Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2020.
The test came back positive. My 8-year-old had COVID-19, and our family was stuck in quarantine anxiously wondering if we’d get sick, too. Although her case was mild, long days not knowing what would unfold brought me to my knees in prayer. I pleaded that my family would be able to bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual strain this pandemic put on us. Surprisingly, I found myself drawn to studying the Word of Wisdom. Honestly, when I’m looking for smart, thoughtful ideas for developing resiliency, the Word of Wisdom isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But as I dug into this inspired revelation, I discovered it to be so much more than a list of restrictions or dietary advice. Instead, I uncovered “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).
Here are seven treasured discoveries from the Word of Wisdom that I found especially valuable as a mom.
Discovery #1: Revelation can come to you in the midst of mundane activities.
There is a frequently shared social media post that points out the fact that though men often climb the mountain to God, God usually meets women where they are. And it's true. An angel appears to Mary in her hometown (Luke 1:26–38); Christ announces His identity to the woman at the well as she’s doing her chores (John 4:1–30); The Savior stops in the middle of the neighborhood street to heal a sick woman (Mark 5:21–34). Knowing God could meet me right where I was felt especially relevant as I sat in my house, quite literally unable to leave for any spiritual mountain retreats.
The origin story of the Word of Wisdom is another great example. Emma, in the midst of cleaning up after her husband and his friends, was impressed to seek God’s guidance about the tobacco spittle she was scrubbing off the floor. Was she grossed out? Was she simply tired of the mess? Either way, I love that Emma was bold enough to insist that household chores deserved prophetic revelation.
It’s interesting that the men in the School of the Prophets, who were righteously studying and debating the nuances of the scriptures, totally missed the opportunity to ask for this revelation. Instead, it came from a woman doing daily chores, who asserted that God would be interested in her seemingly personal burden of cleaning up after others. This shows me that although there is value in setting aside time for scholarly scriptural study, the spark for profound inspiration can also come from more provincial circumstances.
Discovery #2: The Word of Wisdom origin story includes marital advice.
When Emma brought her concerns to Joseph, he easily could have dismissed them and justified his behavior. Instead, he listened to how his actions (and those of his friends) impacted her. He humbly took his wife’s concerns to the Lord and the revelatory answer he received is known as the Word of Wisdom. Apparently, Joseph was ahead of his time, as contemporary researchshows that when a husband, in particular, is willing to be influenced by his wife, the marriage is, indeed, stronger.
Under the pressures of quarantine, I’d slipped into some bad habits, and reading this story prompted some tough questions: Was I getting defensive when my spouse voiced a complaint or did I respond as Joseph did, with humble self-reflection? When confronted with a need to improve, did I turn to a girlfriend for a venting session, or did I turn to the Lord for personal revelation?
Discovery #3: Meal preparation can be a means of demonstrating your covenant relationship with God, not just a chore that takes you away from “real” spiritual work.
The Word of Wisdom invites us to thoughtfully consider what we take into our bodies, including what we eat and drink (D&C 89:5, 9–16). Following the Word of Wisdom has become a significant identity marker distinguishing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as unique. When we are different from those around us (by not smoking or by not drinking coffee or alcohol, for example) we’re reminded that our primary relationship isn’t with those people, but with our God. He is the priority, and as covenant people, we are set apart to be different. Having unworldly ways of approaching what we put in our bodies marks us as His.
The Word of Wisdom draws an interesting parallel between following its counsel in the latter days and the blood of the lamb marking the doorposts of the ancient Israelites. In the Passover story, the Israelites in Egypt are trying to convince the Pharaoh to release them from bondage. Despite rounds of plagues, the Pharaoh refuses. So the Lord makes a terrible pronouncement—every firstborn male animal and child in Egypt will be killed. But the Lord forewarns the Israelites, instructing them to mark their doors with the blood of a lamb. If they do so, He promises, the firstborn male in that home will not be killed. “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12–13, emphasis added). In the Word of Wisdom, the Lord makes a parallel forewarning promise regarding following the Word of Wisdom, “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings… I the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:18, 21).1
Following the Word of Wisdom is a contemporary sign, or token, of the blood of the Lamb. It marks us as His covenant people. And it signals that your family is protected by your covenant relationship with God. We will be protected from a “destroying angel” as threatening as the plague that killed all the firstborn males in Egypt.
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This suggests that feeding ourselves and our families in alignment with the counsel of the Word of Wisdom is not a distraction from spiritual work, it is spiritual work. Spiritual work that marks us as covenant people and protects us from dangerous threats. Isn’t it fascinating that seemingly simple meal preparation can actually be a protective covenant act?
As I contemplated this, I found myself stumbling on the (false) idea that what God was asking of me was Pinterest-perfect family dinners. It’s not. Which is a relief, because I actually don’t like cooking, and many of our family meals are incredibly simple and on-the-go. As I looked deeper, I realized that God is incredibly gentle in His expectations, as we explore in discovery number four, which inspires me to be patient with my, and my family’s, imperfections.
Discovery #4: Don’t worry, God gets where you’re at.
The Word of Wisdom is one of the few places in scripture where we see God explicitly recognizing that temporal context has an impact on our earthly decisions. For example, in the Word of Wisdom, God counsels us to use meat— the flesh of beasts and of fowls—sparingly (D&C 89:12). In the very next sentence, He raises the bar, saying, “and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used,” but then He introduces context, “only in times of winter, cold, or famine” (D&C 89:13). God mercifully acknowledges there will be variance in how we keep the commandments, according to mortal circumstances.
So if you’ve been up all night with a crying baby and your toddler is hungry and the only thing you can find at the bottom of the freezer is some microwavable, processed food product—it’s okay. God gets where you’re at.
Discovery #5: Demonstrating His gentleness, God cares more about the state of your heart than the state of your to-do list.
God introduces the Word of Wisdom as “a principle with promise” (D&C 89:3, emphasis added). As such, it goes beyond exact to-do list prescriptions and can evolve in execution based on our circumstances and how we mature.
Look at the beautiful principles illustrated in these words and phrases: “with thanksgiving,” “prudence,” “wholesome,” “in season,” “good,” by “greeting; not by commandment or constraint,” “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints.”2 I particularly love the word “remember.”3 It softly implies, “You’ll probably forget to follow this at times, but as you remember, come back to it.” The phrase “walking in obedience” is similarly a glimpse into God’s gentleness.4 His counsel is not to sprint, not to run, just go step by step—walk—as we remember.
As another show of His character, God respects our agency in how we choose to take care of our bodies, the earth, and the animals under our stewardship. He warns and guides us, but ultimately the Word of Wisdom is enforced by natural consequences, not by God’s direct punishment.
Discovery #6: Focusing on principles taught by the Word of Wisdom cross-trains you for your relationships with your children.
These principles, relevant in many settings, can be specifically applied to parenting:
The Word of Wisdom begins by “greeting, not by commandment or constraint.”5 We can similarly start interactions with our children warmly, rather than jumping immediately into rules and their infractions.
The Word of Wisdom encourages us to approach food “with prudence and thanksgiving.” It advises us to “remember” its teachings and to enjoy foods “in season.”6 We can embody these principles in our parenting by approaching motherhood’s demands with prudence and gratitude, reminding ourselves to take pleasure in each season of our life, and our children’s lives.
The Word of Wisdom counsels us to satisfy our appetite with “wholesome,” “good” foods.7 Similarly, we can help our children develop an appetite for wholesome and good recreational activities, books, and screen time.
The Word of Wisdom recognizes we are weak, and softly encourages us to progress step by step.8 We can echo this loving approach by being patient with our kids in their weaknesses, too.
Like Heavenly Father demonstrates in the Word of Wisdom, we can gently warn children of foreseeable dangers, show pleasure when they take our advice, and take into account the context they are in when they don’t, allowing natural consequences to teach them.9
Discovery #7: The Word of Wisdom is deeply thought-provoking.
The language used in the Word of Wisdom is actually provocatively strong. It states:
It is “showing forth the order and will of God.”10 I think it’s interesting that the original name of the Melchizedek priesthood, “the Holy priesthood after the order of the son of God,” also talks about the order of God.11 Its inclusion in the opening paragraphs of the Word of Wisdom emphasizes the revelation's legitimacy—it is authorized instruction from God.
God “ordained” plants and animals for our use. The word “ordained” is used not just once but three separate times.12 There’s a reverent, holy purpose implied in this word and its associated definition “to set apart.”13 When we are “set apart” for a calling, a priesthood holder prayerfully blesses us to serve. That plants and animals were set apart by God to serve us is humbling. When we consider that our body is the temple for our spirit, our appreciation for the holiness of this service increases.
The profound blessings promised for following the Word of Wisdom include “health in their navel and marrow in their bones,” the ability to “run and not be weary,” that the “destroying angel shall pass by,” and access to “hidden treasures of knowledge.”14
Studying the Word of Wisdom has taught me that when I act under the order and will of God and use ordained plants and animals to maintain the temple of my body, I will be blessed with health in my navel and marrow in my bones, and hidden treasures of knowledge. I’ve also learned more about the character of God and how following the Word of Wisdom is a protective identity marker that signals, and strengthens, my covenant relationship with God.
And the benefits don’t stop with me alone. An entire Israelite household was blessed when one family member put the blood of the lamb on the door. Similarly, when I study and live the Word of Wisdom, my whole household can benefit.
So. . . what additional “hidden treasures” are waiting for you in the Word of Wisdom?
Carrie L. Skarda, PsyD, is a psychologist in private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has provided individual and couples therapy, with particular interest in attachment trauma and mindfulness, for the last eighteen years. She was the director for training at the Antioch facility of Kaiser Permanente HMO in California, and has facilitated numerous therapy groups on such topics as depression, personality disorders, work stress, crisis management, and parenting. As a facilitator at Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, LLC, she has taught workshops on mindfulness, mindful eating, and forgiveness. Carrie has been studying and practicing mindfulness and formal meditation for over ten years. She is a bit obsessed with Jerusalem, is joyfully married with two young children, and enjoys serving as Primary president in her ward and remodeling her 1904 house. She is one of the authors of The Power of Stillness.
The Power of Stillness
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:4
- Doctrine & Covenants 89: 2–3, 5, 8, 10–12, 16
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:18
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:18
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:2
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:11
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:8,10
- Doctrine & Coveants 89:3
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:4
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:2
- “All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man” (D&C 89:10). “Flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man” (D&C 89:12). “All grain is ordained for the use of man” (D&C 89:14).
- Doctrine & Covenants 89:18–20