Spiritual Nutrition

The following is a talk I gave in sacrament meeting today.

Spiritual Nourishment

Today I will be speaking about spiritual nourishment, and I'll be drawing on President Faust's talk from October 2006[1] for inspiration.

In his talk he shared a number of stories of people that found important spiritual nutrients as they followed the teachings of the Savior. Some of the nutrients he focused on were faith, repentance, building a testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and selfless service.

Today instead of focusing on a prescribed list of things that we ought to do nourish our spirits, I want to look at some principles that I have found helpful for me in my own nutritional research[2] that I think might be applicable to spiritual metabolism as well. I hope they will help you as you pick out the spiritual food you most need right now in your life.

Filled But Not Nourished

President Packer once related a story that illustrated an important difference between eating and being nourished.

"He talked about a severe winter in Utah when the snow was excessive and had driven the deer herds down very low into some of the valleys. Some of them were trapped by fences and circumstances as they were taken out of their natural habitat, and well-meaning, perfectly responsive, capable agencies tried to respond by feeding those deer to get them through the crisis of the winter. They brought in hay and dumped it everywhere; it was about as good as they could do under the circumstances. Later an immense number of those deer were found dead. The people who handled those animals afterward said that their stomachs were full of hay, but they had starved to death. They had been fed, but they had not been nourished." [3] [4]

There are lots of things that we can do to fill our time that will not nourish our spirit.

Just as the Word of Wisdom councils that there are things that "are not for the body, neither for the belly" there are things that are not for the spirit neither for the mind and we ought to strive to rid them from our lives: being dishonest, selfish, lustful, greedy, prideful etc. Likewise there are things that we ought to do only sparingly, and it is probably pleasing unto the Lord that they should not be done. For me that'd probably be playing Minecraft [5].

I think we are all aware of the things that we ought never do, and the things that we should only occasionally do. I think the much harder question comes when we have to prioritize and balance all the things that we need to do. It's easy for me to be occupied in my life doing things that are okay, or even good. I need to work to provide for my family, and I don't think that God would want me to quit work so I could discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day[6]. But I do think he wants us to make sure that we are taking time each day to prioritize our spiritual nourishment and focus on Christ. Working, cooking, eating, sleeping are all things that need to be done, but unless we find ways to supplement that with a prayer always in our hearts, scripture study, or acting in Christ-like love through selfless service, then it's easy for us to find ourselves ending up like those deer, filling our time, but not nourishing our spirits.

The Hospital Principle

A couple years ago my wife and I found ourselves spending a week in the hospital, while we were there, we enjoyed taking advantage of the room service. The food was pretty good considering it was hospital food, but it wasn't the quality that impressed me; it was the variety. Each individual portion was not very exciting: one simple entree, a couple of sides and even a small dessert. All of them were individually not big, or fancy, but together they made a fulfilling meal. Each meal hit most of the food groups and ended with us feeling satisfied.

We learned:

  • Simple sides can come together to make a complex whole.
  • For us, multiple smaller portions of various things felt more satisfying than one large portion of a single thing.
  • We could still have dessert with every meal and still be healthy if it is a reasonable amount.

All of these lessons we have encapsulated into the term "The Hospital Principle," and I think that this nutritional principle can be applied to spiritual nutrition as well.

There are a lot of nutrients that make up the spiritual food guide pyramid:

  • Prayer
  • Scripture study
  • Temple service
  • Church attendance
  • Family history
  • Service
  • Missionary work
  • Magnifying our callings
  • Listening to and reviewing General Conference
  • Developing Christ like attributes
  • Seeking spiritual gift
  • Helping our family learn and live the gospel
  • etc

And then we still have to find time to work, run the household, and keep the children alive. And what about dessert?! When am I supposed to have time to play Minecraft, or watch a movie, or work on a hobby?

Instead of trying to figure out one big fancy service project or an elaborate scripture study routine, it would be better, I think, to just take a little time each day to read the scriptures even if it's just a few minutes, then a little family history on Sunday, paired with a movie night for a family home evening activity. That seems like it has the beginnings of a fulfilling spiritual diet! It doesn't have to be everything all at once. Or one thing at the cost of all the others. A nice, measured approach with small simple portions of spiritual food, may help to leave you feeling more satisfied.

The More We Eat the More We Crave

There is some research suggesting that the composition of bacteria in your gut, known as the gut microbiome, can influence your food cravings and preferences. Certain bacteria can thrive on specific types of food, and when they do, they may send signals to your brain that make you crave more of those foods. This connection between the gut microbiome and cravings is an active area of study in the field of nutrition and microbiology.

I know very little about this, just what I have heard in the past and what I have gathered during the little bit of research for this talk. It seems like it's still a pretty young and unproven theory, but I think there are some helpful metaphors we can make anyways.

In terms of literal nutrition some of the possible takeaways are

  • Eat a diverse diet: Consuming a wide variety of foods can promote a diverse gut microbiome. Different bacteria thrive on different types of nutrients, so diverse food choices can encourage a more balanced microbiome.
  • Take advantage of Probiotics: There are live beneficial bacteria found in foods like yogurt, kefir, and certain supplements. They can introduce specific strains of good bacteria into your gut.
  • Avoid Overconsumption of Sugars and Processed Foods: High-sugar and highly processed foods can lead to an overgrowth of less desirable gut bacteria. Reducing your intake of these foods may help shift your cravings towards healthier options.
  • Gradual Changes: Changing your diet and cravings is typically a gradual process. Give your body and gut microbiome time to adapt to new dietary patterns.
  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you're struggling with significant cravings or dietary changes, consider consulting a registered dietitian or healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs and health goals.

Some possible spiritual parallels could be:

  • Be anxiously engaged in good things: This is part of the Hospital Principle. Don't worry so much about being perfect at everything but make sure you are trying to get a little bit of a lot of stuff.
  • Take advantage of spirit packed activities: Praying, repenting, renewing our covenants with God by partaking of the sacrament, are all great things to invite Christ into our lives. They are great spiritual probiotics that make sure our spiritual microbiome is flourishing!
  • Avoid Overconsumption of time wasters: Mind dulling activities can lead to decreased spiritual sensitivity and can cause you to continue to crave those mindless activities.
  • Gradual Changes: Changing your spiritual cravings is typically a gradual process. Focus on making small sustainable changes instead of trying to change everything all at once.
  • Consult a Spiritual Professional: The best consultant you can get for matters of the spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself. If you're struggling with spiritual changes, consider praying to God and seeking the guidance of the Spirit to figure out what the next best move is for you. The Lord has prepared many people to help out as well. Family, friends, leaders, and ministers.

Over time as you make those small changes to your diet your cravings change.

I've never had the displeasure of seeing inside someone's stomach much less had the ability to see or understand the whims of microbes, but I know that when I'm eating bad food, I want to keep eating it and it takes a few days of intentionally gnawing on carrots before I really start to enjoy carrots again.

I have seen the same things in my life with other things. The more I play video games the more I want to keep playing. After a while it's a chore to pick up a book or switch to any other hobby.

With food, if I want to switch out sugar for carrots, then I have to cut out the sweets and start gnawing on carrots, there's no way around it. But on the flip side, once you start consuming better things then you start craving those better things. It might take a few days of compelling myself to read but soon enough I can't put the book down. I can't say that I have ever actually gotten to this point with carrot but I have had people swear up and down that after cutting out sweets from their diet they could really start to taste the natural sugars in carrots and that they started to be sweet for them, I don't know if I could or even want to get to that point with carrots, but apparently it's an option. Unfortunately, I don't think there's another way to become a person that eats spiritual or literal carrots all day long except by slowly and steadily going though that transition.

The most extreme version of this was on my mission. It was like doing a juice cleanse or a long fast. A few months in and all of a sudden General Conference was the most delicious thing and I couldn't get enough. I eagerly read all of the mission library and loved to spend as much time as I could reading the scripture. Like with carrots, I never really got super excited about knocking on doors, but I was more willing to do it then then I ever was before or since.

My wife told me about a Youtuber[7] who posts a lot of running and kayaking videos. He has a pretty strict diet that he sticks to. For one of his videos, he decided to try and eat like an average person. During the challenge he tried to continue to maintain his habit of running and he said something very impactful. He was noting how different he felt on the average person diet, and he said something to the effect of "all of a sudden I understand why people don't like running. If I felt like this every time I ran, I would also not run." I've accepted that I will likely never be disciplined enough to experience what he experienced firsthand, but it has often made me wonder about how big an impact the little things in our life make. I wonder if I was living a more disciplined life and was making sure that I was getting all the spiritual nutrients that I needed if slowly things would stop feeling like a chore and become more of a delight.

The Holy Ghost: Our Personal Nutritionist

Remember that the Jesus Christ is our ultimate example in all things. His life and teachings are the ultimate spiritual dietary guide. He has left us with the Holy Ghost so whenever we need we can get personal guidance as we try to become like Him.

Above all the "most important spiritual nutrient is a testimony that God is our Eternal Father, that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer, and that the Holy Ghost is our Comforter. This testimony is confirmed to us by the gift of the Holy Ghost. From this testimony we derive the spiritual nutrients of faith and trust in God, which bring forth the blessings of heaven." [1:1]

Without the Holy Ghost's impactful role in testifying of Jesus Christ we will never be able to get the full benefits of that spiritual nutrient.

The Holy Ghost does more than just provide us with a testimony. He also is the source of personal revelation and can act as a personal guide in our decisions. We are not left alone to figure out what we need to do next. If we humbly ask God what changes we need to make to our spiritual diet, he will prompt us through the Holy Ghost to know what attainable change we ought to make next. [8]

The Holy Ghost can also help protect us from spiritual harm. If we listen to His promptings, He can help us avoid wasting time on unimportant things, or getting involved in spiritually dangerous activities that could damage our spiritual health.

He is also the Comforter, so when we inevitably mess up, He can fill us with hope and help us overcome discouragement and keep going!

Feast Upon the Words of Christ

I would be remiss if I talked about spiritual food and didn't quote Nephi, "Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do."

We develop faith in Christ as we feast upon his words and as we nourish our spirit by following his commandments! The words of Christ will tell us all things that we should do and as we follow Him, we will be spiritually nourished and satisfied. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

  1. Here is President Faust's talk. It was in the priesthood session of the October 2006 conference ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. I am not a qualified nutritionist, dietitian, or healthcare professional. The information and perspectives shared in this blog post are based solely on my personal experiences, research, and observations. They should not be considered as professional medical or nutritional advice. Nutrition is a complex and highly individualized subject, and what works for one person may not work for another. Before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle, it is essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider or nutritionist who can assess your unique needs and provide personalized guidance. ↩︎

  3. Liahona June 2007 Teaching and Learning in the Church ↩︎

  4. I was curious about the validity of the story, so I did some research. I got conflicting answers about whether or not the story was true or even plausible, would deer actually die if they only ate hay? Yes, no, maybe? I heard it all. The best commentary on the story I heard came from Chat GPT who reminded me that regardless of the accuracy of the story the point is that it's a metaphor. So if you want a scenario that we can all agree will result in being filled with food but not nourished, we can just switch the deer and hay out for kids and candy. So imagine one winter a group of kids got trapped in a ravine and the locals decided to help get the kids through the winter by bringing in truck load of candy... Yeah... actually... lets stick with the deer metaphor. ↩︎

  5. I'm not saying video games are bad. The strongest argument I might make is that they are bad for me, but even then, I think they can be okay. I just have a hard time doing it in moderation, such that I find it easier to avoid it all together. ↩︎

  6. But I think we call all agree with Tevye that that would be the sweetest thing of all ↩︎

  7. I couldn't figure out which video it came from, but I'm pretty sure it was something from Beau Miles. Consequently that quote is likely nowhere near what he actually said... but that is the idea that has stuck in my mind all this time. ↩︎

  8. October 2015 General Conference. Elder Larry R Lawrence What Lack I Yet? ↩︎


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