I’m one of those former Mormons who prayed sincerely, with real intent to know whether the Book of Mormon was true. I prayed every day for that witness, beginning in high school the year before my mission, during my mission (which I voluntarily extended to the maximum 25 months), afterwards for several years prior to my temple marriage, and continuing for many years thereafter. I’d say I prayed continuously and sincerely, with real intent, for a testimony for about fifteen years, all the while attending church faithfully, paying tithing, magnifying my callings, serving a mission, temple marriage, etc., everything church members are encouraged to do to be worthy of the spirit. I never received that witness. I could never detect anything whatsoever in the form of any sort of recognizable confirmation, whisperings of the spirit, sense of “I just knew it was true as soon as I started reading the Book of Mormon”, peaceful feeling, etc. That was completely and utterly devastating to a fifth generation Mormon (on both sides), surrounded as I was by family members and friends who on a regular basis talked about their own witness of the spirit and how they received it. Once I began opening up to describe my experience (about 4-5 years into my 15 year quest) and ask family, friends, and church leaders why I had not and was still not receiving any sort of witness, I was told that perhaps I wasn’t really sincere; or wasn’t listening to the whisperings of the spirit; lacked faith; had some secret, unconfessed sin in my past; didn’t really want a testimony; wasn’t willing to live up to the standards of the church, etc. In short, it was my fault I wasn’t receiving a witness. This was very difficult to hear and was very damaging emotionally, since these were my parents, closest relatives, friends, former mission companions, and church leaders who were telling me this - all trusted people I admired. I was so devout as a practicing Mormon, so faithful, so sincere, so desperately desirous of a witness of the Book of Mormon (which I read dozens of times). And it never came. Given my heritage, this was a crushing blow. To this day, I can’t enter a Mormon wardhouse and hear the phrase “I’d like to bear my testimony, I know this church is true” without acute anxiety setting in - which is why I generally avoid the wardhouse as much as possible. Sometimes I can’t, though, since my wife is LDS and begs me to go most Sundays.
I waited patiently for about 15 years for God to respond to my prayers and then gave up. I’m sure some Mormons will say I didn’t wait long enough. At least my very last bishop had the charity to believe me when I said that I was sincere in my effort. His final words to me were “I’ve never met anyone in my life who wanted a testimony so badly and never got one.” Don’t believe Mormons who say that people like me don’t exist and that no sincere person will fail to receive a witness from God about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. We do exist; I was sincere; I prayed, and God was silent. A period of atheism was, perhaps, the natural result of my experience. It wasn’t until I began delving in Catholic apologetics in 2000 that I found a way to believe in God again. The rest, as they say, is history.