The teen years are filled with temptation. The media, peers, even teachers and other adults can try to convince a young person that sin is okay, natural, normal, and fun. For a teenager with high standards and an eye for eternity, it can be a challenge to stay on the right path, when so many people are determined to take her off that path. Fortunately, God and His servants have outlined effective ways for teens—and adults—to stay safe.
Staying safe is a matter of choices, and to make wise choices, we have to understand the concept of agency. This article will focus on agency, and future articles in this series will walk through the process of using that understanding to make eternally safe choices.
Agency is the right to choose. It is not the right to do anything we want without consequences, however. With every choice comes consequences, and those consequences are beyond our control. We can’t choose how the choices impact us, or their impact on others. Because of this, agency must be accompanied by responsibility.
Satan can’t take our agency from us, but he can encourage us to give up our agency or to weaken our ability to use it well. When we allow someone or something else to do our thinking for us, when we choose to partake of an activity or substance that dulls our judgment, such as hypnotism, alcohol, or drugs, we are making it harder for the Spirit to reach us, and weakening our ability to choose for ourselves. We’ve chosen to participate in something that is designed to allow others to control us. While we might still break through and avoid doing wrong, we are less inclined to do so because we are not able to have the spirit to guide us. The Holy Ghost cannot be where sin is. This choice to allow another person or substance to control us puts us in danger.
We can also weaken our ability to use our agency wisely when we begin to put too much faith in something or someone other than God. Do we, without prayer, follow the advice of a friend, a popular student, a celebrity, a self-help guru, a club, or a political party, even when their teachings conflict with those of the living prophets? If so, we’re handing over our agency to another, who may not have our best interests at heart, or who may not know eternal truths. When we listen to the counsel of another that conflicts with the teachings of God, we’ve decided this person knows better than God what is right and true, and that we ourselves know someone better than God to trust. This weakens our ability to hear the Spirit, who never yells, but who speaks quietly to those who trust Him.
The ability to listen to the spirit is critical to the wise use of agency. None of us is wise enough to know what is right or wrong on our own. We need the promptings of the spirit to guide us through the many choices offered us every day. The adversary is very smart and is an expert at manipulation. He can take a truth and present it half-way, and so skillfully the twisted version sounds reasonable. Assurances that we are safe, we won’t lose control, or we won’t get hurt can fill our minds and block the gentle reminders of the spirit.
Study the ways Satan uses to manipulate us into following his guidance or giving him our agency as a gift. Pay attention and listen with the spirit, not your emotions, to times when you see others are trying to influence you. What tactics are they using? Why are they using them? What will happen if you fall for the tactics? Are the teachings and arguments in line with the teachings of the gospel?
The only sure way to know how to use your agency well is to pray. A person who is considering becoming a Mormon is assigned by the missionaries to ask God before making their decision. Those born to LDS parents are taught from early childhood to also pray and make their decision based on the advice of the Holy Ghost. Only God can be trusted to give us wise advice for the use of our agency, and it’s critical that we ask Him if He’s there and if we have found His church. It’s important to know how He is communicating with us. In the Bible, we see that God communicated with man through prophets as well as through the spirit. Today, we are again guided by prophets, but we can’t be guided until we know for ourselves there really is a prophet and are able to identify him. We must also learn to recognize what it is like to receive personal revelation from God, so we can trust the answers He gives us.
Agency is a wonderful gift, but it has extraordinary power for both good and evil, depending on how we choose to use it and who we listen to when making our choices.
Robert D. Hales, a high-ranking church official, said,
Agency allows us to be tested and tried to see whether or not we will endure to the end and return to our Heavenly Father with honor. Agency is the catalyst that leads us to express our inward spiritual desires in outward Christlike behavior. Agency permits us to make faithful, obedient choices that strengthen us so that we can lift and strengthen others. Agency used righteously allows light to dispel the darkness and enables us to live with joy and happiness in the present, look with faith to the future, even into the eternities, and not dwell on the things of the past. Our use of agency determines who we are and what we will be. To all who desire to enjoy the supernal blessings of agency, I testify that agency is strengthened by our faith and obedience. Agency leads us to act: to seek that we may find, to ask that we may receive guidance from the Spirit, to knock on that door that leads to spiritual light and ultimately salvation.
(See Robert D. Hales, “To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency,” Ensign, May 2006, 4–8.)
Pay special attention to this sentence from his thoughts:
“Our use of agency determines who we are and what we will be.”
This is why the subject of agency matters and why we must devote a great deal of time learning to use it well.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.