~by Patricia Katopol
You have probably heard the phrase, ‘Your body is a temple.’ Many faiths have temples, special places of worship and of great beauty, in which believers seek closeness with the Divine. Those who visit the temple would never disrespect or defile it in any way. Similarly, we should feel the same way about our body, treating it with respect by avoiding harmful substances and behaviors. The Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”1 We can do this by following the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom
One way that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints show their respect for the body and mind given to them by Heavenly Father is to follow the Word of Wisdom (WOW). We know that praying and attending church can help us form a relationship with the Lord, however, how we treat our bodies and minds is also important in strengthening this relationship and helping us to be worthy to receive the Holy Spirit.
The Word of Wisdom refers to a revelation had by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833 about the physical well-being of the Saints. It was formally accepted by the Church in 1851. Doctrine and Covenants 89 provides that the Saints should not use tobacco, wine, strong drinks, or hot drinks (interpreted by the prophets to mean coffee and black tea) and should eat meat sparingly. It encourages the use of herbs, grains, fruits, and vegetables, but does not require a vegetarian diet.2
Over the years, the importance of the WOW has been shown in ways that could not have been imagined during the early days of the Church. We know now how damaging tobacco products can be. How many of the almost 140,000 people a year in the United States who die from lung cancer or those who suffer for years with impaired breathing from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) would give anything if they could start over and not take up smoking?3 How many people wish they had not prioritized alcohol over family, work, or driving safely?
The Word of Wisdom and Today’s Generation
Though the Word of Wisdom was given to us over a hundred years ago, it is still relevant to us today. In 1949, David O. McKay, then President of the Church, discussed how views on harmful behaviors can change. In the early 20th Century, it was unusual for women to smoke, and even considered not very ladylike. Over a short span of time, however, in large part due to advertising aimed at women, women’s smoking went from being hidden to openly shown in films. What had been unacceptable only a few years prior, had become accepted and fashionable.4 Classic movie fans might remember the iconic scene between a cool Bette Davis and a suave Paul Henreid as they share a cigarette in ‘Now Voyager.’ Who wouldn’t want to start smoking after seeing the beautiful Ms. Davis in that scene?
The same can be said for many of today’s habits, that is, advertising and popular culture make questionable behaviors appear typical and accepted. For example, many young people decide not to smoke tobacco and turn to vaping, or e-cigarettes, as an alternative. In vaping, the user inhales flavored oils using what is often a stylishly designed device. While it may seem like a good substitute for smoking, vaping is not harmless. According to the US Surgeon General, e-cigarettes contain particles that can be inhaled, chemicals that cause lung disease, and even heavy metals such as lead. 5 Most people would not knowingly put these things in their bodies, but since vaping is portrayed in popular culture as hip and trendy, and with little information about the health hazards, they don’t question the habit. In addition to lung problems, people have been seriously injured after the vape pen exploded in their face. And like many habits, vaping wastes money that could be better spent.
Another popular habit is stopping at the coffee shop. You already know that drinking coffee is against the WOW. It’s best to avoid coffee shops, but it is also understandable that you may want to socialize with friends who frequent them. If you do go in, take care when choosing a drink. Even drinks that don’t have ‘coffee’ in the name, may contain it. Mochas, macchiatos, and lattes are coffee drinks. If you do order a drink, don’t be shy about asking if there is coffee in it. Green tea is also popular, but green tea is simply unfermented black tea and drinking it is against the Word of Wisdom.6
While the Doctrine and Covenants does not specifically refer to opioids, ecstasy, or other illegal and legal substances in common use today, we can know they are against the Word of Wisdom. As President 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.” And “we will know what is good and what is bad for the body, without the Lord presenting us with a detailed list separating the good things from the bad that we may be protected. We will learn by this faithful observance that the promises of the Lord are fulfilled.”7 A good rule of thumb if you aren’t sure a substance is prohibited by the WOW, is to consider whether it may be addictive or otherwise impair your mental or physical health. Also, if you continue to buy this item or engage in a behavior such as gambling, will it mean that you won’t have enough money for obligations and essentials? If the answer is ‘yes,’ it is probably best to leave it alone.
Living in harmony with the Word of Wisdom may seem daunting at first. Perhaps you aren’t sure if you can do it. Maybe you’ve smoked since you were a teen. Maybe you can’t imagine giving up Friday nights at the bar with the gang. But change is possible. I was never a big coffee drinker, but I did drink tea. I had tea with meals, tea at work, tea when I was sick, tea all the time. Nothing fancy, in fact, regular supermarket tea was fine with me. As my son got older, we had many happy evenings together sharing a pot of tea. So, it was especially difficult for me to give it up. When I started to investigate the Church, I substituted cocoa for tea, but over time, I found I didn’t even need to do that. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with hot water with lemon. What worked for me in making the change was thinking of the Word of Wisdom as a whole. All the components work together for a healthier life and one more connected to the Spirit. Following the Word of Wisdom is also important because it is one of the ways we show our worthiness to enter the temple. Having experienced the blessings of the temple, I do not want to lose them because I can’t say ‘no’ to a cup of tea.
As you begin following the Word of Wisdom, you can turn to the missionaries. They can help you find a smoking cessation program. They can guide you to Scripture that will encourage you to make other choices when you are tempted to engage in behaviors that are against the WOW. There are fun, drug and alcohol-free, social events at church for all ages. If you feel unsure of yourself, attend church functions so that you won’t be surrounded by temptation. Find outlets such as exercise, being of service, crafts, reading Scripture, or listening to uplifting music to occupy your mind. Even if you are not yet a member of the Church, the missionaries would be happy to give you a blessing to help you with your struggle. The Lord has promised that if you go to Him “with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.”8 Know that you can change. Trust in the Lord and do not doubt yourself. You can do this!
The Blessings of the Word of Wisdom
We are all mortal and subject to human frailties. Following the Word of Wisdom does not mean we will never get sick. But it may be much easier to avoid or recover from illnesses if we start from a good base, one that is free from the use of harmful substances such as addictive drugs, tobacco, and alcohol and that is nourished by a variety of healthy foods. Following the WOW can help us have a clear mind, making it easier to make good choices for ourselves and our families.
We can be at peace, knowing that our behaviors are less likely to be the cause of marital strife, poor job performance, a car accident, or misspent finances. Adhering to the Word of Wisdom allows us to be ready to receive spiritual promptings so that we can be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Word of Wisdom is a great source of strength that helps us, as the scripture says, “to run and not be weary and walk and not faint.”9
- 1 Corinthians 6:19–20.
- Doctrine and Covenants 89.
- Conference Report, Oct. 1949, pp. 185–86.
- Improvement Era, Feb. 1956, pp. 78–79.
- Mosiah 7:33.
- Doctrine and Covenants 89:20.