Agency

This life is a school of decision-making.

The prophet Lehi taught his son Jacob that the reason we experience both good and evil is so that we can learn to choose the good:

Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

2 Nephi 2:16

The ability to make wrong choices and experience the consequences is a necessary part of the process of learning to make right choices. “If they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:39).

Being persuadable is also a necessary condition: “It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:39).

The opportunity to act independently can feel lonely at times. We may wish some of our decisions were easier to make or that someone else would make them for us. But our maturation into independently good beings depends on our learning to make independently good choices. As President Spencer W. Kimball taught:

The very first thing before beginning our world here, the Lord said, “I’m going to give you your free agency. I want men and women that are strong because it is right to be strong. I don’t want weaklings who are righteous only because they have to be righteous.”

Brisbane Area Conference 1976, 19, quoted in Dale G. Renlund, “Choose You This Day,” General Conference, October 2018

And God hasn’t left us entirely alone. “All things are given them which are expedient unto man,” Lehi said. One of the things we needed was knowledge: instructions about which choices are good to make. Speaking of Adam, the Lord said, “I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself.” Then, He added, “and I gave unto him commandment” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:35). Commandments empower us to choose; they do not eliminate our agency.

Another thing we needed was the ability to leave behind our wrong choices, to look to the future instead of being burdened by the past. The Savior suffered the effects of our wrong choices so that we could be free of them. “Because that they are redeemed from the fall,” Lehi said, “they have become free forever” (2 Nephi 2:26).

One of the lessons of life is that wrong choices can limit our freedom. We are “free to choose liberty and eternal life…or to choose captivity and death” (2 Nephi 2:27). Before this life began, Satan rebelled against God and turned “a third part of the hosts of heaven” away from Him “because of their agency” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36). Their choice had permanent consequences.

A critical part of learning to make good choices is accepting responsibility for them. Elder Spencer J. Condie told of a young woman who made a poor decision on the advice of a trusted family friend. When she later experienced the consequences of her unwise decision, Elder Condie asked how she felt about this man. She replied, “I still admire and respect him as a valued friend. The mistake in judgment was mine. I went to him for a decision which I should have made. In essence, I handed him my agency when I should have accepted the responsibility myself” (“Agency: The Gift of Choices,” Ensign, September 1995).

Samuel the Lamanite reminded the Nephites in the city of Zarahemla that, because of their agency, they were accountable for their choices:

Whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

Helaman 14:30

Today, I will be grateful for the gift of agency. I will remember that my Heavenly Father wants me to follow His guidance, to learn from my mistakes, and to take responsibility for my own decisions, in order to learn to choose wisely.

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