The more I learn about agency the more I recognize how vital an understanding of agency is to our eternal progression. If we misunderstand agency we are missing out on the opportunity to repent, or to change, in ways that would bring us closer to Jesus Christ. An understanding of agency is important to understand what our personal responsibilities are on our journey to exaltation and what burdens we can lay aside because they are not ours to carry. Since agency is so very important, deceptions about agency abound, and if we do not learn to unravel them we can lose perspective. Although the examples I used in each of these are on the extreme side, these deceptions manifest themselves in many ways and degrees.
Deception 1: Agency means I can choose anything I want.
Agency is the ability to choose and act for yourself. However, each choice we make is like toppling the first domino in a line and many future choices are made or voided at that point. For example, if you choose to attend any of the BYU schools, you are at that point choosing to abide by the honor code. If you decide that you want to do something outside the honor code, you do not get to argue or fight against it because it’s no longer something you want to do, but you get to decide whether that action is more important to you than attending that particular school. With each choice we make we are sacrificing something else, we have to decide if the end result is worth the required sacrifice. Each of our current choices is determined in part by our past choices. Sometimes we can go back a few steps, change, and move forward with new options, and sometimes you can’t and you just have to do the best you can with the consequences.
Deception 2: Agency means that if we are righteous we will receive every blessing and opportunity.
This one is more of an incomplete truth. No one will be withheld from every righteous blessing they earned in eternity. However, those blessings may be withheld and delayed in mortality. There are many, many examples of perfectly worthy people who are made to wait for blessings they desire for reasons we don’t understand. For example, there are many parents out there who desire children with all of their heart who have not been blessed to have any. It doesn’t seem fair. It can be painful for them to watch their friends and family members all be blessed to have children and despite desperate yearnings not to be blessed in the same way. In the end, it does not matter so much when we are given certain blessings and opportunities, despite what discomfort it may bring to our mortal lives, what matters is that all of Heavenly Fathers children are given equal opportunity eternally to receive all that He has.
Deception 3: Agency means that no innocent parties will be harmed by my choices.
This is one of the most painful lessons about agency. The choices we make affect other people, often innocent people that we love. As mentioned above, our choices all trigger a ripple affect. If you are making harmful choices, those around you are harmed. Example: When you choose to smoke, you not only affect your health but the health of your entire family. Through no choice of their own, your children may suffer the consequences of second hand smoke for their whole lives.
Deception 4: We can limit someones choices so they have to choose the right.
If this deception sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It is Satan’s plan from the beginning. (Which by the way, wasn’t ever really a true option because he was a liar from the beginning, Alma 5:25. He could never really provide that.) We cannot limit another persons choices to the point where the only opinion is for them to choose good. We are even deceived into thinking that it is a loving thing to do for people. For example, a wife of a pornography addict is often tempted to act like a parole officer, attempting to limit their access to their drug. The truth is you cannot use Satan’s plan to implement Heavenly Father’s plan and no one is strong enough to carry the burden of someone else’s agency. Only Christ can do that, and He already did. Unless the husband is asking for help in that way, the only thing the wife is accomplishing is crushing herself by attempting to carry an impossible burden.
Deception 5: Because each person has agency talking to or teaching them doesn’t work.
Crazy as it sounds this is one I hear it all the time. It’s true that talking to or teaching with love doesn’t always achieve the results we desire. That does not mean it doesn’t make a difference. Just because someone doesn’t seem to be listening, or even seems to be offended, it does not mean they are not internally processing the conversation. Results may take time, but healthy and honest communication with those we love helps them, and us, to become better people. Our words matter, use them wisely.
Satan loves to trick us about where the choice is. Hint: He usually tells us it is in a different place than it is. I sometimes have a hard time limiting my sugar intake. I have an insane sweet tooth. My choice is not what I am going to eat every time I open the cupboard. It is actually at the grocery store when I decide whether or not I am going to buy that treat in the first place.
No one reaches exaltation by accident. It requires consistent, deliberate, and often difficult choices to reach the celestial kingdom. When we need to understand what our true choices are and when we are required to make them. The more familiar we are with the deceptions, the more transparent they become and we will be able to remove them from our lives and actions. When we understand our true choices we know what we need to do to become like Christ and to return home to Heavenly Father.