Many years ago I came to a powerful understanding about the gift and power of agency. Since then I have learned to appreciate agency even more. It is difficult sometimes, because I love my own agency, but it is another’s agency that I have a problem with! I am being facetious of course, but agency is two-sided. It can cause us great pain as we watch agency being abused and misused; and yet, it is one of the greatest gifts given to us. We can choose!
Let’s put that choice in the world of addiction. Addiction is often where we feel that we have lost our free agency to substances or to a deep-seated addictive behavior such as gambling or pornography that we never seem to be able to defeat. It is as though someone else or something else is in control of our life.
To some extent I think that is true. That is the power of addiction. It isn’t lightweight. It isn’t easily overcome. It isn’t just some wishful thinking. But agency has a power in and of itself that can overcome the worst addictive behavior possible.
Since I am LDS, when I have counseled members who are LDS, we use gospel principles to work out issues and look at behaviors that need to be changed. Working hand in hand with the Spirit is a wonderful opportunity. There is also another spirit though, that we run into almost immediately, particularly in the addiction field.
How do I know that? I watched a battle of agency take place with one individual who considered himself lost. I want to share the story with you, because where there is life there is hope. Where there is agency there is hope. Never, never give up!
Many years ago I did some counseling in our ward building in the evenings, dedicating it as service to the Lord. Bishops in the stake would refer members to me from time to time. A middle-aged member had been referred by his bishop to talk with me. The bishop pointed out that this member would be very active for six months, and then for six months he would be drunk or stoned most of the time. This had gone on for a number of years.
The member who had the appointment came and was very personable and open. He didn’t know why he did what he did, and told me about his life. As he sat with me, I had a growing sense that this was more than just periodic addictive behavior. This is often the case when unfinished guilt feeds addictive behavior. This brother in particular, as he was talking, left me with a very heavy feeling. Finally, towards the end of the second session, I commented, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what you or I do until you straighten out something that is very serious between you and your Heavenly Father.” He looked stunned and then looked down. I asked him, “Do you have an understanding of what the problem is? Because it has to be handled before anything else will change.”
He looked up and said, “I know. I know what you are talking about and I have avoided it for years. I just don’t know if I can face it or the consequences of it”.
“Well,” I said, “you are the only one who can. I am happy to make the journey with you; but this is more about repentance than counseling. You have agency; you have the capacity to change things around, but the bottom line, is it is you and your agency.”
He continued for a few more weeks to come and we stayed fairly general in our discussions. Then came the week of change. He came for his appointment and he then told me that he had an appointment with his bishop in two days. He also knew he had to confess and that he had to deal with the consequences. He then told me that he wanted to tell me what had happened. I told him he didn’t need to, but he said, “No, you need to understand what this means to me.”
As he sat across from me he began to tell me what had happened. As I listened, I knew that it was very serious, and he would probably be excommunicated (which he was), and possibly it would involve the law. Yet, I was impressed with his determination. He desired to get things right and that is what it is always about. As he finished I shared with him my thoughts that this would be a long road, but a worthwhile road; that he had made a choice and with that choice he would have freedom.
He asked if I would have a prayer with him and would I please say it. I agreed, and as I bowed my head there was a powerful force that became apparent. It was not a good force and then, in my mind I heard these words, which I have never forgotten: “How dare you? He was mine!” I knew exactly the evil behind those words. The adversary had counted him as his own. Just as fast, I felt prompted to say in my mind and spirit, “He has made his choice! He has agency! You have no power here! He has made his choice! You have to leave.” For a moment I could feel a major temper tantrum taking place, and then the sweetest, calmest spirit entered and I knew that we would be fine.
All this happened while my head was bowed, and I looked up and the brother said, “Aren’t you going to say the prayer?” I realized that he had not felt the battle. “Yes, yes, I am.” With that, the prayer was said, and in the following days he went to the bishop.
Little Sister of the Gospel
He ended up being excommunicated, but handled it with courage and commitment. About five years later I got a phone call and heard these words “Little Sister of the Gospel. I have just been re-baptized! I just wanted to let you know.”
I hung up the phone, and with tears, thanked my Heavenly father and then marveled about the power of agency. When we choose, things happen. No matter how powerful the adversary is, and how caught one feels, we have agency! We can break the bonds that are wrapped around us!
Many years later I was discussing addiction with a stake president and the complications of past behaviors. He commented that “when you deal with someone who is ensnared, it is a battle and it does get rough, but it will always be won if the person continues to choose to go forward. Even if they have slips, if they continue to go forward they will win the battle.”
For this reason I write this article. Hope comes from our Heavenly Father. Despair comes from the Adversary. “You have gone too far; you are too bad; you are not worth it!” he whispers in our minds.
Those are the lies and they never change. As long as we choose, and sometimes that is every hour and every day, eventually the battle lessens. Sometimes we lose for a moment but if we immediately get right back in the battle, the law of agency or choice will see us through.