This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch.
The other day at work, I heard a powerful speech given by Commissioner of Church Education Elder Kim B. Clark. He stated:
Whatever level of spirituality we now enjoy in our lives; whatever degree of faith in Jesus Christ we now have; whatever strength of commitment and consecration, whatever degree of obedience or hope or charity is ours; whatever level of professional skill and ability we may have obtained, it will not be sufficient for the work that lies ahead.
Elder Clark then challenged his audience of Seminary and Institute faculty to be “much better” than they are today and gave them specific suggestions for how they can seek guidance from the Lord as they continually strive to do their “very best.” I asked my student assistants what they thought, and one of them voiced something similar to what I was feeling, “It is exciting, but all that continual improvement feels a little overwhelming.”
Have you ever felt burdened by the work the Lord asks us to do? How many of us really want more to do? All too often, I know I have received a prompting to do something as one more heavy task to add to my already long list, but let me share an insight I received that very day that totally changed the way I view this.
During my personal scripture study that evening I noticed a verse that made me realize: I had got it all wrong. In fact, I suddenly realized, I had gotten it all wrong my entire life! The verse I read is like many others in the scriptures, but I saw it in a new light:
O, my beloved brethren, turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation. (2 Nephi 9:45, emphasis added)
I have too often viewed keeping the commandments as though I was putting a chain around my neck when in reality doing as the Lord directs is the only way we can “shake off the chains of him that would bind [us] fast.” As I thought about this, I realized we do not have a correct understanding of our current condition. Because we have never experienced the full liberating freedom the Lord wants us to have, we do not fully realize how burdened down by the chains of bondage we are right now in this life.
If we could see the chains that are right now holding us back from being completely liberated and able to feel the full love of the Lord, wouldn’t we eagerly seek the counsel of a loving Savior whose only desire is to set us completely free? Why would we hope for less of that counsel than more? Why would we be content to win our freedom slowly if we had the chance to win our liberty at a much faster rate? Why would we not happily accept all of the counsel we are given and eagerly seek for more?
The Word of Wisdom: A Document of Liberty
The Lord gave His counsel in the Word of Wisdom to set us free from the foods and harmful substances that would bind us down and keep us from experiencing the fullness of joy He wishes us to have. But for many 19th-century Saints, changing their ways was hard and did not feel like liberty to them: it felt like bondage. They clung to the very substances the Lord warned were not good for their bodies, implicitly insisting that these substances made their lives better than would the freedom the Lord was offering them. Church leaders were lenient. Many of them also had a hard time abandoning these substances, but as time went on, they could see how not heeding this advice was keeping the Saints in bondage. They pled with the Saints to pay greater heed to the Lord’s counsel.
Oh it was hard for those Saints! They loved their alcohol! They loved their tobacco! They loved their coffee and tea! The thought of giving up these beloved substances felt like utter bondage. What a heyday Satan was having twisting their minds to accept these lies and make them resist the Lord’s counsel with the mistaken belief that they were clinging to their freedom! They could not see the invisible chains of hell that their addictions were allowing to encircle them. They could not see the way Satan was pulling these chains tighter and tighter around them, restricting their freedom, their joy, and their peace as he tried with his might to keep them in bondage.
Why Do We Resist the Counsel of the Lord?
Those of us who abstain from harmful substances can clearly see how blessed we are not to be encircled by these chains. We have no wish for the “freedom” to use substances we know would rob us of not just health but also happiness.
Knowing this, why would we not want to also learn from the Lord about all of the ways we can change our diet to receive more of the light, liberty, and joy He would like to give us? The five verses in the Word of Wisdom that tell us what we should not consume (vss. 5–9) are outnumbered by the eight verses that tell us what and how we should eat (vs. 10–17), yet many of us focus only on the former, ignoring the majority of the counsel.
Since the Lord is willing to teach us what is good for us to eat and what is pleasing to Him, why do we not quickly and eagerly embrace these truths?
Think of a person who, after being lost without food and water for many days in the wilderness, suddenly stumbles on a pool of clean water? Imagine the joyful and enthusiastic gratitude that person would feel. We don’t have to just imagine the person lost in the wilderness. We are that person. We are all lost to one degree or another. We just don’t always recognize how lost we are, how much of the light and liberty of the Lord we are missing, and how much better our lives could be. Everything in our lives would be different if we hungered and thirst after the Lord’s counsel as eagerly as we’d hunger and thirst for food and water in a time of desperation.
As I interact with members of the Church, I find that many are quite aware of the way food is chaining us down. It is very hard in this world of cheap, convenient, unhealthy foods to have a healthy relationship with eating. This can lead to all manner of unhappiness:
- feeling compelled to eat certain foods or unable to stop eating others
- continual weight gain or yo-yo dieting
- difficulty doing simple things like walking up a hill, climbing the stairs, or getting on the floor to play with the kids
- feeling out of control and helpless
- illness and disease
- shame and hopelessness
Of course there are many diets one can adopt that can be very valuable in shaking off the chains of Satan. My experience is with a whole food, plant-based approach to the Word of Wisdom. Each week on my website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom, I post a new story of someone who is trying to eat in harmony with the Lord’s counsel in the Word of Wisdom. Almost every week, the story line is very similar:
- I grew up eating the same type of foods most Americans eat.
- I watched family members gain weight, get sick, and too often die early.
- I gained weight and felt bad about myself.
- My health gradually got worse (sometimes frighteningly so).
- I longed for blessings from the Lord.
- I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how.
- I finally learned that it was the food I was eating that was making me sick.
- I started changing my diet to be in harmony with the Word of Wisdom.
- It was not necessarily easy to change my diet, but it got much easier as I persisted.
- As I made the needed changes, my weight dropped and my health improved.
- Spiritual blessings are among the “hidden treasures” I’ve received.
- My life is dramatically better because of eating the Word of Wisdom way.
Every story I post is the story of someone who learning to “shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast” (2 Nephi 9:45). How ironic that most of us fear making a radical change in our diets because we don’t want to lose our “liberty”! Of what value is the “liberty” to eat in a way that harms our body, depresses our spirit, and makes us feel bad about ourselves?
Contrast the “liberty” to eat however we please with the liberty and joy that comes from eating in a way that pleases the Lord. Here are just a few testimonials taken from stories on my website:
- “I have committed to strictly heed the counsel given in the Word of Wisdom, and I have never felt better in my life!” — Julie Brown
- “We love this way of eating, and we love the peace and love it has brought into our home. . . . we have had the spiritual benefits of having the Spirit direct us more fully and enlighten the minds of our children.” — Katie Johnson
- “I dropped 80 pounds . . . former aches and pains and physical issues have resolved themselves . . . I feel at least 20 or 30 years younger.” — Jeff Sorensen
- “I LOVE eating plant-based. I LOVE using whole foods. I know that our bodies were designed to eat this way . . . I look healthier, and mostly I feel so much happier eating this way.” — Amy Bjorkman
- “I have seen a total and complete return of my health. . . . my energy is completely back, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue is gone, thyroid function is normal, and my weight is back to normal. . . . I feel a much greater connection to the earth, and a greater understanding for God’s whole plan.” — Shara Mitchell
- “I am grateful that this diet protected me from what could have very likely resulted in permanent disability, if not death.” — Grant Rowley
- “As I have been more faithful to God’s requirements of me, I have enjoyed a fire hose of revelation like unto Daniel. . . . I know a real connection exists between our body, mind, and spirit, and I have been blessed not only physically and mentally by converting to plant strong eating, but even more so by the spiritual rewards, which have proven to be an exciting journey and great reward.” — Karmel Larson
- “As I lived up to my commitment with God, He blessed me with a desire for healthy foods. In just a short time my tastes had changed. . . . I also found my energy increasing, and I began running. . . . I feel greater assurance in becoming more self-reliant and increased energy to serve my family, the Lord, and to enjoy life.” — Mignon Probst
- “My husband’s heart disease symptoms are completely gone. He no longer sweats, no longer gets sleepy when he is driving, no longer snores, is able to keep up with our six boys in playing basketball, tennis, running, and lifting weights. He has been able to do just about anything an average 52 year-old man can do that doesn’t have heart disease, and he looks 10 years younger.” — Deb Hadden
Let’s Shake Off Those Chains!
We think by continually striving for righteousness, we are making our lives more and more difficult and giving up more and more of our freedom. It is the EXACT OPPOSITE. We are making our lives easier and easier because we are shaking off the chains of Satan who chains us down with horrible burdens, robbing us of our freedom and happiness. By embracing the Lord’s counsel, we are bringing more and more light and freedom and joy into our lives. Life gets easier, not harder!!
This certainly applies to embracing the dietary counsel in the Word of Wisdom. For many of us, chained down by food addictions, the task seems overwhelmingly impossible. We can’t bear the thought of giving up our comfort foods, even though these foods are damaging our bodies. We can’t fully understand how much EASIER and MORE ENJOYABLE a life of freedom from food chains can be.
This article is for me more than any reader I know! While my diet is good, there is so much more I can do to eagerly seek the Lord’s counsel in all areas of my life and to follow it with joy and determination. I want to awake and shake off those chains!
O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. (2 Nephi 1:13)
For Help Getting Started
For more information on a whole food, plant-based Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started.”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”
 Kim B. Clark, “Encircled About with Fire,” Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast (August 4, 2015).