During a lesson on how to become wise, the six-and-seven-year-olds I taught already understood that the best way to be sure you are wise is to keep God’s commandments and to be as much like Jesus as possible. However, during our discussion, the issue of agency was brought up. Agency is a gift from God that allows us to choose for ourselves how to live. We have the right to make bad choices if we want to. One wise child, however, noted, “But making bad choices is really just wasting your agency.”

So often, when I teach children, their wisdom astonishes me. I have thought all week about that comment. It’s one I suspect I’ll be repeating to myself when I’m tempted to make a wrong choice.

child pondering or listeningMormons—the nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—believe that God gives us agency. He teaches us what is right and He promises us blessings if we make the good choices. He also warns us there are consequences for making bad choices. While we are free to choose, we aren’t free to choose the consequences of our decisions, and sometimes those consequences affect others, as well.

What my young student referred to is the eternal nature of our choices. Those of us who believe in God know that what we do impacts eternity. As we study the Bible, we see so many people using their agency. Some used it to make choices that brought them closer to God, made them more Christ-like, and helped others. Some used it to turn their entire lives around. Those people made choices that would bless them throughout eternity.

young-man-elderly-woman-visiting-1080937-printOthers made choices that might seem helpful for the moment, but that have no eternal value. My class talked about those kinds of choices—the choices that you make to seem “cool” or to become popular, the ones that let you build financial gains immorally, and those that seem fun…for now. Those choices, they recognized, were usually not as much fun as they seemed at the time. The consequences, in the long run, weren’t worth what you got. They noted that there were often consequences right on earth, but even if there didn’t seem to be, God would have consequences for you after you died, and eternity is a long time.

They are right. Making bad choices is a waste of agency. When I use my agency to make a good choice, I feel good about myself. I gain a sense of personal self-esteem. My courage and my self-discipline improve. I become better at long-term planning. I improve my ability to focus on the right things for the right reasons. I gain the blessings promised for my wisdom. Everything that comes from making wise God-approved choices is valuable, even when it involves a few worldly sacrifices.

However, when I make unwise choices, nothing good ever really comes from them. I waste time, hurt others, and focus on things that have no value. I make God sad. A few months ago, a preschooler asked me during a lesson, “How can someone who loves Jesus just run away and make Him sad?” She was referring to the nine lepers who ran off without thanking Jesus, but I realized she was making a critical

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point for all situations. When I make a wrong choice, I break God’s heart. How can I possibly choose to do that when I love Him?

God could have chosen to force us to always do the right thing—Lucifer thought that would be a great way to run the Earth—but He didn’t. He knew that if we made those choices for ourselves, we would grow and find joy and wisdom. This is why it is a waste of good agency to make wrong choices. We lose the whole purpose of having it.

Our lesson was on wisdom. Making our choices align with God’s choices is what wisdom is all about, and using our agency well is the secret to becoming wise. Agency—don’t waste it on bad choices.

About 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.

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