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Saturday, May 6, 2017

UNDERSTANDING AGENCY--Maybe not what you think, but more powerful than you realize

I remember standing in the doorway of my house as a teenager declaring, “I have my free agency. I can do what I want!” At the time, agency seemed like a wonderful entitlement that opened doors without consequences.

As a mother of teenagers, I didn’t have such a liberal view. When one of my own children would declare themselves to be free agents—usually just before doing something they knew was wrong—I wondered if perhaps Satan’s plan of forced obedience was actually a good idea.

Thanks to the Book of Mormon, and particularly the prophet Lehi, who carefully explained this principle to his own children, I have learned six important principles about agency over the past several years. Come to find out, it isn’t what I thought it was as a teenager or even as a mother of teenaged children.

Principle #1—Agency is not free.
In the scriptures we are taught we are “free to choose” (2 Nephi 2:27) and we are told we have “moral agency” (D&C 101:78) but nowhere does it speak of “free agency”.

As Lehi taught, “men . . . are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men . . .” (2 Nephi 2:27, emphasis added).  Or, in other words, through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can choose good.  We can choose to repent. We can choose to receive the Holy Ghost. We can choose to make covenants. We can choose to qualify for eternal life. But without Christ’s atonement NONE of these blessings would be available to us. Once we sinned, no matter how small the sin, we would be forever in Satan’s grasp with no opportunity for repentance and no possibility for progress.

Agency is not free. It was purchased at a very high price—the atoning blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Principle #2—Agency requires opposition

Lehi’s statement, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) is one of the most often quoted scriptures in the Church. Usually it is used to explain the need for life’s trials and tribulations. In regard to the principle of agency, however, it means that in order for something to be good, there must also be something that is bad.

Let’s say the only available item for your breakfast each morning is one hard-boiled egg. If you consider a hard-boiled egg to be a bad breakfast, then by only having that item available, you do not have the agency to choose anything good. If you love hard-boiled eggs, then by only having that item available, you do not have the agency to choose anything bad. The only agency you have is to eat the egg or go hungry. But the choice to eat something good or something bad has been taken from you.

In the gospel sense, in order for agency to exist there must not only be right, but also wrong.  Where there is light, there must also be darkness; where there is freedom, there must also be captivity; where there is eternal life, there must also be eternal damnation.  If there is only light, you can’t really choose light, because you have not been given a choice.

Principle #3—Agency requires knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.
“And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil”. (2 Nephi 2:5)

In the mission field, we frequently heard missionaries dismiss the failure of their investigators to attend church with, “We invited them, but they have their agency”.  Often we discovered the investigators did not truly have agency because the missionaries failed to instruct them sufficiently on the importance of going to church.

Agency requires you to know and understand that something is right or wrong. I can neither choose nor reject having an eternal family if I do not understand what an eternal family is and that having an eternal family requires me to be sealed to my spouse in the temple. And I can neither choose nor reject to receive the blessings associated with keeping the Sabbath Day holy if I do not know what keeping the Sabbath day entails and understand the blessings associated with keeping that law.

An increase in knowledge of right and wrong leads to an increase in agency. 

One of the great evils in the world today is the belief some parents have that they should not teach their children religious principles, but rather allow them to choose for themselves when they are adults.  Agency cannot exist without sufficient instruction and it is up to parents to sufficiently instruct.  

Principle #4—Agency requires choices to have consequences
“ . . . And if there be no righteousness, nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.” (2 Nephi 2:13)

This principle is very simple but critical and ties in with principle #3.  If there is no blessing associated with a good choice, then what makes it good? If there is no punishment associated with a bad choice, then what makes it bad? For agency to exist there must be blessings and punishments associated with each choice.

Principle #5—Agency requires that a person have the ability to act for oneself.
 (2 Nephi 2:16)

Once a man has knowledge of right and wrong and understands the consequences of his choices, then to have agency he must also have the physical, mental and emotional ability to make a choice. Without the power to act, he not only does not have agency, but he also is not accountable for his lack of action.

In an extreme example, if a woman is lying in bed critically ill and unable to move, she certainly does not have the power or ability to choose to read her scriptures daily. BUT she also does not have the ability to choose NOT to read them. Being physically unable to move has removed her ability to act. Therefore, she cannot be held accountable for her lack of action.

Principle #6—Agency is a requirement for exaltation.
Satan’s war in Heaven, which he continues here on earth today, was over agency. Why? Because agency is a requirement for redemption, progression, and in the end, exaltation.  Satan’s plan was always to take away our agency and enslave us, while God’s plan was always to increase our agency and exalt.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “. . . God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become.” He can’t. It is against His law. He cannot increase our faith if we are not choosing to act in faith. He cannot increase our love for others, if we are not choosing to act in love.

And when we use our agency to make wrong choices, we lose agency.  However, when we use our knowledge and agency to make right choices our power to make right choices, our agency, increases. 

Just as with each unrepentant wrong choice we make, we lose agency, with each right choice we make, we gain it.  As we continue acting on our knowledge of right and wrong by choosing right, our power to do right expands. And this power, knowledge and agency will continue to increase until, through the atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, we become like our Heavenly Father who has all knowledge, and all power to act on that knowledge, and therefore complete agency.

And that is why the fight for agency is a war worth fighting.
May we always be valiant soldiers in the battle. 

Lori Smith Wagner

One Mormon Voice

If you want to read more on this subject I recommend this talk by Elder Christofferson, "Free Forever, To Act For Themselves" Ensign, November 2014

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Personal Experiences With A Few of the Apostles

As I eagerly anticipate conference continuing this weekend, I thought I would share a few experiences I have personally had with some of the apostles.  All of my experiences have been pretty brief and pretty insignificant to anyone else, but they are all very cherished experiences for me and are part of the reason why I love our leaders so much and have such a strong testimony of their callings.  

Elder Henry B. Eyring. Many years ago I attended the wedding reception of my niece whose new husband just happened to be a neighbor to the Eyrings. The reception was held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Elder Eyring came. He knew my father and so he went over to visit with him. I was sitting nearby and kept hoping my dad would invite me over and introduce me to him, but he didn’t and so I finally worked up the courage to just go over, interrupt them and introduce myself.

This was at a very difficult time in my life. I was going through a personal crisis and had just lost a very dear friend to cancer.  When I approached Elder Eyring, he turned toward me and took my outstretched hand in both of his. He kept cupping my hand in both his hands for the few minutes he talked with me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciated that kind gesture. While he stood there, looking down at me (he is a very tall man) holding my hand in both of his, and visiting with me, I felt warmth, comfort, and love as if directly from our Heavenly Father, and I knew I was going to be okay. 

Elder Richard G. Scott. On another occasion I had the opportunity to visit with Elder Scott. My parents were being set apart as president and matron of the Guatemala City Temple, and Elder Scott had been invited to set apart my mother. She had a lot of concerns about leaving her family for three years to go off to Guatemala and had expressed those concerns a few times to her family, but did not share any of them with Elder Scott. However, when he gave her a blessing, he mentioned every single fear and concern my mother had. It was amazing to me to hear the prayer and know that Elder Scott had received inspiration through the Spirit to know EVERY THING my mother needed to hear.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks. We met Elder Oaks when he interviewed my husband and myself to be mission president and companion in Mexico. I had never met him before but he was president of BYU for part of the time I was there, so I was aware of his many accomplishments and I was completely intimidated by him! I really thought he would be a serious hardliner, but instead found him to be very friendly, down to earth, and completely delightful.

Before our interview I teased my husband that I was going to ask him how he met his wife Kristen. I had heard a story from my sister who heard it from her friend, who heard it from her cleaning lady, so I was pretty sure there was a lot of fiction in the story by the time it got to me. So I really, really, wanted to get the truth, but I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask. (And my husband had threatened me.:-)

As we began visiting he asked me where I was from. I told him Orem, and that my father had been a BYU professor. He asked who my father was, and when I told him he said, “Oh, I know your father! In fact my wife is a cousin of his.” (I did know that—which was part of the reason I was so interested in their story.) He then asked, “Do you want to know how we met?” I about fell off my chair! Yes!! I did!! And the next ten minutes I listened carefully as he told us their story. I loved it. When we walked out the door after the interview I said to Wes, “God loves me!”

I had another opportunity to see Elder Oaks while we were serving in Mexico. He attended one of our Mission Presidents Seminars and did some of the training. While our Area President, Daniel Johnson, was speaking, Elder Johnson asked us a question that I raised my hand to answer. When I sat down from giving my answer I noticed Elder Oaks leaning forward in his chair in front of me and giving me a “thumbs up” sign. Yeah, that pretty much made my day/week/year!

Elder Christofferson Just a year into our mission, Elder Christofferson came to visit and address our missionaries. We combined with another mission and filled the building! I found him to be very nice, humble and friendly as well. I also loved his wife who was very kind and gracious. But my favorite moment of the entire conference came at the very end. Elder Christofferson had just completed his training when he turned to me and asked if there was anything I wanted to add. I was a little surprised. I know protocol has it that no one speaks after the presiding authority and I was positive I didn’t have anything to add to the remarks of an apostle! BUT I was completely impressed that he asked me. He cared enough about my feelings and my thoughts to ask me if I had anything to share. That really impressed me and certainly put him near the top of my hero list .

President Russell M. Nelson. President Nelson grew up a few doors down from my father and they were childhood friends. I had seen him a time or two before in my youth when he and my father served on the General Sunday School Board together and I had read his first autobiography that he sent as a gift to my father. But I had never really had any occasion to visit with him personally.

Just before our last Christmas in the mission, President Nelson came to visit Guadalajara and spoke to the two missions there. Meeting with General Authorities always made me just a little nervous and I was even more intimidated at the thought of meeting with President Nelson.  What completely surprised me though and caught me totally off guard, was when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes I felt complete and total Christlike love which drew me in and made me want to always stay there. At that moment I knew I was standing before a man of God in whom there was no guile. The love I felt coming from his eyes was pure and all encompassing. And I felt that if I were to meet the Savior personally, it would probably feel a lot like it did standing next to President Nelson.

Feeling our Savior’s love, feeling appreciated and valued as a woman, knowing our leaders are inspired and guided by the Spirit are just a few of the reasons why I know these men are men of God and prophets, seers and revelators today. I know their messages and teachings are true and specifically for us to help us through the challenges of our lives today. How grateful I am for them, and for the great blessing we have of General Conference. 

Bring it on!
Lori Smith Wagner

One Mormon Voice