As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I grew up with the word “agency” as a part of everyday life. When I made a choice, I was using my agency. I was able to make a choice because I had agency. Agency was fought over in the pre-mortal life, in a council where all of God’s spirit children were taught God’s plan. And in that plan, we needed agency. Satan (i.e. Lucifer) wanted to take away our agency, and force us to live right in this life. Jesus Christ defended our agency (our capacity to learn and choose for ourselves) and offered to be our Savior. It went on and on. (Abraham 3:23-28, Moses 4:1-4, Doctrine & Covenants 29:34-50)
I knew all the factual answers about agency. But though I was raised in an amazing home and was taught better than most, I didn’t really know anything about agency. Not really. I didn’t comprehend its depths and importance, I didn’t have sufficient understanding of the conditions of this life that made agency possible, and I certainly didn’t know how to reconcile the agency of others with how it impacted me and what that meant with regards to the atonement of Jesus Christ (grace).
When did I get a wake-up call? When my marriage of ten years began to crumble around me. It was a marriage solemnized by eternal covenants. It was a temple marriage.
What do you need to let go?
Before I continue my story, I’d like you to consider a few questions:
- What part of your life causes you the most unease, fear, inner turmoil, distraction, anxiety, or despair?
- Does it involve a relationship with another person?
- Does it involve a relationship with yourself?
You might be surprised to find that “what you need to let go of today” can be identified by answering those questions. No matter what you began this article thinking you needed to let go of. When, if while you were considering those questions something else came to mind, then that is what you really need to let go of today.
Salvation and condemnation cannot be pronounced upon the ignorant
In Doctrine & Covenants 131:6 we read: It is impossible for [us] to be saved in ignorance.
If this is true then it also means the following: It is impossible for [us] to be condemned in ignorance.
But the question then becomes, “Ignorance of what?”
In John 17:3, Mathew 25:12, and JST Matthew 25:11 we learn that the knowledge we cannot be saved in ignorance of is a knowledge of, and a relationship with, God. Let that sit for just a minute.
Note: these scriptures don’t say anything about keeping a list of commandments, or ticking off any boxes. They don’t say anything about acting perfectly and never making mistakes. However, they indicate very clearly that whatever we do in this life, it had better lead us to a deep relationship with God and an understanding of our Heavenly Parents.
Thus, the first true goal of agency is that we might learn from our choices and experiences #whatgodislike and if we want a deep relationship with Him, and then to choose to develop that relationship. All of the rest, the commandments, covenants, ordinances—they are a catalyst to that eternal and saving relationship.
Too often we like to condemn people for imperfection or weakness. Too often we consider people saved because they appear to be ticking off all the boxes. But, if instead we changed our perspective to paying attention to the relationship they have developed with Jesus Christ and with Heavenly Father, then all of their weaknesses or kept commandments would mean far less—except in how they have helped these individuals develop that divine, critical relationship.
The power of agency is founded upon 6 conditions
The primary thing that I learned in the process of my failing marriage is that agency is not simply the power to make a choice. That is only a piece. What I learned is that agency is almost entirely about accountability: our ability to be saved or condemned based upon the relationship we have developed with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Agency = power to choose to develop a relationship with God + ability to be accountable for that relationship
The 6 conditions we need for full agency are:
- Home away from home (our own space, stewardships, and possessions)
- Law and consequence
- Correct and complete instruction
- Atonement of Jesus Christ
Let’s look at each of these conditions separately.
Home away from home
When I first got remarried to Luke, my current husband, I’d had very little opportunity to get to know and develop a relationship with my eldest stepdaughter, Elizabeth. The month we got married she graduated from high school and headed straight to college. I didn’t get to know her really well until she came to live with us after I got pregnant with my youngest, and only biological, daughter, Anna.
While Elizabeth was living with us, she had chores and responsibilities. And, she didn’t always do them. When she failed to do them, I was always under the dilemma: 1) enforce her chores and responsibilities, or 2) do them myself and build the relationship. As a mom, enforcing rules and teaching children responsibility holds a lot of weight. But I was petrified of damaging the small relationship we had, and she had a lot of emotional and psychological injuries from her parent’s divorce. I was in a quandary.
While laboring over this quandary, the Spirit said to me, “She’ll very soon have a home of her own. She’ll learn by her experience then these responsibilities you’re worried about now. Let them go. Keep building the relationship.”
That was the answer. When Elizabeth had her “own home” she would learn by her experience the responsibilities I was so worried she’d never learn. When I came to understand that, I could “let go” of the quandary and simply love her.
One of the reasons we have been born in a mortal world away from our heavenly home is because there are some things we can’t learn without “having our own home” away from God. This is a critical condition of our mortal agency that allows us to choose for ourselves to develop a relationship with Heavenly Father. Out of His presence we are not compelled to develop that relationship. We have the opportunity to choose it.
Law and consequence
Law is established by God, and I am thankful for that. I haven’t met a person in this life that is capable of establishing right and wrong perfectly. So, we don’t have to worry about that. God has given us the law, and it is the law which creates accountability. It says what it right and wrong.
Consequences (eternal and mortal) are also established by the law. They cannot be changed, avoided, or transmuted. (Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21)
Correct and complete instruction
The year before my first marriage ended, I was prompted repeatedly (and with great force) to preach at my spouse. I’d been praying so hard to save the marriage, then when these promptings came I was certain that by preaching at him I was going to say something to make him come around. I spent months saying the things and having the discussion the Spirit put upon me. Then, in the end, to my bewilderment, my spouse chose to end the marriage anyway. I was baffled.
However, a few months later I was open enough to learn, from the Spirit, that I had not been saving the marriage, I had been making my ex-spouse accountable. Accountable? How?
I thought my ex-spouse knew and had a testimony of the covenants he’d made with God next to me in the temple. But, after spending a year preaching to him about those very covenants and then to have it end, it occurred to me two things:
- What he didn’t know, he now knows, and he was invited to act on truth and chose not to, and
- Because I know that he knew those things and then he still chose an alternate path, I can “let go” of any concern I have that the marriage ending is my fault.
Did I make mistakes? Yes. But the Spirit taught me that ultimately, the accountability laid in keeping the covenant or rejecting it. I kept the covenant. He rejected it.
In our relationships with spouse, family, children, and friends; if we are invited by the Spirit to offer correct and complete instruction to them, thereafter we are free from the accountability. How many times in the scriptures do the prophets say that they are preaching to “rid my garments of your blood”? (See Testimony of Three Witnesses, Mosiah 2:28, and Mormon 9:35, etc.) This is accomplished by offering correct and complete instruction to those we love and then inviting them to act on it. Then, we can “let go.”
In Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, the character named Dr. Ransom is kidnapped by two professors, smuggled onto a spaceship, and flown to another planet—against his will. The two professors won’t tell Ransom anything about the planet or its inhabitants. Thus, when Ransom arrives, “He saw nothing but colors—colors that refused to form themselves into things. Moreover, he knew nothing yet well enough to see it: you cannot see things till you know roughly what they are.”
We tend to expect people to “see” their errors clearly when they still know very little, or insufficient, to know what those errors look like—in all circumstances—and what they are. This is the purpose of correct and complete instruction. We need to lower our judgment and increase our instruction.
I think we often expect people to know what God’s voice sounds like (or what it feels like) when they haven’t yet come to understand what Satan’s voice sounds like (or feels like). We expect them to identify the positive with as little experience with the negative as possible. This is an expectation we need to let go of.
Certainly, it would be nice if we all recognized the voice of the Spirit and never made any mistakes. But that is not the point of this life. The point of this life is to develop a relationship with God, a deep one. That involved learning to understand, recognize, and follow His voice, and to feel what it is like to have Him a part of our lives. For most of us, we cannot do this without some—and sometimes a lot of—experience with Satan’s voice, and what it feels like to have him in our lives.
Enticements by both Satan and God are necessary (both!) for us to gain experience and validate our knowledge of the instruction we have received.
Satan’s enticements look a lot like this:
- Doubt, fear, feelings of worthlessness, encouragement to self-deprecate and despair,
- Temptations to sin, to value the knowledge of men above that of our own spiritual feelings and experiences, to gossip,
- The feeding of anger and the feeding of hopelessness,
- The false belief that by controlling others we can save them
God’s enticements look a lot like this:
- Light of Christ (gut feeling, or telestial guidance)
- Power of the Holy Ghost – clear validation that we are hearing a truth (terrestrial guidance)
- Gift of the Holy Ghost – constant validation of our gut feeling, reminders to act on validations of truth, and an actual change made in our central being toward sanctification (celestial guidance)
- Spiritual Interventions – warnings that we are straying and what will happen if we continue
- Spiritual Ultimatums – an immediate loss of some blessings combined with a call to repentance (a probationary period in which we have the opportunity to come back into compliance or will lose all blessings)
For more on spiritual interventions and ultimatums please check out my FREE book on PDF: Finding Greater Happiness, Peace, and Rest in the Covenant of Marriage.
I think it is easy to feel powerless as a spouse, parent, family member, or friend when those directly involved in our lives are heading away from the Lord or are openly fighting against Him. But we are not powerless. And, we can increase our power to “let go” by making use of spiritual interventions and spiritual ultimatums.
When I met my current husband, Luke, I wasn’t looking for marriage. But when it seemed clear that the Lord was offering me this path, I accepted it. Yet, I was tired. My divorce had taught me so much about agency, that I was determined to set some clear relationship boundaries with my new spouse.
So, I told him two things:
- I enjoy exercise and it’s a part of my life. I do it because I want to. I do it to be healthy enough to serve the Lord and my family. But I also love to eat. Good, really good, food is one of the most important things in my life. If you expect me at any point in our marriage to look like a super model, you can let go of that expectation and hope now. It’s not going to happen. Because it’s not important to me.
- Your salvation and exaltation are between you and God. Though I will enter this covenant with you, I have no intention of micromanaging, or even worrying, your relationship with God. So, don’t expect me to bug you or keep you in line. I’m going to be worrying about my own relationship and do not resent me for how I pursue that relationship. The only way I will ever bug you is if God inspires me to.
To date, I have only ever been prompted to bug Luke once. I have occasionally allowed myself to fear and bug him on my own—which didn’t help either of us. But as for the rest, God hasn’t prompted me to get involved. So, I have been able to “let go” of worrying about his salvation from the start.
I also prayed for the first several years only to ever see the good in him and to “let go” of the rest. Those prayers worked, and now I never worry. If I am ever tempted, I renew that prayer.
If, however, his salvation ever interferes with my working toward mine, then I am not powerless. I can use spiritual interventions and ultimatums. After which, I can again “let go.”
This is the condition of mortal agency that no one likes. Why? Because we want our spouses, friends, family members, and children to somehow develop a relationship with God by only making good choices, and never experiencing any negative consequences. If this is you, I hope this is a wakeup call.
Negative experience is scary to us, but it is not ever a loss. Experience with God’s opposite only teaches us more about God. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ ALL experience is good experience if we learn from it. Remember that, and do not ever allow yourself to fear.
There is a popular book called The Giver by Lois Lowry which is about a society which has been created out of fear. By trying to avoid all the negative they produce a colorless, bland world where all but the Giver (in the society) see no color and feel no extremes in emotion. They don’t get to choose anything for themselves because:
- It is scary
- Because they might make the wrong choice
- Because they might choose the wrong mate
- Because they might choose the wrong job
However, in the end, the Giver—and the Giver to be—determine that this system must end. The Giver, alone, simply can’t bear all the negative memories and feelings, nor all the beauty and color, by themselves. It needs to be shared. And the most important reason, “so that people can choose for themselves.”
I often say these days “#GoAndDo” because the Spirit has taught me that no experience is a loss. So, when loved ones seem to be making choices that will make them miserable, I simply say, “#GoAndDo.” And I can say it with peace, and I can “let go” of fear and worry because I know that the sooner they choose and EXPERIENCE the consequences of their choices for themselves, the sooner they’ll learn. How they learn is not as important as that they do learn.
When loved ones do start down paths that lead to hard experiences, even negative experiences, I simply ask the Lord;
“If there is instruction I can give, and invitation I can extend, and example I can set, or love that I can show [this individual], let me know. Otherwise, it’s in Thy hands.”
The atonement of Jesus Christ
I’ve already said it, but the beauty of the atonement of Jesus Christ is that it allows us to gain experience and to choose a relationship with God with full accountability without being condemned by our mistakes or negative consequences in the learning process.
Read that again and again until you understand it well. It’s the primary key to “letting go!”
My eldest stepson, Daniel, was living at home with us. He’s always been exceptionally responsible. So, at the age of 17 my parents bought him a laptop. After having it a bit, he came to me and asked, “Aren’t you worried at all about the time I spend on my computer gaming or what I might be doing?” I was reading a book and at first, I didn’t look up. I just spoke, “No, not really. You know what’s right and wrong and healthy and unhealthy.”
Then, I looked up at him. He was standing in the doorway to the living room where I sat. “You’ve been taught. It’s your computer. Also, you know that if you make any mistakes or need help you can come to your Dad, and I, and we’ll help you…” Then, I laughed, “All your time on that computer is on you.”
Was I worried at the things he might do? No. I really wasn’t. I could let go because the 6 conditions of agency had been met—and I didn’t need to micromanage his relationship with God:
- The computer was his.
- We’d taught him right and wrong and the correct use of time and of his computer and the consequences of its use in certain ways.
- At the age of 17, he’d had experience with the voice of God and of Satan. He knew enough to be his own master.
- He’d already had experience with being tempted to play computer games too long and feeling the consequences.
- This was the first computer he’d had that was only his. It was time he began to learn from that experience.
- The atonement is in place, so if he makes mistakes, wastes time, or commits sin, he will learn from that experience and strengthen his relationship with Heavenly Father through repentance.
We often don’t realize this:
The entire purpose of agency is to allow us to gain sufficient experience to choose to become like, and develop a relationship with, our Heavenly Father with full accountability (Doctrine & Covenants 131:6). We can’t ultimately choose Him in ignorance (ibid.).
Agency is how we gain that accountability. The atonement takes care of all the rest.
A closing thought
The Israelites wanted someone else to have the relationship with God, to have the experience, and to bear the accountability. The result was a set of commandments I consider to be micromanagement. They had to get all their relationship and messages from God second-hand. They chose to deny themselves of the opportunity for that direct relationship with God. Why? They were afraid of accountability. Moses—and later their kings and judges—was their metaphorical Giver.
If we find ourselves micromanaging others choices, then are we getting in the way of them developing a relationship with God?
On the other hand, we have the Nephites, under the reign of King Mosiah II. When none of his children wanted the throne, King Mosiah II persuaded the Nephites to establish a system of judges and personal accountability.
Mosiah 29:38-39 says:
…yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins…and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.
When the conditions for agency are met in our relationships with ourselves and others, we can LET GO.
As adults, we often ignore our experience and trade it in for our expectations. The Phantom Tolbooth by Norton Juster, one of my favorite books, proudly teaches us that we can’t get to where we’re going without first getting past expectations.