It’s tempting to think of physical health, mental/emotional health, and spiritual health as separate categories of well-being, with separate practices required to maintain each. But we know it’s not that simple. All of those categories of health are interconnected. For example, it may be impossible to hear the voice of the Spirit, which speaks to our mind and to our heart, if we are emotionally drained. (See Doctrine and Covenants 8:2.) Likewise, we may find it hard to think clearly when we are physically unwell.
That’s why I was fascinated to see knowledge linked with physical health in the story of Daniel and his friends. Here’s the story:
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four young men who had been captured when the Babylonian Empire conquered the kingdom of Judah. Somehow, they had impressed the Babylonian authorities, and they found themselves in the king’s palace, together with young men from other conquered nations, in order to participate in an educational program mastering “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).
As part of this program, they were supposed to eat the same food and drink the same wine which was served to the king—a great honor, and presumably intended to give them the very best diet possible. However, this food and drink was not consistent with the health code which Daniel and his friends had been taught.
“God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9). So they didn’t have to make a dramatic statement. They were able to propose an experiment: let us eat the food we have been taught to eat for ten days, and see if we are not as healthy as everyone else at the end of that time. (See Daniel 1:11-13.) Elder L. Tom Perry pointed out that Daniel “did not try to discount or to argue against the beliefs of the Babylonians. He volunteered to a test to try the two ways to see which would be the better” (“In the World,” BYU Speeches, 4 January 1981). His diplomatic approach worked, and their leaders agreed to the experiment.
At the end of that time, “their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” (Daniel 1:15). This is the outcome you would expect from a superior diet, and presumably this is the outcome their leaders were looking for. But the author of this story goes on to describe other benefits of their healthy diet:
God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams….
And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.Daniel 1:17, 20
The health code which God revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1833 is called the Word of Wisdom. This title comes from the very first words in the revelation, and in that sense, it is basically synonymous with “a word to the wise.” The idea is: here are some practical principles to help you take care of your body. You would be wise to follow them.
But the title takes on a whole new dimension when we read the blessings promised to those who follow this law:
All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures…Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-19
Following good physical health practices will help us in the acquisition of knowledge. If you want to become wise, take good care of your body.
The Book of Mormon doesn’t talk much about physical health, but it does urge us to “be wise” (Jacob 6:12, Mormon 9:28) and to “learn wisdom” (2 Nephi 28:30, Mosiah 2:17, Alma 37:35, Alma 38:9). The people described in the Book of Mormon kept the law of Moses, which would have included the same health code followed by Daniel and his friends. (See 2 Nephi 25:24, Jarom 1:5, Alma 25:15-16.)
Today, I will take good care of my body. I will remember that my physical health is interconnected with my mental ability, my emotional equanimity, and my spiritual strength.