t ultimately benefit us if we don’t act on them. That power will die away. The gift of the Holy Ghost (since it is with us always) teaches us and prompts us to act on what we felt.
  • He (the Holy Spirit), by the above actions makes it possible for us to learn truth, assimilate it into our lives, and have that truth become part of us. The gift of the Holy Ghost is called the baptism of fire because He (as a member of the godhead) makes it possible for us to actually be changed through the grace proffered to us by Jesus Christ. As we act on the validation and instruction of the Holy Spirit, He actually uses our righteous actions to make fundamental and eternal change within our very beings.

Analogy #2

We are all familiar with the idea of cell phones plans. Nowadays nearly all plans contain every kind of service for a flat fee. But it didn’t used to be that way. Different plans had access to different services. Long-distance calls were an extra cost/service. Text messages were an extra cost/service. Text messages including photos or media cost extra or were an extra service. Now that we have phones that are actually little computers and have access to email, internet and any other number of aps and services, this analogy works a little less well. But here it is.

Christ pays for a basic cell phone plan with His infinite atonement. We all get the “light of Christ,” which is a basic service for getting communication about right and wrong from God. These basic messages are not voice, text, or access to the Google ap. They are merely gut feelings. If we use this service and follow the basic messages we receive, we can upgrade our communication service from God to getting text messages anytime we hear or see something true. These clear text messages are a limited time service that is dependent upon our actions. IF we act upon those texted truths and agree to a life-time service agreement (covenant of baptism), we can receive an “unlimited plan” for communicating with God. But this plan comes with a bonus. Not only can we communicate with God directly—through His Spirit; carrying that “phone” with us all the time and using its godly services (acting on the continued communication and guidance we receive) will actually transfer God’s power and blessings to us directly from Him—changing us fundamentally into more godly beings.

Light of Christ = gut feeling
Power of the Holy Ghost = clear
communication that something is true (or false)
Gift the Holy Ghost = clear communication… + infusion of godly power…

Gut Feelings Transcend Emotion

It is important to note that as discussed in the beginning, the “gut feeling” transcends other involuntary functions and instinctual feelings. You may feel excited about the prospect of something and yet have a gut feeling that it’s not a right choice. You may feel angry and hurt about something and yet have a gut feeling that you should forgive, or minimally not take revenge. You may feel in love with a person and yet have a gut feeling that they are not going to be a good long-term partner and that the good you feel will be temporary. You may feel happy in the moment about something you are doing, or have done, but your gut may tell you that this feeling is going to wear off because of the incorrect way in which the feeling was achieved.

There is no end to the ways in which the gut feeling transcends and trumps other temporary instincts and involuntary processes. But, it’s important to reiterate this because it is so easy to get caught up in these other things. I, for one, find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when my emotions are screaming of hurt, offense, and exhaustion. I find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when what my physical body wants is a greasy hamburger and French fries. My mind and my body say, “Who cares that it’ll make you sick half way through! Who cares that it’ll make you want to sit around the rest of the day!” But, my gut says, “You’ll be far more satisfied with something that actually addresses what your body needs and tastes good at the same time.” Or “Take the time to make something that tastes amazing and addresses the nutrient need of your body.”

Our gut tells us to do a lot of things we know we should. But we ignore our gut in favor of what’s easier or more immediate. Love, excitement, fear, and other powerful emotions can hide our gut feeling if we aren’t in tune to it, or if we shove it away. And, I must admit, that at least for me, my gut feeling has never been eccentric like emotions are. Excitement has never been a gut feeling for me. Neither has love. Rather, my gut feeling has validated an emotion or warned against an emotion. It has invited me out of anger and revenge, but it has not felt like anger or revenge.

At least for me (and I suspect others) the gut feeling is an instinct, an involuntary reasoning that pushes itself up over the top of whatever else I am feeling. This is one way to recognize it apart from all else that you perceive or feel.

Why Trust Your Gut?

So, what is the whole point in getting to know your gut feeling and trusting it?

Well, if you’re gut feeling was given to you by Christ, then its trustworthy. It may not bring immediate success and prosperity into your life, but it will bring immediate peace—which is priceless—and guidance for the success and prosperity God has in store for you.

If trusting and following your gut feeling has the potential to lead you to clearer and more powerful communication from God, then that’s certainly worth it all by itself. It may not produce that clarity at the level you would like initially, but it opens the door for you to enter a contract/covenant with God for continuing clear guidance and direction—if you’re willing to act on it.

Many of us spend a large portion of our lives floundering. Many of us have a lot of regret, a horrific suspense for what we might have enjoyed had we trusted that gut feeling before. And, maybe we are still afraid to trust it. If that’s you, here’s why it’s time to start trusting that gut feeling.

God’s plan includes unlimited communication with Him and power to become like Him. His plan removes the floundering and the regret and replaces it with certainty, hope, and peace. And, the first step in that plan is learning to trust your gut. Start trusting your gut and you get bursts of powerful confirmations of truth in your life. Act on those bursts of communication and you will get the next offer—the unlimited plan, the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Then, as you are diligent in listening and following, floundering in life disappears. It is replaced with certainty. It is replaced with peace. It is replaced with guidance in all that you seek that is right. In fact, God can get you to your goals much faster than you can ever get yourself there. And, He does one better. He gets you to places far better than you ever aspired to be. This is the path that awaits you if you can learn to recognize your gut feelings and to follow them. Follow the light of Christ.

BT

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