Friday, July 27, 2012

Word of Wisdom on Obesity and a Healthy Diet

According to the American Heart Association, 145 million Americans over age 20 are overweight. Of those, 74.1 million Americans are in the 'obese' category. Together, more than two-thirds of all American adults are overweight, fueling a multi-billion-dollar industry of fad diets, miracle pills, weight loss counselors and weight-related medical procedures.

Many members of the Church – as many as 3 million of us in America alone – are a part of the epidemic weight gain. It turns out the stereotypical Mormon diet of casseroles, funeral potatoes and Jello carries its fair share of calories. As members of the Church, we also have the guidance of the Lord and His prophets, specifically the Word of Wisdom. Following this inspired code of health will help us take care of our bodies, fend off – or return from – obesity, and eventually be able to "run and not be weary" and "walk and not faint."

Found in the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Word of Wisdom provides at least three guidelines related to obesity and overeating. First, the Word of Wisdom teaches that we must watch what we put into our bodies. Second, we learn that we must watch how much food we put into our bodies. And finally, when we are converted to the Word of Wisdom as the Lord's code of health, our willing obedience will bring physical and spiritual blessings.

At the most basic level, every member of the Church knows that the Word of Wisdom teaches us to avoid harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. In the spirit of this counsel, each of us should evaluate whether we consume these or other substances that may be harmful to our bodies or habit-forming. Processed snack cakes, soda pop, deep fried foods and energy drinks are only a few of the popular, but physically harmful foods on the supermarket aisles. These foods have little or no nutritional value, make us feel tired, create habits that are hard to break, fuel our appetites for more unnecessary calories and expand our waistlines. In short, many foods available at the neighborhood store may contribute to obesity, which in turn contributes to untold numbers of diseases and medical complications.

Knowing we would be bombarded with the widest variety of food, beverages, medicines and herbs in human history, the Lord gave the Word of Wisdom as a forewarning against the, "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men." While the Lord deems harmful substances of all kinds "not for the belly," we are advised to eat "all wholesome herbs... all grain... as also the fruit of the vine," and, "flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air." A consistent, natural diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, lots of water and some lean meat provides the nutrients our bodies need without the empty calories that spark our appetites or meaningless overeating.

The Lord continues his counsel and commandment for the dietary care of our bodies with the charge that "all these [are] to be used with prudence and thanksgiving." A person can gain a significant amount of weight through simple mismanagement of portion sizes, even if their diet is stacked with fruits, vegetables and grains. Using prudence means to use discretion, sound judgment or temperance. Greater prudence in our diets is discretion to say 'no' to a second piece of chocolate cake, wisdom to drink water instead of soda, and temperance to take only enough food at the dinner table to satisfy your hunger. It is prudence that recognizes obesity as a debt of calories, and unifies the grocery list and the dinner menu to get us out of that debt.

President Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded us one general conference that "The Word of Wisdom is 'adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints'. It is buttressed by other scriptures. They teach that the good things of the earth 'are made for the benefit and the use of man, … Yea,' the Lord said, 'for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul, … to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion' (D&C 59:18–20)." His counsel was for us to, "learn to use moderation and common sense in matters of health and nutrition; and particularly in medication."

Finally, the Word of Wisdom promises our careful observance of its counsel will yield health, wisdom, endurance and protection. The determination to change the kinds and quantities of foods we eat may be found in the realization of the surety of these results. No matter how many diets or miracle drugs we have tried and failed, careful obedience to the Word of Wisdom will bring the support of heaven in reaching our goals. If we will strive to eat a healthy, natural, prudent diet, the return on our investment of effort will be physical, spiritual and mental strength.

No harmful substance will cloud our wise judgement. No excess weight will keep us from enduring. Through obedience to the Word of Wisdom, we can avoid the perils of a plague of obesity sweeping the nation.

**This article was originally written for Deseret Connect on February 9, 2011. It was never published by Deseret Connect or its related sites.**

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Spiritual Value of Sleep

We all need sleep. Everyone knows that is a fact of biology and physiology. In truth, those reasons are secondary to the most important reason for sleep: spirituality.

Sleep is often overlooked as a spiritual concept, perhaps because the Lord directly speaks of it only briefly in scripture. Most of what we find is summarized in this short verse: 'cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated' (D&C 88:124).

Yet the amount of sleep we receive can affect our decision making in a way that could have dire spiritual consequences. Consider how many times you may have been ornery with someone you love because you were tired. Have you ever been tempted with something that isn't normally a concern because your body was exhausted? How many times have you indulged your carnal self with laziness, unnecessary eating or other selfish acts because you were tired? Has fatigue ever convinced you not to do something you should, like reading your scriptures, helping a neighbor or saying your prayers?

King Benjamin taught that he, 'cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means', but that we must, 'watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives' (Mosiah 4:29-30).

As teenagers our parents asked us to be home at a time we may have considered early because they knew that being tired would make it harder to leave a bad movie, resist peer pressures and control our crazy teenage hormones. As adults who often tire more quickly, we must continue to 'watch ourselves'. We may find it more difficult to change the channel, act with patience toward our families, or fulfill our many responsibilities if we don't hold ourselves, as much as possible, to the standard of early bedtimes the Lord requires in scripture.

Sometimes we try to deceive ourselves into thinking we are more awake than we really are. Taking stimulants such as caffeine, for example, can cause a hormonal response that makes us feel alert while our body and mind are still suffering from fatigue. This can be dangerous as we begin to perceive we are making sound decisions when our mind is actually clouded. Over time these stimulants can add significant stress to our bodies, reduce our natural ability to sleep and lead to addiction, exhaustion, patterns of poor decision making and even a shorter lifespan.

The Lord promises (and if you're interested, science has also found) that if we will go to bed early and get enough sleep, our bodies and minds will be invigorated. We will be best able to make decisions that could improve our health, our relationships, our devotion and the quality of our lives. It is worth our time and effort to arrange our schedules to obey the Lord's direction and allow for a good night's rest.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Baptism of Jesus Christ

In the third chapter of Matthew we read of the baptism of Jesus Christ. Our Savior approached John the Baptist, his cousin, who had the priesthood authority to baptize. John had just explained to his disciples that his baptism was unto repentance and that more was to come from someone more authorized than himself.

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

As John learned at the baptism of Christ, there is more to baptism than repentance only. It is true that baptism washes away our sin, but it does so because with our immersion in water we enter into a certain covenant. We promise God that we will be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, always remember him and keep his commandments. God promises us the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The key phrases in that covenant are that we are willing and that we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. I've written about willingness before here. Taking upon ourselves the name of Christ includes, among other things, literally accepting his name just as a bride accepts the name of her groom. Just as the union of two people by marriage allows them to be seen legally and otherwise as one family unit, the union of individuals to Christ by baptism allows us to be seen by the laws of God as one unit together with Christ.

Our baptism is the covenant by which we can become unified with Christ and, therefore, judged as one with him if we keep the rest of the covenant, i.e. if we remain willing and obedient. As fallen men and women, each of whom has committed sin(s), this is the only way we may be judged worthy to enter God's kingdom.

That is a little different story for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Free from the burdens of sinful disobedience, he was the only person with the capacity and power to return to live with God independent of outside assistance. He did not need baptism to be clean from sin. So why was he baptized?

Christ told John he was baptized to, 'fulfil all righteousness'. Nephi had the same answer, noting only the valuable example it would provide for the rest of us:

And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized in water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!... But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping the commandments (2 Nephi 31:5, 7)

Righteousness refers to actions that are justified with or pleasing to God. The opposite of sin, righteousness simply means acting according to the will of God. Fulfilling all righteousness would then be doing everything according to the will of God. It is perfect righteousness.

Christ completed his mission to fulfill all righteousness. Even in the excruciating moments of Gethsemane, he prayed, 'O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done' (Matthew 26:42). He did everything God asked of Him-- yet, that doesn't seem to completely explain why a perfect man, our Creator and Savior, was baptized.

Perhaps Christ was not baptized for repentance, but rather to enter into the same covenant that we do when we are baptized. A bride cannot be married if the groom is not present. Perhaps he covenanted with God to give his name to us-- even to suffer, bleed and die for us-- if we would be willing to accept it through our individual faith, repentance, baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. As a bride and groom entering the marriage covenant, perhaps Christ was baptized because He loves us dearly and wants to help and guide and provide for us.

These are only my thoughts, so perhaps some caution would be wise. Yet in them reside a few certain truths: Jesus Christ is our Savior and our perfect example, he was baptized by immersion by someone authorized to do so, he loves each of us and he wants us to return to live with our Heavenly Father. This can only happen if we follow his example:

And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father (3 Nephi 11: 33-35).