“My wife and I felt a yearning to know God better”

josh-wagner-familyBy: Josh Wagner

A little over a year-and-a-half ago, my wife Jamie and I felt a yearning to know God better. We began praying for help to make significant changes to be closer to Him and experience more of the gifts of the Spirit. We had no idea the Lord would answer those prayers by telling us to change how we eat.

This is how it happened: a little after Jamie and I started praying for this, we were reading scriptures with the kids while we ate dinner (we’ve learned that combining meal and scripture time reduces the chance that the kids will run off while we read). As was typical in our house (and most American houses), we were eating a protein-centric dish named for the meat it was built around.

On that particular day, I chose to read this section of holy writ which says the Lord wants us to joyfully use the things of the earth—plants and animals—to sustain and enrich our lives. But then comes this stern warning: “For unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (v. 20). A clear message from heaven pierced my mind to the core, “The way you eat meat is excess and extortion.”

This freaked me out. I somehow recognized it as the answer to our prayers to be closer to God but it scared me because Jamie did most the cooking. I didn’t want to say to her, “God told me we should stop or significantly reduce our meat intake so you need to change how you cook for us.” That just didn’t seem like a conversation that would end well.

So, I sat on the revelation. For two months.

From time to time, a voice in the back of my head would remind me that we needed to make this change but I would just put it off. Finally, one day, I came home from work and Jamie seemed nervous to tell me something.

She began timidly, “I’ve been watching some documentaries today and I would like to make some changes.” She’d watched a few of the various Netflix exposés on the food industry as well as this excellent TED talk on being a weekday vegetarian. She was resolved to dramatically cut our family’s meat intake but was scared to tell me because she didn’t know what I’d think!

I was so relieved. I told her what I’d felt while reading the scriptures at dinner two months earlier. We were both so happy we’d come to the same conclusion through different means and felt that we were truly following God’s will for our family.

Since then, we’ve continued learning more from science and from scripture about the best way to eat. Line upon line, precept upon precept, we have developed a new diet that follows what we Mormons call The Word of Wisdom, a revelation from God about how we should eat. It is the reason most participating Mormons do not use alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. But in addition to prohibiting that stuff, it also advocates a diet based on grains, fruits, and vegetables; and says we should eat meat “sparingly.” It even suggests that God would be pleased if we only ate meat in times of emergency.*

As we’ve mostly cut meat out of our diet with a few exceptions, we’ve been very blessed. The Word of Wisdom ends with a series of promises that we’ve realized in our lives:

“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow in their bones….” We definitely feel that our bodies are stronger and healthier and simply sturdier. As we’ve satisfied our hunger with nutrient rich whole grains, vegetables, and fruits instead of meat, our constitutions have improved.

We’ve also received spiritual health in the navel. I imagine a baby whose navel receives all needed nourishment from the umbilical cord that connects to his or her mother. Taking the Word of Wisdom at face value has strengthened our umbilical connection to God and filled us with grace and spiritual strength.

“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures….” This is where the Word of Wisdom becomes the answer to our prayer to know God. As we’ve lived this health code, we’ve learned more from God and come to know God more. Mysteries of godliness have been revealed to us and we find it easier to experience the gifts of the Spirit.

“And shall run and not be weary, and walk and not faint….” We simply have more energy. It is easy to sustain physical activity and easier to sustain spiritual activity as well, making it easier to follow the Lord’s injunction to “endure to the end” in well-doing.

“And 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. Amen.” This definitely applies to obedience to the Word of Wisdom prohibitions against alcohol and tobacco which significantly shorten people’s life spans. The introduction to the Word of Wisdom says that it was given “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” This probably refers to big companies that profit big from alcohol and tobacco sales and have worked to keep the perils of these substances a secret.

But perhaps it also refers to companies and organizations that use immoral means to convince the public that lots of meat and other unhealthy foods aren’t bad and thereby make a significant profit off of shortening people’s lives. Latter-day Saints who avoid alcohol and tobacco reduce their risk of liver disease and lung cancer. If more of us took just as seriously the injunction to eat little or no meat, we’d also lower our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all of which are significant and growing epidemics the Lord must have foresaw when He gave the revelation.

Perhaps this is why Gordon B. Hinckley, a man whom I love and who served as a prophet of God, said in a 1993 address, “I thank the Lord for a testimony of the Word of Wisdom. I wish we lived it more fully. But even though we do not, the Lord pours out His blessings upon those who try.” I am grateful for the Word of Wisdom. Jamie and I are blessed as we live it as fully as we know how.

I want to write more about this subject but there is so much to say that I don’t know where to start. So, all readers are most welcome to post any questions you have about how our family is eating and what we’re experiencing to help me organize my thoughts for the next post. In the meantime, here is a beautiful video we found recently which shows other people having the same sort of experience we’re having and seeing the same blessings:

Josh (32 years old) and Jamie Wagner are natives of the Northwestern United States and currently live in Utah. They have three small children who keep them very busy while Josh teaches film production to high school students and Jamie teaches childbirth education. They just want to do good things and make God happy. Josh originally posted his story on his own blog: Swagnerography.

* There may be some confusion over why so many Mormons adhere strictly to the prohibitions but not the counsel. The guys over at FairMormon have done an excellent job of explaining that “the Word of Wisdom contains two kinds of instructions: (1) prohibitions, and (2) counsel. The prohibitions are binding upon the Saints; the counsel, precisely because it is counsel, is up to each of us as individuals.”

The Word of Wisdom prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea are seen as binding upon all members of our Church and a prerequisite to receiving the Church’s ordinances (sacraments). The counsel part of the revelation is not considered binding in the same way—members are encouraged to figure out for themselves how to best live those parts. “In the Church, we refer to this as living according to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to each of us, or in this instance, living according to the spirit of the Word of Wisdom” (again from FairMormon).


  1. I love to read the experience others are having as the Lord leads them to a healthier diet in answer to their prayers, whether they are praying for physical or spiritual health. Obviously, diet is not the only important factor in our well-being, but it is one very useful part of what we can do. Thanks for sharing your story, Josh!

  2. Josh, I really enjoyed reading which you submitted to Jane. I admire how you began to search the scriptures to find out how the Lord wants us to eat and then when you were led by His spirit to discover that the Lord had revealed His word on eating the right way in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants in that part where he provides us with various things we must do to remain healthy and live longer, that evidently really firmed up your resolve to eat the way the Lord advises instead of the way the “World” advises. I am in my fifth year of eating strictly by that which the Lord advises us to eat, and I never have been sick during that time and I have lots of energy to exercise very vigorously six times each week on some exercise equipment made available to residents of our community by our local Recreation Center for a modest monthly fee. Thanks for sharing what you did with the rest of us. I know the Lord will continue to bless you and your very special family.

  3. I love your story! I have been studying this and am trying to switch over to a plant based diet. My question for you would be how do I get my family on board? My husband loves his meat and potatoes. My step kids are super addicted to sugar and understand healthy foods, but then they go to their Mom’s and eat a lot of sugar. I am outnumbered and don’t want to cook two meals. I don’t want to force anyone, but how can I help them to see the benefits?

    • Mindi: So glad you want to give this way of eating a go! You can talk with your family and see if they’d like to join you on this adventure. Watch Forks Over Knives together as a family. Read D&C 89, but don’t give them any pressure at all! Let them decide if and how much they want to join you. If you do it together, great. If you do it alone, great also. Concentrate on getting this down yourself if you are doing it yourself. Don’t worry about them at first (or at all; this is their decision unless you have very small children). Make meals where they can easily add meat, cheese, butter to their part of the meal. You may want to join the Facebook group to get more support from other mothers: Discovering the Word of Wisdom Support Group

      • You might try the book, Kitchen Divided – vegan dishes for semi-vegan households by Ellen Jaffe Jones for inspiration. The forward was written by Neal Barnard, M.D.

  4. Thank you so much for this essay. I used to read scriptures to my children during dessert, when they were small. It kept them sitting still long enough to get a chapter read. I do so wish I had taken my vegetarian ways all the way to vegan during that time instead of being convinced by the doctor that I needed to add beef back in for the iron. Some of my children and I were iron deficient. Adding it back in simply gave me high cholesterol, constipation, and a fat body. Too late did I realize that meat along with the dairy and eggs we ate in excess were detrimental in such a terrible way. My children gained a taste for them. I’m so happy for your children that you learned the whole truth in their early childhood so that you and they might gain healthy bodies. Health is so rare in our gluttonous, excessive culture.

  5. Ginger, about six months ago the people at Red Cross where I regularly donate blood told me that I needed to increase my intake of iron. They didn’t tell me how to do that but with counsel from my wife’s son from her previous marriage I began taking iron pills which could be bought at the drug store. I began doing that and after several weeks I switched to a lower dose of iron because I had been advised that the dose I had been taking was too strong.

    Since then the Red Cross people have been very happy with my blood and I am feeling very well while using the slightly lower dosage I was advised to use. Best wishes as you work on resolving your problem. By the way, I eat according to what is told us in D&C. Section 89 verses, 10 through 21 and I am very healthy and am sure I’ll continue to be as I eat the way I have been eating for almost five years. Best wishes to you!

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