As a child, I was taught how to judge by how I felt inside. Good thoughts/actions yield good feelings. Bad thoughts/actions yield bad feelings. Easy enough.
My younger sister and I often fought. When we fought, we would pinch and shove. I never felt good about it. Eventually, I learned how to restrain myself physically. That felt good.
But then I grew up. I studied the doctrine. I became "wise." I learned that knowing/living the truth was not as simple as feeling good - that wasn't "enough." Plenty of people felt good, but they did not recognize or seek the truth!The Right Feeling
When I was living in Taiwan, I went to my roommate's non-denominational Christian church one Sunday. As the congregation stood and sang, I could feel some very positive emotions. As the pastor gave his sincere message - to a very attentive, earnest congregation - I thought to myself sadly, how easy it is to be decieved by emotions! At the time I believed that what everyone was feeling was just that - emotion.
In contrast, I thought of LDS meetings. Quiet, routine, almost monotonous...and full of the Spirit, of course! Nearly imperceptible, except to the truly humble. That was the beauty of it.
The way to judge, I determined, was not by having good feelings. It was by having the right good feelings. Which required a whole lot of humility and/or study to recognize.
As a twenty-three year-old seeking for happiness, my efforts seemed frustrated. I determined that I should pray to God to know if I should stay in Taiwan (to get married) or go back to school (to get married). One particularly unhappy night, I poured my heart out about this question. As I finished, I had two thoughts.
First: "It's not the time for me to get married."
Second: "It's time for me to go on a mission."
I was distraught. Neither was the answer I wanted. How could I be sure the message was from God and not me, that I wasn't just predicting my own worst fear?
I had learned well enough that feelings were tricky and deceiving. So I turned to Moroni 7. I reviewed the well-known teaching that "every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ;...it is of God." My heart was heavy, but willing. I couldn't deny that the prompting to serve a mission would lead me to do good and love god. I accepted it as his will for me.
Works (motivated by faith)
By the time I became a missionary, I had determined that emotion was not wholly reliable. Throughout my mission, I gained more and more evidence of this.
But I clung to inner desire as the true indicator of right and wrong. In myself, I could identify true desire by self-evaluation against the scriptures (as I had in deciding to serve a mission). But what about everyone else? How could I help others to have faith in a pattern of living, if they couldn't reliably distinguish between good feelings and the right good feelings?
I found the answer in the words of Christ: "By their fruits ye shall know them."
So when I visited a young inactive family, and I wanted to give my strongest argument for the gospel, what did I fall back on? Feelings? No. I testified that the gospel must be true, and I knew it was true, because it brings out the best in people.
And at the time, I really believed what I was saying. I believed that the restored gospel, as contained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, truly made the best of people.
And it all falls apart
My progressive understanding of how to judge ironically led to the undoing of my own faith. As a missionary, and then as a returned missionary, I became increasingly aware of the fruits of the gospel in my life, and in the lives of others. I didn't like what I saw. Which led me to become increasingly less-satisfied with those fruits, and less-convinced that the best fruits were really so exclusive to the church.
Return to the Basics
When I first began to consider that maybe my faith in the church was mistaken, it was terrifying. How would I be able to judge? If I could no longer judge rightness by acts (worthiness for temple recommend, etc)...and I could no longer judge rightness by spiritual promptings ("I feel strongly that I should do this, even though I have no idea why")...how could I continue to be a good person?
I've returned to the basics. I will seek to do more of the things that help me feel good. I will seek to do less of the things that cause me to feel bad. I will seek to discern between external definitions of good/bad and those that are true to my personal conscience.
Amazing how simple, and how much more emotionally honest that feels.