Faith without workouts

I don’t know how many people actually subscribe to church magazines anymore, now that they’re all available on the internet for free, and if people don’t have actual physical copies of the church magazines coming to their homes anymore, I wonder how many people actually read anything in the church magazines. The only people I know who actually read church magazines are the people who post about how horrible this month’s Ensign (or Friend or New Era) is, and I kind of wonder if most of them aren’t just hate-reading the church magazines.

I found out through the evil of social media that August’s New Era is “The Body Issue” and it talks about stuff like the Word of Wisdom and other body-related issues. I haven’t had time to peruse the whole thing, but I did read this article that was being hate-promoted on Twitter last week: “What I Learned from Having to Lose Weight for My Mission.” 

The author’s story is that she was initially devastated when her mission application was denied because of her weight, but as she felt strongly that her service was needed, she committed to doing whatever it took to be eligible for a mission. As she developed healthier eating and exercise habits, she noticed a change in her spiritual life as well. “I became more confident and self-aware as I developed into the person Heavenly Father wanted me to be.” Through prayer and a renewed focus on the sacrament, she drew strength from the Savior as she strove to reach her fitness goals.

This paragraph in particular gave me pause:

The gospel teaches us that our bodies and our spirits are one, but until this experience, I had never thought about how directly the health of my body could affect the health of my spirit. As I thought about my body as a temple, this connection between body and spirit began to make more sense. I knew that one reason we keep the temple so clean and beautiful is because it helps the Spirit to be there. So it makes sense that as I began to eat healthy and exercise more, I began to feel the Spirit even more.

She goes on to say as she put her trust in the Lord, she learned she could “turn to Him for help with any trial or hardship I might face.” I believe this is the primary message the author wished to convey, so I want to approach the aforementioned pause-giving paragraph with charity, but the idea that the health of your body affects the health of your spirit is, for want of a less-trendy word, problematic.

I don’t know what the weight guidelines are for missions, and even if I did, I would have no idea what they meant. I don’t know enough about diet and fitness to criticize the church’s rules on that front. I’m assuming that the author of the New Era piece actually did need to lose weight and that doing so improved her quality of life. But I imagine it was her humility and faith, rather than the renovation of her “temple,” that increased her ability to feel the Spirit. And honestly, I’m almost positive that is what she meant to say. The only problem is that it isn’t exactly what she said. What she said was “it makes sense that as I began to eat healthy and exercise more, I began to feel the Spirit even more.”

First of all, some people suffer from ill health and remain spiritually sensitive, while some people enjoy good health and have difficulty feeling the Spirit, so actually (ACKSHUALLY), it makes sense that our ability to feel the Spirit is independent of the state of our bodies. Second, I’m not a fan of anything that suggests there’s a checklist for feeling the Spirit. I mean, I used to believe that people had to meet a certain threshold of righteousness in order to be able to receive personal revelation because a) that was exactly what the church had always taught me, and b) it certainly explained my lack of abundant personal revelation. But further life experience has convinced me that while the Spirit may not speak to me often, when it does, it isn’t necessarily because I’ve done anything to be “worthy” of it. In fact, on some occasions I have definitely done things to be “unworthy” of it, and yet the Spirit still came. Why would it do that? Well, I think it’s because the Spirit is a grown-up personage and does what it wants. I’m not clear on all the ins and outs of what and how and why the Spirit does what it does, but I do know that if Jesus himself appeared to Saul and an angel appeared to Alma the Younger, the Spirit probably does not require first-rate accommodations in order to hang out with you.

People often speak of “inviting” the spirit, which I do believe in. I mean, I hope that one can seek a communion with God, or most of us are just screwed. I just think that our success is more a matter of purifying our (metaphorical) hearts than following a particular code. In my ward’s Gospel Doctrine class, the teacher asked why members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems uncomfortable with relying too much on grace, and someone said it was because grace seemed too easy. I don’t actually think that it is. I myself am not a particularly “spiritual” person. I find it much easier to obey a commandment than to pray. People scoff at the notion you can just confess Jesus as your Savior and be good to go, but I’m not convinced that “inviting Jesus into your heart” is as simple as it sounds.

I recently read The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (a Catholic priest and theologian, for those of you who, like me, aren’t particularly well-versed in theologians). Nouwen compares the voice of God to the voices of what we might call “the world”:

These voices say, “Go out and prove that you are worth something.” Soon after Jesus had heard the voice calling him the Beloved, he was led to the desert to heart those other voices. They told him to prove that he was worth love in being successful, popular, and powerful. Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me. … They suggest that I am not going to be loved without my having earned it through determined efforts and hard work. … They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift.”

In our tradition, I suppose, there is a difference between God’s unconditional love, which is just a fact of life apart from the existence of Holy Ghost, which is (theoretically) not always accessible. But for the purposes of this conversation, I don’t know that it’s a meaningful difference. How else do we feel God’s love except by the Spirit? It isn’t that you can’t do anything to invite the Spirit or to draw nearer to God—drawing nearer to God is the whole theme of Nouwen’s book—but to draw a straight line between health (improved by diet and exercise) and spiritual sensitivity (increased by improved health) implies that the Holy Ghost, and by extension, God himself, prefers some kinds of bodies to others. Which is weird, number one, but also, probably not true.

Again, I don’t think this is the message the author intended to send. She just wanted to tell an inspiring story about something good that happened in her life, for crap’s sake! When I consider the author’s intentions, I do feel somewhat churlish for criticizing. I believe that she grew stronger spiritually as she grew stronger physically; I just don’t believe they’re related, and I think the article is framed in such a way to suggest they are, and that’s uncool. Given that teenagers are known to have a lot of anxiety about their bodies and are especially vulnerable to voices telling them they’re not good enough as they are, maybe an article about someone losing weight to “become a better version” of herself—the person God wanted her to be—is not the best strategy for convincing our youth of their Divine Nature and Individual Worth. It’s so close to saying that God loves us, but he loves us just that much more when we eat at least five servings of vegetables (or refrain from smoking or drinking coffee). I mean, it does fit with the theme of the Body Issue. But did we really need this Body Issue?


  1. michnellelurv says:

    I had gastric bypass and when I was able to go back to church, one of the councilors noted that my “spirit looked lighter.” Which was the truth with how much other baggage I was carrying along with the weight. I struggle with weight all my life, on my mission I lost a lot, and there is a truth to it, but now heavier again I feel sluggish with the spiritual aspect of my life. I am working on my weight and spirituality hoping that hand and hand I can start to get healthy again.

  2. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of downloading the Ensign each month and reading the PDF on the bus. I haven’t been able to do that yet for August. Apparently some process broke and the church hasn’t fixed it yet.

  3. Amy O'keefe says:

    I really appreciate your thoughtful approach to this. I hate body-shaming and the idea that the message “God wanted a skinnier me and was pleased when I gave that to Him” is super icky. But I want to push back against the idea that our physical and spiritual beings are NOT related. I think they are, but in a more complicated way than a directly proportional health-spirituality algorithm. But I’m having a really hard time articulating my thoughts on this, which may mean I’m about to learn that I’m totally wrong.

    I think it’s just really important to say that fat does not equal unhealthy. It CAN be paired with unhealthiness, and it sounds like for this person there were ways in which she was unhealthy and improved that (which brought, it sounds like, weight loss). But people can be fat and very healthy, or fat and unhealthy in ways unrelated to their weight, and I think unfortunately this article has reinforced a false link between skinny and healthy, a link that has done and continues to do so much damage.

    Maybe health and spirituality are linked but in a totally relativistic way. Like, the divine stewardship kind of way, where God accepts whatever we are able to give, and so giving *something* to and for our bodies builds our spirituality. If we are doing *something* to try to take care of our bodies, feeling love and gratitude for them, that seems like it would naturally be linked to mental and emotional health and spiritual health. If we are seeking to increase our appreciation for our bodies, trying to build our bodies’ abilities, or working to care for our bodies in healthy ways, surely that shows a respect and love for ourselves as human beings that is pleasing to God and that can connect us in a spiritual way to all people, in all bodies, who are all worthy of love and care and growth.

  4. Ryan Mullen says:

    I suspect that one purpose of this article was to let teens know there are weight requirements to serve a mission—and to do so with positive framing—rather than let them be blindsided when filling out papers.

  5. jaxjensen says:

    I”m a 300 lbs guy due to Army injuries severely limiting my mobility. I’m fat. My go to phrase when somebody asks “how are you?” is “Fat and ugly, how are you?”

    I don’t think the shared phrases from the Ensign article are “icky” at all. I think that I’d definitely feel better in all aspects, including spiritually, if I wasn’t personally affecting the gravity of this planet. As a fat man, I think the rule is fat = unhealthy. I know there are exceptions. I don’t care if people think this is “fat shaming”. I’m ashamed to be fat, and think almost all other fat people should be ashamed of it too. I’d be ashamed if I let a million dollar Ferrari get ruined by neglect and lack of proper maintenance, and I think bodies are far more valuable and important than sports cars.

    I don’t think my salvation hinges on being thin though, nor anybody elses. In the same way that life is easier if you have money, life is easier if you are healthy (not necessarily thin, because you can be thin and unhealthy). I think we ought to seek happiness and the ability to do lots of good for others… and being unhealthy makes those much harder; so, I think that being not-fat helps you spiritually be happier and do more good for others.

    When I got injured I had a church leader council me to find out as much about my body/injury as possible to help mitigate the pains. He reasoned that if we are to one day be expected to create bodies, then at some point we will have to learn the fine details about how they operate and how to care for them… so why not do it now. This seemed like sound logic to me… and knowing how to keep a body in optimum (or close) condition, seems like a good and worthy goal on a spiritual level… so do it with your own if possible.

    Again. I have failed at this. I hope you all do better and I!

  6. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    As someone who lives with chronic pain 24/7/365 when I read stories like this I have to bite my tongue hard not to scream loudly. In our church there seems to be a need among many members to give unwanted and often just plain wrong/stupid advice to people who struggle with bodily and/or mental health challenges. When people tell me that I need to pray more, read the scriptures more, have more faith, use natural oils, the latest supplement being pedaled by ward members involved in MLMs, etc. in order to be healed I always ask them how they know that I’m not already doing this to the very best of my ability (except for the oils and supplements!). One individual actually posited my genetically inherited condition (from both parents, no less!) is a punishment for sin committed in the pre-existence. Another told me that I “chose” this condition before I came to Earth! What I can’t seem to get through to all but a very few people in my ward is that while I would give anything within reason to have the pain permanently vanish I have been blessed with the companionship of the Holy Spirit, have come to feel the love of our Father and His Son more than ever and have benefited from frequent Priesthood blessings. They have also given me a unique perspective on life and patience that I’d have missed out on if I’d been blessed with perfect health. The idea that you have to have glowing health, weigh a certain amount, and be mentally healthy in order to feel the Spirit is hogwash pure and simple.

  7. Saying that if you improve your physical health through following a discipline you may reap spiritual blessings is not the same as saying if you are in poor physical health you can’t receive spiritual gifts.

  8. Our bodies deserve care and tenderness. I think our soul is happier when our bodies receive that. BUT we have to be soooooooooo careful to distinguish this from body obsession (positive or negative) and to watch out for ableist tropes about physical health = spiritual health. What made me deeply uncomfortable with this article was the uncritical parroting of ableist tropes. Those do real damage and cause lots of pain for lots of people—people who we should be especially tender to.

  9. I believe we do need a body issue in order to clearly teach doctrine regarding the body and its place as part of our eternal soul.
    I attended a fireside once where the speaker pointed out that life as an intelligence, while we know basically nothing about it, seems to be about the mind. Once born as spirit children, we needed to learn to control that spirit. Mortality adds flesh and is therefore, primarily about learning to control that flesh and integrate it with the mind and spirit. To teach us truths about the body is part of the gospel.
    Unfortunately, overweight is a challenge of the developed world. We are choosing badly what to eat and what physical activity to avoid. Our unhappiness with our bodies because of these choices is affecting our spiritual progress. To encourage us through direct teaching and through story examples is appropriate. Of course, any story is subject to out interpretative lens. But I do know people who have lost large amounts of weight through education, discipline and prayer and they also report great spiritual growth. Perhaps the growth of the spirit comes from dropping self-loathing behaviors. Perhaps it comes from not being distracted by not feeling well. Perhaps it comes from the self-love that a correct understanding brings to us.

  10. implies that the Holy Ghost, and by extension, God himself, prefers some kinds of bodies to others.

    I think this is a real problem; certainly the past couple centuries in Europe and North America have provided enough negative examples of what happens when people start assuming God is on their side when it comes to sorting the sheep from the goats that a pause is warranted before forging ahead with one’s own theories, even if limited to personal experience, etc.

    Also, the last couple of centuries have given us Muscular Christianity (you will never think the same about the local YMCA gym again!), so ideas like the one promoted in the article above aren’t exactly new: “Muscular Christianity has continued through organizations that combine physical and Christian spiritual development.”

  11. The article doesn’t say that as she lost weight she felt the spirit more. It says that as she ate better and exercised more she felt the spirit more. I have found that to be the same in my life. Healthy behaviors aren’t a magic bullet by any means but they clear my head and reduce my anxieties and allow me to be incrementally more open to the spirit.

    Our bodies are the first stewardship we received in this life and it makes sense to me that improving our stewardship would have a spiritual impact. None of which says that God prefers a certain kind of body type. Nor does it say this is like flipping a switch from unworthiness to worthiness. But the idea that nourishing the body nourishes the whole soul seems very right to me.

  12. WeightWatchers says:

    The article includes a picture of the young woman. She still looks overweight. They might have included the picture to show that the weight requirements are reasonable given the circumstances.

  13. Isn’t this just “Mens sana in corpore sano” with a spiritual twist? The line is as old as Juvenal, and has been cited by modern thinkers from John Locke onward.

  14. The church got it working again and you can download the August Ensign as a PDF now.
    My wife told me the story of one time when she found her mom at church, crying in the hallway. She asked her what was wrong and her mom said it was the lesson being taught which upset her. The teacher mentioned a quote from Joseph Smith about progression post-resurrection and how everything isn’t instantly perfected; there is still progression and work to do. She was crying because she had let herself get as overweight as she had, with the reassurance that she was going to get a perfect body in the resurrection, so why put much effort into this temporal one? And the thought that perhaps having a perfect body required effort, really upset her.
    So yes, having an issue about this tabernacle of flesh that we’re all in, and are supposed to take care of, does sound appropriate.

  15. “the Spirit is a grown-up personage and does what it wants. I’m not clear on all the ins and outs of what and how and why the Spirit does what it does, but I do know that if Jesus himself appeared to Saul and an angel appeared to Alma the Younger, the Spirit probably does not require first-rate accommodations in order to hang out with you.”

    I am going to need this cross-stitched on a pillow. A really big pillow.

  16. You raise some good questions here. I appreciate your charitable reading of this article even though you do seem to criticize the author for (unkowingly?) suggesting that it’s possible in a sense for the Spirit to body shame. Personally I don’t believe that. But you also raise the question of when or how is it OK for someone to share their lived experience publicly and interpret it as a personal victory without it coming off as a brag, especially if they believe their faith and work led to it. Whenever someone shares gratitude for some blessing they’ve received there will always be people in their audience who would long for the same blessing but have not received it.

  17. From hate-promoted on Twitter to hate-promoted on BCC?

    I don’t know, I’m kind of with some of the commenters on this one. This article appeared to be all about health and wellness, spiritual and physical, all of which are good things. Right there in the third paragraph she wrote, “I had a solid plan of action. I learned as much as I could about nutrition and exercise and, after setting some goals, I was ready to get started. I felt so much love and support from my Heavenly Father.” Education, plan of action, trust in God, nothing wrong there. And nothing in the entire article about appearance, fashion, or moral judgements. Solid.

    The problem the OP seems to have with it is the idea of physical and spiritual health being related. Well, they probably are related. The individual examples that are called out as exceptions in the article and other comments above are just that. There might not be exact one-to-one connections in all cases, but in general our physical choices *do* affect our spiritual outcomes. That is clear in so many other areas of life and the gospel, it ought to be clear in the area of our bodies, too.

    The opening post tries to make the argument that the article is about God’s love and therefore individual worth. But that’s a bit too much of an extrapolation, and not at all what the article said (in other words, a straw man argument). If anything, the message is about God’s spiritual blessings, which are conditional on our physical choices, and always have been.

    Encouraging youth (and adults for that matter) to treat their bodies with respect and make good choices, including food choices, is a good thing. And showing youth (and adults for that matter) that to get what you want, even a mission call, you might need to put in a little effort, and that it might vary from person to person, is also a good thing.

  18. Billy Possum says:

    Wayfaring Stranger – I’m sorry for your pain (both of the types you describe).

    Good health, swoletude, or whatever is neither necessary (e.g. leppers) nor sufficient (e.g., centurions) for experience with the Spirit. But they are not unrelated. An extremely ill person, or a person with a severe emotional disorder, or someone in severe pain will likely find their spiritual life altered negatively by their biological life (assuming, contrary to what we really believe, that those are even different lives at all). Clearly, at least our brains are involved in our mental decsionmaking, and our bodies affect our brains. This, of course, does not imply that our bodies control, or determine, our mental or spiritual states.

    This is one of the reasons the Church works to alleviate physical suffering. It’s harder to have a fulfilling spiritual experience when you’re brain and emotions are focused on, say, the starvation you’re experiencing. Presumably, ill effects from obesity cause the same phenomenon.

  19. nobody, really says:

    I’d still like to know when I’m supposed to get a workout in with all the church meetings I have. It’s Thursday morning, and I’ve just been informed that my Saturday will now be devoted to over five hours of meetings with an area president ninety minutes away.

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    Consider that D&C 89 suggests that there is a direct connection between physical and spiritual health, even promising “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” as well as protection from the “destroying angel” for all who endeavor to observe a healthy lifestyle. (This spirit of the original WoW is quite different from the contemporary version, which is more heavy on prohibitions and boundary maintenance, as has been discussed on BCC earlier this week).
    I don’t see anything too controversial about the original article, and I would congratulate her on achieving a meaningful personal goal. Long-term weight loss requires one to cultivate self-discipline, which is an end in itself.
    I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting that fit people are “more righteous” or that obese people are “spiritually weak”, because lived experience tells me this is completely false, and no such correlation exists. There can be noticeable benefits, both tangible and intangible, from living a healthy lifestyle, but there are also factors outside of our control that can make some weight loss goals or body types unattainable. I suppose it’s different for each person.

  21. east of the mississippi says:

    I hear ya nobody… I’ve got one of those as well in a few weeks on a Saturday, 3 hours driving each way for the same kind of meeting.

  22. At risk of derailing the OP. Weight guidelines (height in feet and inches / max weight in lbs). The letter to sp’s and bishops says this has been the policy since 2003 and also you can exceed the weight if you can demonstrate stamina and physical capacity through athletic activity:

    4-10: 177 lbs
    4-11: 183
    5-0: 189
    5-1: 195
    5-2: 202
    5-3: 208
    5-4: 215
    5-5: 222
    5-6: 229
    5-7: 236
    5-8: 243
    5-9: 250
    5-10: 257
    5-11: 265
    6-0: 272
    6-1: 280
    6-2: 287
    6-3: 295
    6-4: 304
    6-5: 312
    6-6: 320

  23. I tend to think that weight guidelines may be a good thing and potentially helpful to a prospective missionary if done respectfully and carefully. I walked a crap-ton on my mission in Central America; many missions can be physically demanding enough that weight alone could cause someone to leave a mission. That being said, body shaming is mean and counter productive and I hope it’s not happening during the missionary preparation process.

    On a related note, my daughter is preparing to serve a mission. She has a jaw / chewing issue that prevents her from leaving. Extremely frustrating, but in my view understandable. If there is a health issue that prevents service I tend to think that it should be resolved prior to a mission or the missionary kept in his/her home country where medical care can be obtained. Tying to the OP – nobody is saying my daughter can’t feel the spirit or body shaming her because she can’t chew properly – but in contrast overweight people are often disrespected.

  24. Very interesting post! I’ll admit that one of the turning points of my life was after my senior year of high school and getting drunk one night with my friends (none of whom were LDS). One of my friends and I took off walking around town during the night discussing God and I remember feeling so good hearing his experience with God and sharing my experiences earlier in life with the Spirit. So dare I say – I felt the spirit drunk? Blasphemy you might say. Well, that was my experience and it led to me looking to seek after that feeling more (without alcohol), which led to a mission and other positive experiences. I’ve always felt like alcohol wasn’t really a bad thing in that it provided a needed experience for me to really feel my feelings deeply and resulted in a positive change in my life in the end.

  25. There are doctrinal tropes that we slide into without thinking much about them. There’s a trope that says obedience always brings blessings. There’s a trope that says poor health or other physical adversity brings humility and sensitivity to the Spirit. There’s a trope that says good health practices naturally lead to spiritual sensitivity.

    We tend to draw on tropes like these when they are convenient for a situation that seems to demand an explanation. They are clichés that serve as the moral of the story. There’s a useful place for this kind of thing, especially where superficial expressions of sympathy and support are the most appropriate response to problems. That kind of support is sometimes the best way to help people, especially when we need to express sympathy without unwelcome intimacy.

    On the other hand, these clichés don’t hold up to close scrutiny. It becomes a problem when we take them seriously as a simple guide to what life ought to be like. Real life is always more complicated. I like Kristine’s comment, and I like the OP passage that she highlights. The wind bloweth where it listeth.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this post. Anything that connects teenage spirituality with body image is going to be fraught, and I thought you handled it sensitively.

    I had quite forgotten we can get the Ensign through the Library app. I haven’t subscribed or even looked at an Ensign for many years.For a couple of decades after its founding in 197- it was an excellent religious magazine, but eventually they drained all the substance and it’s pretty useless now.

    I was going to say I was highly confident there was no mission weight limit when I served (77-79), so thanks to the poster who confirmed that started on 2003.

  27. I understand the point of being concerned about a young person (or anyone) assuming that weight loss is some kind of pre-requisite to spiritual enlightenment…and worse is the inevitable converse that fat folks can’t feel the spirit. Yikes.

    But, I think there’s a baby in that bathwater: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to recognize spirit-body connections. From a purely secular point of view, there’s tons of research to say that exercise affects mood, reduces stress, helps with anxiety, builds confidence and self-esteem and has many other positive effects on mental and emotional well-being. More anecdotally, it’s common to hear people talk about insights (for the non-religious) or answers to prayer/revelation (as a religious person might see it) coming on a long walk, in a period of reflection after climbing a mountain, in conjunction with an extended period in nature, etc.

    LDS theology is probably not unique in recognizing a body-spirit connection, but I think it is very cool that this is explicit in our doctrine. A premortal spiritual existence followed by union with a mortal body and eventual re-union in resurrection is of course a foundational idea, but there’s additional depth in scriptures like “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15, one of my favorites). Why is the body essential to spiritual progression (e.g., TPJS 181)? How might the well-being of the body affect the well-being of the spirit? Or, how might the well-being of the soul be linked to the package of physical, emotional, and spiritual health? Of course oversimplification to fit=spiritual, fat=unrighteous makes no sense, but I think there’s truth to the idea that mental, emotional, and physical well-being–broadly understood, and within the context of our individual circumstances–promote spiritual strength.

  28. Also, just for interest, it appears that Toad’s numbers all give a body-mass index (BMI) of 37. The CDC’s definition of “obese” is a BMI of 30, and “morbidly obese”–that is, obese enough to be in imminent danger of obesity-related diseases–is a BMI of 40 (or 35+ with complicating existing conditions). So the Church is not restricting missionary activity for young people who are a little overweight: I don’t know how they landed on 37, but for most people (excluding an offensive lineman who might almost literally be 280 lbs of pure muscle), it would not merely be difficult to carry out the ordinary activities of missionary work at this point–there would be serious risk to the person’s health. So there are probably both practical and liability considerations involved.

  29. I think working hard in order to go on a mission was what led to more spiritual feelings and it had nothing at all to do with her more healthy living. Our bodies may be a temple in that our spirit resides there, but I look at it more like our bodies are like our homes. A big, beautiful, fancy, professionally cleaned home——-kind of like our church’s temples, can be cold and unwelcoming, abusive, or it can be lovely, welcoming, and beautiful. While the small, messy home can warm and welcoming, or it can be chaotic, abusive, unhealthy, or even hazardous. It all depends on the people inside. In exactly the same way, our bodies can be in any state of health, beauty, size, or shape and how spiritual we are depends entirely on the spirit that lives there, not how we care for our bodies.

  30. It seems to me that her story may be more about
    -a desire to serve,
    -setting a goal and keeping it,
    -relying on God for help
    than about a receiving spiritual strength merely because of being physically healthier. But that’s just my opinion.

    Asking a missionary, who has already submitted papers, to lose weight at the last minute is a potentially very damaging thing. It hurts. We have youth who are willing to go and are worthy. Then we heap this upon them. I’m not sure it’s the best thing to do.

  31. This has my vote for best-titled post in recent memory.

  32. For the record, I do believe that ill health can be an impediment to feeling the Spirit, for the same reason that clinical depression can keep you from feeling the Spirit. If you’re experiencing starvation or chronic pain, is that going to affect your spirituality? Of course it is. But when the situation is something beyond our control, we’re expected to take a mind-over-matter approach and try to stay spiritually strong in spite of our physical weakness. When the situation is theoretically within our control–e.g. exercising and eating right–then it gets philosophically dicey. How much are we sabotaging our spirits by our physical choices? I don’t know.

    I do think the author’s story is inspiring in that she decided she was called to missionary service and relied on her faith in God to help her through the difficulty of meeting the weight requirement. I never suggested the weight requirement was unreasonable or that she shouldn’t have had to lose weight to serve a mission. I also believe that she grew spiritually stronger as she grew physically stronger, but I think her success in meeting her goals was due largely to her faith and determination and most importantly, the crucial point that losing the weight and serving a mission were God’s plan for her. I think her story is worth sharing. I just kind of wish it had been offered in a different context.

    And yes, I am guilty of hate-sharing this article here, even though I don’t really *hate* the article. This was really more like overly-concerned-sharing. Nevertheless, touche.

  33. It’s actually been difficult to put my finger on what exactly rubbed me the wrong way with this article, why my initial response was so viscerally negative that five days later I’m actually still motivated to write a blog post about it. (I do sometimes wonder what’s wrong with me.) On the one hand, I think there’s value in the author’s story. Initially she was devastated by the rejection, but she knew she was called to serve a mission, so she trusted that God would help her make that happen. I didn’t mean to imply that she tied her increased spirituality to her decreased weight, since she explicitly ties it to her healthier diet and exercise habits–which I still have a problem with, but maybe it’s too complicated to explain exactly why. I belong to the fake-it-’til-you-make-it school myself.

    I guess I do think people go overboard with health-consciousness, and it’s easy to be judgmental about things we don’t personally struggle with. It never occurred to me that women would feel judged by our community as less righteous because of their weight until other women told me about their experiences and the pressure the feel to match a certain image. (Personally, I’ve always felt judged for my lack of congeniality. God forbid they ever have a “What I Learned from Smiling More” article in the New Era.) Anyway, it’s not like God doesn’t care if we destroy our bodies. But I also think of Mark 15:11 – “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” It’s not very Mormony, is it?

  34. To the guys complaining about having their Saturday taken up by meetings:

    Here’s what you do. Man up. Use your agency. Tell (or don’t) whoever informed you about those meetings that you’ll be an hour late. Then go for a run. It’s your Saturday, and church is a voluntary organization that is less important than your family, your job, and your health. Or, if you don’t want to be late, spend 8 minutes doing two sets of Tabata. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

  35. It makes me happy when I see this byline. I also understand the problematic nuance in the OP, especially the difficulty of putting the right words to that gut-feeling of being shamed for your physical body, so common for female bodies, without shaming the young protagonist for her success at setting and meeting her health goal and beefing up her spiritual connection to God with that same action. Who wants to rain on that parade? Go her! But some people have physical or other complications, and are at their tipping point with advice to improve their body— paired with feeling the Spirit yet!— and the last thing we need is another dose of good advice/examples to emulate. Well done at tackling this topic, and it’s understandable that some people don’t fully get what you’re driving at.

    And then along comes Owen with the perfect object lesson to illustrate your point. Well done, indeed.

  36. Just A Girl says:

    To nobody really and Owen: “Man up” to unreasonable demands? How about … ” I value my time and will not be there, in the future I will need a few week’s notice. Could you please take notes and share the information with me later?”

  37. @Just a Girl, how is that not exactly what I said? Whether you tell them you can’t make it exactly when they want or ask them to fill you in on the content, the point is the same: no one at church is in charge of your time or at fault if you choose not to do what you need to for your health, whatever that means.

  38. Jared vdH says:

    I have been overweight since I was about 10 or so. I’m 5’6″ (1.68 m) and throughout high school weighed between 230 or 240 lbs. (104-108 kg). This was despite my freshman year of high school joining the water polo and swim teams and basically swimming for two and a half hours or so after school every week day. It was a smaller school and my coach was just glad to have someone there who wanted to be there, even though I was terrible. The fact that I also didn’t lose weight during those four years baffled him as he really worked me out hard to try to help me lose the weight. I also was in a tap dance group and practiced with them 2-3 times a week in the evenings.

    My freshman year of college, I gained the typical “freshman 15”. I submitted my mission papers in February 2003, just after the 2002 October “Raise the Bar” talk at General Conference. Weight being a factor in the mission application process was new and had not yet been really publicized at the time.

    I got my papers sent back for a couple different medical reasons, one of which was weight. I went back to my summer job as a lifeguard and swim instructor so I would get plenty of exercise and put myself on a 1000-1500 calorie diet. It still took me all summer to lose the 25 pounds I needed to lose to resubmit my papers.

    Once I was on my mission I regained the weight rather quickly despite being on a walking mission in NYC. In one area my companion and I woke up at 6am and went on a hour run every morning. He lost weight and I gained weight. Since then I’ve never been as low as I was when I entered the MTC. I’ve even thankfully found a wonderful woman who was willing to date and marry me despite my weight issues, though it took a while.

    To all of you above who insist that my weight must be a reflection of my spiritual state – thank you for looking at the outside appearance. I’m glad that the Lord looks upon the heart.

  39. Seeing the maximum weight restrictions puts it very clearly. I was a healthy weight when I was missionary age and would still have had problems keeping up with the work. But weighing an additional 120 pounds? No, I would not have been able to do the work.
    The weight restrictions would still allow me to be obese, extremely obese.
    I had a friend who wanted to serve but could not because of his weight. Our stake president, a well to do man, personally paid for him to see a physical trainer. He has keep the weight off for 20 years now and enjoys good health. So I see it as a call to rise to a better quality of life and isn’t that really what the gospel asks of each of us.

  40. Another Roy says:

    The following article is also featured in that same New Era issue:
    I loved it all but particularly loved the following:
    “Take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions. Regardless of what anyone else wears or does, you can decide to view them as a person, not an object. Respect others’ agency to make choices that are different from yours and treat them with dignity.”
    I wish that could sum up our entire approach to modesty.
    So yes, the New Era body issue was a mixed bag. I am happy for some steps that I feel are improvements on how we as a church body have done things in the past.

  41. Sidebottom says:

    It also seems weird talk about the spiritual benefits received from complying with insurance requirements (I assume the weight limit arises from some sort of liability discussion).

  42. Thank you for your point, Jared vdH. I don’t agree with the mission weight restrictions. (And I’m not sure God does either.) I’ve personally seen the policy hurt two people (not to mention their parents), and I don’t really believe it makes a difference in whether or not someone can serve faithfully.

  43. Just A Girl says:

    @ Owen – I agree fully with the agency. I don’t agree that anyone should feel obligated to attend any event without fair notice or at all if they feel it is an imposition. Regardless of the reason.

  44. I have a friend who joined Overeaters Anonymous in her late 40’s. She lost about 10p pounds and has kept it off. When someone asked her husband what had changed the most about her after the weight loss, he answered that she had become much more spiritual.
    I do not pretend to understand why, but this grabbing control of one area of her life allowed her to grow greatly in another.

  45. One of my biggest pet peeves about this religion is how much everyone tries to spin what others have said, all the ‘what she or he meant to say.’ I have to wonder why people aren’t saying what they mean or if it’s a case of others trying to make what was said palatable to them.

    In terms of the article, the idea that good health and feeling the spirit are highly correlated doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve known people who have been sick, dying, overweight, depressed, anxious, had late stage cancer…etc. who have felt the spirit and have been faithful servants till their dying breathe. And I’ve known perfectly healthy people who have claimed no spiritual connection. Moreover, highlighting these beliefs may have the unintended effect of pushing away people in poor health.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    Correlation is not causation, but I propose a general label for those who insist physical fitness and cognitive function are not correlated. How about………. “deniers”?

  47. it’s a series of tubes – cognitive function is not the same as spiritual awareness or sensitivity, which is what this OP and the article it was addressing was about.

  48. it's a series of tubes says:

    Did I say they were the same? But if you insist they are entirely decoupled, I’d say you’re, well, a denier.

  49. So what you are instead positing is that children and the mentally disabled/neuro-atypical who due to either their early stage of development or other physiological reason do not have the cognitive abilities of an average adult are likewise less able to be spiritually aware or sensitive since cognition and spiritual sensitivity are “coupled”?

    I guess we should let the church know that they should go ahead and cancel all of these For Strength of Youth conferences then.

  50. it's a series of tubes says:

    Sorry Jared, building up and then knocking down a strawman doesn’t move the needle.

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