Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Agency

This is a talk I gave today in sacrament meeting on agency. Zach wanted me to put it up, so I let him (This is really Zach!):

Most simply put agency is the freedom to choose between good and evil. In Moses we read that God told Adam and Eve, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.” Agency is the power to act for yourself, to make decisions that affect your life’s course.

We had this magnificent gift of Agency before we ever came to earth in the pre-mortal life. Satan said he would bring all of us back to our father’s presence, but he would have taken away our agency. He would have forced us to be obedient. When his offer was rejected, he rebelled and was cast out of heaven with his followers. Think of your gut reaction to the words “freedom” and “choice”; now reflect on your feelings about the word “force”. We are happier doing things when we have made our own choices.

We all used our agency in heaven to follow Christ and come to earth to obtain a body and be tested. One purpose of earth life is to show what choices we will make. In Abr.3:21 Jesus Christ says to Heavenly Father, “We will prove them (meaning us) herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” If we were forced to choose the right like Satan wanted, we would not be able to show to God or ourselves what our choices would be.

I would like to discuss three principals relating to agency.

1. Agency is not free. Our power to choose and make mistakes was paid for by the Savior.

2. We cannot control the agency of others

3. Using agency wisely creates freedom, it does not limit it.

Principal 1: Agency is not free

“Free agency” is a misnomer. Rather it should be called paid agency, either you have to pay or let Christ pay. As Lehi says in 2 Ne. 2:26-27, “And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall.” He goes on to say, “And because that they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men, (in other words, by following Jesus Christ) or to choose captivity and death (by following Satan).

The mistakes we make, or sins we commit, using our agency must be paid for. I’d like to compare it to an agency credit card where the balance must always be paid. Satan’s ploy is trying to convince you that your purchases (or sins) now do not have any real consequence. You can pay later in that illusive future when you are loaded with money. Satan says to enjoy now and pay later. If he has really worked one over on you, you believe you never have to pay or that no one does.

Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge of the seventy said in this past conference, “One of the most popular and attractive philosophies of men is to live life your own way, do your own thing, be yourself, don’t let others tell you what to do. But the Lord said, “I am the way” He said, “Follow me.” He said, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am. Don’t think you can’t… unlike every other experience in this life, this is not a human endeavor. It is rather the work of God … Therefore while the Lord’s invitation to follow him is the highest of all it is also achievable by everyone, not because we are able but because He is, and because He can make us able too.”

Christ suffered for my sins and your sins that we may exercise this wonderful gift but knowing we would make mistakes He prepared a way to repent and come back to Him. If we will let Him, He has already paid the price of our agency. Brothers and sisters, He is willing to pay your huge credit card balance.

Agency is not free. Our power to choose and make mistakes was paid for by the Savior.

Principal 2: We cannot control the agency of others

We all love autonomy and choice naturally. I’m much more likely to get a positive response from my 2 ½ yr old son Gabriel if he has a choice between peas or lima beans, walking or being carried up the stairs to bed. It makes us feel we have power over our situation.

It seems obvious at first that we cannot control the agency of others, yet most of us have tried to do it in the past. We would like others to act in a certain way, and it may even be with good intention, we try to manipulate their actions. It could be friends, peers, co-workers, family, politicians or anyone we have meaningful contact with.

I learned this principle recently as I pondered and prayed about how to help Gabe be more obedient. The thought came to me that if I would be more patient he would seem more obedient to me. I thought I had a righteous prayer, but I was praying for the wrong thing. The Spirit reminded me that my decision and my agency and my responsibility lay in my parenting and my reaction, not in his action. As I choose to be more patient with him, he does seem to be more obedient, whether he is or not. He is naturally more compliant when I try to guide more and force less.

Does that mean we do nothing to help our children choose the right? No, we like God, are supposed to persuade, direct, and encourage good behavior, but just remember we cannot force it. Gabe may have just needed a little more time to respond or a little more convincing in or order to make the right choice. As parents we may use a variety of methods to try and help our children use their agency for good. Like Heavenly Father we may warn of punishment for disobedience, explain inevitable consequences of unhappiness that follow sin, let them know of the blessings and happiness that follow making right choices etc. We don’t just throw up our hands in the air and say there’s nothing I can do, he has to make his own choices.

Elder Bednar said that parents are to do everything they can to help children understand the “range of acceptable options” and not just say that they don’t want to interfere with their children’s freedom. As in the case with a boys decision to go mission, like Elder Ward here, it is the parents’ job to help their sons remember the decision they already made to obey and serve as a missionary in the pre-mortal existence.

We cannot control the agency of others, we can only try our hardest to influence for good. And often, as in my case, the best place to start looking on how to change our situation is in the mirror. Our righteous decisions will have an effect on others but we cannot control the use of others’ agency.

Principal 3: Using agency wisely creates freedom, it does not limit it.

Power is a word that I have found closely connected with the word agency: power over our own situation, power over the future, power to be increasingly happy as we make right choices. When we choose to live according to God’s plan for us, our agency is strengthened. Agency is not simply to choose whatever you want but to choose righteousness. Right choices increase our power to make more right choices. In Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28 it says, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” And in vs. 27 it tells us how to use our agency, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;”

We think of everyone as having the same amount of agency, the same ability to choose, but that simply isn’t the case. After Adam ate the fruit his freedom to stay in the garden disappeared. A drug addict’s ability to choose diminishes with every hit or drink that he takes. A parent’s temper becomes more automatic every time they yell, and the window to choose is shortened, the same thing with road-rage. A person that just has to watch “their shows” increasingly gives up agency over the use of their time to be productive, get needed rest, or be of help to others. If it is a less than totally uplifting show, which most of them are, we give up the agency of pure thought later on when those words and images come back to our mind. A teenager has a great deal of agency before they get in the car to go to the party or drive off to a secluded location with the opposite sex. Once at the party they no longer can choose what manner of sin they are subjected to. Once alone with their date their agency and power to make the right choice decreases with every passing minute. Agency is a mater of degrees and with poor decisions we decrease the power we have over our selves, our life and our future both here and in eternity.

Elder Bednar said, “Agency is much more than choice. Choice is only a part of agency. Agency is the capacity of independent action.” He goes on to say, “The gospel plan is one of giving increasing amounts of agency back through covenants.” And that “obedience is joyful.”

In review: Agency is not free. Our power to choose and make mistakes was paid for by the Savior. We cannot control the agency of others and Using agency wisely creates freedom, it does not limit it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful Poster

In the spirit of gratitude, we have a few Thanksgiving traditions in our home that we would like to share with you. On the first Family Home Evening of the month we talk about gratitude and start a Thankful poster where everyone gets to write down a few things they are grateful for. Throughout the month anyone is welcome to add to the list until the big day arrives. This year we included pictures for Gabe's sake so its the illustrated version with some excellent artwork from yours truly.
Another tradition, of course, is a great big meal around 2:00 pm followed up a few hours later by a dinner of pie, which Zach is very grateful for. After we have wrapped up at the table our family likes to go for a "Thankful walk" to make room for some of that pie. We go through the alphabet and say things that we are grateful for. Zach gets to start because he is grateful for Alana and I get to end because I am grateful for Zach. We try to be creative and think of meaningful things in our lives. Whoever is with us is welcome to come on the walk too which has included siblings and parents in the past. So here's to Thanksgiving and being grateful!

(For those that can't see the fine print so well some of the things we were grateful this year included NPR, Books, Church, Family, Wrestling, Kisses, Friends, the Museum, Birthdays/cake, Candy, naps, Book of Mormon, water guns, Cats, dogs, playground, pies, walks, cold weather, baby brother, climbing, fall leaves, rain and books on tape)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two more Good Gabe-isms

This post is an addendum to the previous one

A few weeks ago we read Gabe a children's book about Louis Pasture and how he found the rabies vaccine. He really likes this book and we have read it several times since. Some times he goes around saying- "Louis Pasture, the man who believed in himself." The other night at prayer time as he was praying he says, "and thank you for rabies." Uh- I think we better read that one again and explain it this time.

Today was the primary program at church where all the children get up and sing and give short statements and talks. This particular program involved about half the primary having to get on and off the stage every time a song was sung. The sound of boisterous children going up and down the steps was quite loud. Gabe asked me "What was that noise?" and answered his own question, "Oh I know, elephants." Yup, might as well have been, the elephants probably would have been quieter.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Halloween Fun and Gabe-isms

By popular request I'm putting up more funny things that Gabe says:

Mom H. (aka Mimi) sent Gabe a short letter telling him how beautiful the leaves were where she lived and I asked Gabe what Mimi had sent him; he excitedly exclaimed "Fall, Mimi sent me Fall." Yes indeed Gabe, Mimi sent you fall. (Those beautiful dried leaves are still on our refrigerator.)

At Amy Jo's house Gabe stood on top of their log pile with a stick in one hand and his favorite blankie blowing in the wind as a cape and called out "I'm the king of the logs, and dad, you're the prince of the logs." "Hey Gabe whats mom, is she the queen?" "No, she's just the mom." On the trip back from Amy Jo's house Gabe says to us from the back seat of the mini van, "Mom, this is a fine trip." I agree Gabe, this was a fine trip.

Every day with a little boy is like an adventure from the Discovery channel. Recently Gabe found a small garden snake in the grass. "Mom, I found a snake, Fancy that!" (I didn't think it was so fancy, but it could have been worse, it could have been a cockroach.)

Two days a week Zach works from home in the office and has to lock the door so that he doesn't have constant interruption. Gabe doesn't like this arrangement but its the only way Zach can study for any length of time. Gabe has a spare keyboard that he uses as a toy and the other day he told Zach, "Dad, I'm working. You can't come in my office." All's fair I suppose, what goes around comes around.

One funny episode with David. Recently we have been trying to get David to sleep all the way through the night so for the most part I've stopped feeding him when he wakes up. At 2 AM the other morning he wanted to suck on something and a pacifier wouldn't cut it so I let him suck on my chin so he would stop crying. It was only for a minute or two but in the morning I looked in the mirror and discovered a big reddish purple bruise on my chin- a "hicky" I guess you could call it. Of course it had to be a Sunday morning I made this discovery so I just went like that to church. Nice flare to my church outfit. The bruise is gone but I'm a little more wary of letting him suck on my chin.

Enjoy the videos of our Pumpkin carving fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Just Dang Cute

Pure Joy

You were thinking that I was going to say something about eternal life or the joy of service. Nope. Although those things bring joy I'm talking about a much more simple happiness of that on a child's face when they take a ride at the fair for the very first time. Gabe, 2 1/2 years old, is now tall enough to ride the kiddie rides at the fair. He had the privillage of taking a spin on three of them a few weeks ago at the NC state fair. Its probably just as much fun to watch him ride as a parent as it is for him to do the ridding. Everything is new all over again when you have small children.

Other highlights of this magnificent yearly event: a bar-B-Que turkey leg, giant Kosher dill pickle, giant prize winning produce, gourmet candy apple, feeding the animals at the petting zoo, arts and crafts, and hanging out with my sister Amber and her family. As the slogan says: "Take time to have a great time," excepting for the aching knees and feet from all the walking, we did just that.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Minivan

Yes, it is official. After four and a half years of marriage Zach and I have become dual car owners with the recent addition of a used minivan. Some people have inquired about it so I thought I'd share. We have been saving up for quite some time for a minivan and one VERY good deal recently fell into our lap. A lady from church had this 2000 Toyota Siena that she no longer needed and she gave it to us at a price no one could refuse. (This person wishes to remain anonymous) Its been wonderful to have a second car while Zach is gone at school and on trips. We recently took it up to West Virginia to visit Zach's sister Amy Jo and quite enjoyed the extra space. It will be nice to have a bigger car especially if we have another child in the next year or two. This has definitely been more than a bite sized blessing.