Filed under: For the Strength of the Youth, Life Lessons, Making Decisions, Old Testament
In order to learn to make wise use of our eternal gift of agency, we must understand that each choice we make has consequences. These consequences can affect our entire lives and even our eternities. They also affect others. When we learn to evaluate the consequences of our choices, we are better able to make wise choices and get the most from our agency.
In the past, many Mormons used the term “free agency” to describe our God-given right to choose for ourselves. Today, church leaders discourage that term, because agency is not free, and they want us to understand this. Instead, they encourage the use of the term “moral agency.” Read more
Filed under: Gospel Principles, Practices & Precepts, Making Decisions
Mormon beliefs include the understanding that God answers prayers in one of three ways: Yes, No, and Not Yet. Mormons teach that God will answer the prayer in the way that is best. He evaluates the situation with a longer view than we can possibly have, balancing our desires against what we will need in the near and distant future, and how our request will affect others. Mormons learn to pray that God’s will, not their own, be done.
Letting God choose isn’t the same as not praying-you don’t get the same results. When you don’t pray at all, you don’t invite God into the process. You do all the research, make all the plans, make all the decisions, and then carry them out alone. You also accept the full responsibility for the results, which may affect others, and may include unintended consequences. Eventually, we have to answer to God for the choices we make. Wouldn’t it be better to run them by Him to begin with?
When faced with a problem that doesn’t involve a decision, such as a serious illness, we can also choose to let nature take its course if we want to, or we can ask God to step in and do what’s best. We have agency, we can choose whether or not to seek and receive help.
Praying allows us to do several things. First, when you have to make a choice, you often consult with an expert. For instance, if you’re having trouble getting your toddler to nap, you go to your favorite message board, the experienced mom next door, or your most dependable parenting book. This might be enough when an experiment or two won’t really hurt anything, but often, the choices we need to make are much larger than that. They can change our entire lives, or the lives of others. In those cases, there is only one possible source of advice.
Sometimes a decision may not seem critical, but in the long run, the choice you make can have unexpected consequences or rewards. For instance, when my husband wanted to move here, closer to his job, I balked. I liked it where I was and didn’t want to go. Finally, I took it to God and was told very clearly to go. Now that I’m here, I know why. I’ve had opportunities here I’ve needed and couldn’t have gotten if I’d stayed put. There was no possible way to foresee those opportunities, however, on my own. I could have stayed, and maybe nothing awful would have happened, but later on, when a need arose, I wouldn’t be ready for it because I’d lack some skills I needed.
Sometimes our requests involve the agency of others, and God can only plant ideas in their hearts, but can’t take away their agency. It is still worth praying over, because we do want those ideas planted if they’re what’s best and we’ll know we did the best we could, even if praying was all we could do when the problem concerned the choices of others.
Another purpose in prayer is to give us regular feedback on our choices. We need to learn how to make wise choices for our lives. Sometimes the results of our choices are obvious, but often, they aren’t. When we make decisions about parenting, for instance, the results may not be known for decades. Parenting fads change often and by the time we find out what would have been best, it’s too late. When we regularly go to God for help with our daily choices, we can watch for patterns in His answers, and after a while, our ability to make decisions He approves of improves.
When we put things into God’s hands, we avoid the randomness of the natural world. We have a feeling of peace and security because we know the best choices are being made, even if we can’t possibly understand why God made the choice He did.
We have agency, the right to choose. God won’t force us to turn our problems over to Him. We can choose to do everything ourselves, hoping for the best and trusting our own wisdom, which is limited and usually self-centered, or we can opt to turn our problems and needs over to God and let Him show us the path. The results of either choose-going it alone or turning it over to God-will be very different in most cases, but the choice is yours.