“I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”
Doctrine & Covenants 82:10
I (Cassidy) never did anything half-hearted. I was involved in every club, activity, or competition that existed in small town Ammon, Idaho. I enjoyed being the center of attention which often landed me center stage in pageants, plays, and the debate team. I excelled in each of these activities which put a great deal of stress on my young body. When I was only 13, I embarked on a long, challenging road of health problems with the onset of what would become chronic kidney stones. The first time I had one I remember thinking I was going to die. I was in so much pain! I couldn’t do anything but lay on the ground in a fetal position throwing up, sometimes for over 24 hours. I experienced these kidney stones on and off every few months from that point forward.
I thought that was the extent of my health woes, but as I grew older it seemed like my body was beginning to fall apart. By the time I was 20, I was crowned as Miss Idaho, was an award winning member of the Model United Nations team at BYU, and was also a contestant on the popular tv show, “American Idol.” The amount of stress in my life began to feel like more than I could bear, and my body started to give up. Before long, I was plagued with debilitating PMS symptoms, chronic fatigue, migraines, and digestive problems. Some are shocked to learn that I only had a bowel movement once or twice every month. But I didn’t know any different, so I didn’t see it as a problem. I assumed bowel movements were painful and bloody for everyone just as they were for me.
In 2012, I received my mission call to serve in the Canada, Winnipeg mission. When I submitted my papers, I asked God to send me to the hardest mission in the world (which is a story for another book). Suffice it to say, the Lord answered my prayers. While serving in the frigid north, my health took a turn for the worst; I gained 60 lbs. rapidly; I started experiencing extreme adrenal fatigue; and my migraines worsened.
One morning, while on a run with my companion, half of my body went numb. I wasn’t sure what to do, so they rushed me to the hospital. I waited in the ER room for an entire day before meeting with a doctor. He ran a series of tests, including an MRI with no diagnoses.
Throughout my mission, my condition worsened to the point that I was experiencing severe stomach cramps and pain when having a bowel movement. I started to find a significant amount of blood in my stool and finally decided I needed to go to the doctor again. After more tests than I can count, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I was both terrified and relieved to finally have a diagnosis. That night, I went back to my apartment and just cried. I was so frustrated! Here I was dedicating my entire life to the Lord and trying to teach as many people as possible, and my body was giving out. I couldn’t make it through an entire day of teaching. I was constantly exhausted and in pain. Why wasn’t the Lord stepping in to heal my ailments when I was trying to do His work?
Amidst all of this, one night I turned to my patriarchal blessing. I began reading and saw an entire section dedicated to the blessings I would have from obeying the Word of Wisdom. Reading this made me even angrier. I was promised health and strength as I lived the Word of Wisdom–neither of which I had at the time. I had never drunk coffee or alcohol. I had never smoked a cigarette or had tea. “I have kept the Word of Wisdom perfectly my entire life and have no blessings” was the thought running through my mind. Reading these promises and feeling like they could not be realized no matter how obedient I was to the commandment was more than I could bear. I put away my patriarchal blessing and cried myself to sleep.
When I returned home, I began meeting with an increasing number of doctors and specialists to understand more about my health problems. More doctors, more tests, more procedures, and nothing seemed to change. In desperation, I asked my gastroenterologist during one appointment which foods I should eat and which I should avoid. He assured me food didn’t impact my digestion and that I just needed to keep taking the medications prescribed to me. Something about that didn’t resonate well with me. I knew very little about nutrition at the time, but I was fairly sure that food choices impacted digestion. Either way, I knew there had to be another path other than medicating myself into numbness.
In 2015, I met and married my husband Jordan. He was supportive and loving with me as I faced many difficult days, sometimes staying in bed all day. Several months after our marriage, I was diagnosed with 12 different health conditions including pre-lupus, pre-diabetes, tendonitis, adrenal fatigue, and more. At one particularly difficult visit, the doctor informed my husband and me that given the condition of my body, I would likely die young. Struggling to swallow the implications of these diagnoses himself, Jordan assured me that we would find a way to get me better. He chose to not accept this as the dead-end it seemed to be. At this same appointment, however, we discovered that Jordan, who we always thought was very healthy, had early warning signs of heart disease. Here he was, a skinny 24-year old, who had a steadily increasing risk of a heart attack!
That day was a turning point. This was when I knew that we had to take our health into our own hands. We began trying to eat healthier, and I tried to learn as much as I could about nutrition. We visited a functional medicine doctor who supported dietary intervention, and I was sure this would be our answer. We were quickly put on a ‘keto diet,’ and I began eating cleaner than I ever had before. Though my energy began to increase, I was still facing most of the same issues, just with marginally less severity.
It was during this period that I convinced my husband to go to a clean eating restaurant I had just heard about in Springville, Utah called “Ginger’s Garden Cafe.” We went for lunch and next to our table was a small book titled “Just What is the Word of Wisdom.” In it, Dr. John Christopher, a world-renowned herbalist, argued that the dietary principles of the Word of Wisdom were a lot more than just avoiding coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. For example, did you know that the Word of Wisdom tells us exactly what kinds of foods we should eat? Did you know that the Word of Wisdom tells us to spare God’s creatures? Even more, did you also know that an overwhelming majority of modern prophets have echoed the same sentiments concerning the Word of Wisdom? Later in this book, we will present some of this evidence we have found about each of these topics. It is our belief that many of these principles are necessary in order to obtain all of the blessings of the Word of Wisdom.
This was the first time in my life it had ever occurred to me that perhaps my daily meat consumption was not in harmony with the principles in the Word of Wisdom. Additionally, I had been avoiding fruits and grains like the plague on our new diet. Yet the Word of Wisdom advocated generous use of these as well. I was completely shocked!
My husband and I spent the next week studying every talk, article, book, podcast, and YouTube video we could find on the Word of Wisdom. It was like a whole new world was opened to us, and we wanted to learn all we could. The more I read, the more I realized I was living far beneath my privileges when it came to the Word of Wisdom. It was no wonder my body was plagued with so many ailments. My Maker had designed a beautiful health plan for me, and I had simply ignored a great majority of it, thinking that I had been following it, for over 25 years!
I decided it was time to step forward in faith, even though it was against everything I had been learning from my doctor and others. I decided to follow all of the Lord’s instructions in the Word of Wisdom and to specifically focus on fruits, vegetables, grains, and other herbs. I began immediately, and Jordan, who was a little more hesitant initially, agreed to a 2-week trial of this lifestyle. Within days, we felt better than we ever had before! I was amazed at just how great I felt eating exactly as the Lord had advised. These feelings only increased, and I knew that we could never go back to the way things were before.
As time went on, we began to live the Word of Wisdom with more and more exactness. I discovered dozens of fruits and vegetables I had never heard of before and excitedly began adding them to our diet. Later, when I returned to the doctor to do more tests and bloodwork, they were astonished to discover that all of my results came back completely clean for the first time in my life. I was healed! Truly, this is a miracle, given just how poor of a condition my body was in. I went from near my death bed, to the healthiest of my life all thanks to the Lord. I can do things now with ease that I never thought my body could handle. If it weren’t for the Word of Wisdom I’m not sure I would even be alive today. And with what we would later discover, the Word of Wisdom will play a critical role in events of the last days.
The Current State of Health in the Church
If you’re reading this book, you may have had similar thoughts as I did: “I’m living the Word of Wisdom, so why am I not receiving the promised blessings?” We (Cassidy and Jordan) are certain that many members of the Church have had this question at some point or another. One of the hardest things for many of us to realize is that Church members are some of the most unhealthy people on the planet.
A recent study from Brigham Young University showed that Church members were 34% more likely to be obese than members of other religions. Additionally, just over 70% of Latter-day Saint adults 35 years and older are overweight. In youth, nearly 45% are overweight. Many of these numbers are either on par with those of the rest of the world or worse. It would appear that despite having a code of health, the outcomes are pretty much the same for those that don’t. So what is the deal?
The Promises of the Word of Wisdom
One of the most frustrating things for Cassidy was being promised the blessings of the Word of Wisdom not only in the scriptures but also in her patriarchal blessing if she obeyed. The blessings Section 89 promises related to health are that the doers “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones” and that they “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” The Lord even promises that the one who obeys “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” The Lord promises that if we obey, He will even reveal to us the mysteries of His kingdom as He revealed to Nephi as a young boy! How incredible is that?
Of the importance of these spiritual treasures, President Spencer W. Kimball said the following:
“What could be so priceless as wisdom and knowledge, even hidden treasures? Surely the treasures here referred to are not those of scientific accomplishments. Such will come revealed as light from heaven discovered through the research of men, but these hidden treasures of knowledge in the revelation are those which can be had only by use of the keys given which are: ‘Walking in obedience.’ And while the discoveries in the physical world are very important to us here in mortality, the spiritual discovery of a knowledge of God and his program reach into and through eternity.”Conference Report, October 1944, p. 42.
The Word of Wisdom is so important because our body and our spirit are connected. When our body suffers, our spirit suffers as well. One of the main objectives of our existence as spiritual beings is to learn how to have a physical experience and subdue our body to the will of our spirit. By living the Word of Wisdom, we place our body in a state to receive in great measure the knowledge of God to achieve that end and become like God.
One of the greatest things about God is that He does not promise blessings which He does not intend to give. He is a compassionate and consistent God. He tells us that He is “bound” to bless us when we do what He says. In other words, if we are following the principles that are prerequisites for the blessings, He has no choice but to bless us. By His own law and standard, we have claim upon the blessings when we follow His commands. This has to be one of the most enlightening and enabling aspects of the Restored Gospel!
Now, this doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience anything hard in our lives because part of our existence is to pass through trials. In regards to the Word of Wisdom, then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley taught,
“I am not saying that disease will not come, that death will not strike. Death is a part of the divine plan, a necessary step in the eternal life of the sons and daughters of God. But I do not hesitate to say that in this brief but inclusive statement of the Lord is found counsel, given with a promise, which, if more widely observed, would save untold pain and suffering and lead not only to increased physical well-being but also to great and satisfying ‘treasures of knowledge’ of the things of God.”“Come and Partake,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 49.
Indeed, if we were to observe these principles better, we might be able to realize the Lord’s promises more abundantly–those of health, strength, energy, and increased spirituality.
How To Read the Word of Wisdom
A common sentiment that we often hear is, “I don’t partake of any of the forbidden substances in the Word of Wisdom, but I’m still sick!” We are sympathetic to this plight because it was once our own. However, if we feel that we’re not receiving the promised blessings, shouldn’t we then look at the Word of Wisdom from a different perspective? This different perspective we speak of is not anything new. Rather it is one that seems to have been lost in the Church over the last several decades but was once taught consistently and frequently beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith. While some perceived health experts in the Church believe that there is nothing to be gained from a strict or literal interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, the voice of many latter-day prophets have taught otherwise. Joseph Smith himself stated, “we will not fellowship any ordained member who will not, or does not observe the Word of Wisdom according to its literal meaning.” In other words, the revelation we know as Section 89 means what it says.
Unfortunately, many members of the Church believe that the Word of Wisdom is up for interpretation by each member. Of course, there may be some room for interpretation in certain circumstances; however, as Joseph Fielding Smith said, “The word of Wisdom is a basic law. It points the way and gives us ample instruction in regard to both food and drink, good for the body and also detrimental. If we sincerely follow what is written with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, we need no further counsel.” Rather than decide for ourselves what the revelation means, maybe we should try to understand what God meant by it and how we can conform to its principles. In a similar vein, President Heber J. Grant taught the need to follow all of the Lord’s requirements. In 1931 he said,
“I have met any number of people who have said the Word of Wisdom is not a command from the Lord, that it is not given by way of commandment. But the Word of Wisdom is the will of the Lord and the Lord says in the words that I have just read that it is not meet that we should be commanded in all things. . . One of the best ways in all the world to bring to pass much righteousness is to set an example as a conscientious, God-fearing Latter-day Saint, observing all of the requirements of the Lord.”Conference Report, April 1931, pp. 12-13, emphasis added.
Indeed, we are not commanded in all things. Section 89 declares that the Word of Wisdom was given as a “principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” If this code of health is a set of principles adapted for the weakest of Saints, could this be a lower law, and is there a higher law? We won’t speculate on the implications or possible meaning here but will leave that for the private consideration and pondering of the reader. The purpose of this book could be summarized well by the words of Elder Boyd K. Packer: “While the Word of Wisdom requires strict obedience, in return it promises health, great treasures of knowledge, and that redemption bought for us by the Lamb of God, who was slain that we might be redeemed.” The answer to many of today’s challenges and many of the challenges in the future can be found in the Word of Wisdom. We don’t have anything new to present to you in this book than what can already be found in the scriptures and the words of the prophets; we have merely organized them in what we feel is an interesting and digestible manner. Sure, we may add modern research that enables us to see the principles practically. But the principles in the Word of Wisdom are self-evident. Live them and you will see. Greater health and spiritual strength can be found today, and the Lord’s promise of protection in the last days can be realized.