Monday, March 31, 2008

Agency--What It Is

Agency is one of the most important principles of the gospel and also one of the most misunderstood. So let’s start with a definition. Agency is the ability to make choices. But Elder Packer explained that all references to agency in the scriptures refer to a specific kind of agency–moral agency. Moral agency is the ability to make choices between good and evil. Frequently in the Church we confuse the principle of moral agency with the principle of freedom. Freedom is the ability to act on the choices we have made. For example, if I am choosing between drinking apple juice and orange juice, I use my non-moral agency but if I am deciding between coffee and milk I am using my moral agency because there is a commandment involved. If I choose grapefruit juice, but there is none available, my freedom is involved. As much as I might want it, I can't have it because there isn't any.
There are several reasons this designation is important. One of the most important is that there is ALWAYS a spiritual consequence when we use our moral agency. There are no spiritual consequences to using our non-moral agency or freedom. The negative consequences of bad moral choices are obvious, but I said ALWAYS a consequence. In King Benjamin’s great speech he tells us that the Lord requires "that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you" (Mosiah 2:24). The immediate blessing that comes from obeying God is increased faith. Faith is a gift of God predicated upon the law of obedience! (See D&C 130:20-21). As we grow in faith, we then are blessed with more spiritual gifts and increased gospel knowledge.
Another reason this designation is important to understand is that agency cannot be taken away from us. (I know you’ve heard that it can, but the person is using the word agency to mean freedom.) Lucifer fought a battle in the pre-mortal world to take away our agency and failed. He is not going to waste time doing that again. Instead he works on taking away our freedom. If he can limit our choices or through peer pressure, addiction, or other means entice us to negative choices, he has us in his grasp. Technically, we still have our agency. We can choose to repent and return to the light. However, as we loose freedom, it becomes more and more difficult to exercise our agency to follow the Lord.
Agency, then, is a mental process. It is the means God has given us to choose our way back to Him and returning to Him is done one little choice at a time.

PS - There is a wonderful autobiography in which Victor Frankl explains how he came to understand these principles while in a Nazi concentration camp. It is short and well worth the read. The title is Man's Search For Meaning.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Relationship to God

One of the most important things we can do in this life is to come to know who we are (see Romans 8:17) and act accordingly. This doesn’t mean that if asked the question we can answer, "I am a child of God." It means that you feel like a child of God. You feel like an heir! In other words, somehow the information has moved from being an idea in your head to a feeling in your heart. You KNOW you are God’s child and identify yourself as such. One thing that has helped me understand this is prayer. When I consciously think about my Father in Heaven and talk with Him rather than at Him, I feel more connected to Him. In addition, when I have finished pouring out my heart to Him, instead of jumping up and running on to the next task I pause and give Him time to speak to me. In this way I sense a very real connection.
I taught my children to do this when they were younger and one night as I was saying prayers with five year old Anissa, I began to review this principle with her. "Remember," I said, "to wait a few minutes after you. . ." At that point, Anissa put her little hand in my face to stop me from speaking. "No, Mom!" she said. "You don’t have to tell me that because once when I listened Heavenly Father said, ‘I love you."
As we learn who we are, the next step is the exemplify. Simply put, we act like a child of God at all times. We are princes and princess of the God of the universe! As we dress, speak, and act like children of deity, we are examples to those around us.
Ministering this knowledge grows out of exemplifying it. In any interaction with another of God’s children we should treat them as the royal beings they are. Sometimes this is difficult because they aren’t acting like God’s children. But the amazing thing I’ve discovered is that when I treat people as special, they soften and act differently. It has become a delightful endeavor for me to find something to complement sales people, telephone solicitors, servers in restaurants, or other service people for. I’m sure they take a lot of abuse from people and it has been so fun to watch them "brighten" when I complement them or simply treat them with the respect a child of God deserves.
It is a mind set and at first it is difficult to constantly remind ourselves of who we are and who others are. But as it becomes habit, amazing things happen. This is especially true when we remember that the people in our families are not "ours." They are God’s and he has entrusted them to our care.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How to Be a Source for Good

In my last post I wrote about the definition of a mother as someone who nurtures–someone who is a source of good. That leads to the question, “How do we do it? How do we mother no matter what our maternal status?” The answer is that we nurture by (1) Learning, (2) exemplifying, and (3) ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first that sounds overwhelming, but it is really very simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized in four basic ideas. If we understand, live, and teach these four things we will be sources of all that is good. The four foundational principles of the gospel that we need to understand are:
1. Who God is and our relationship to Him.
2. Agency–what it is and how we use it.
3. Jesus Christ–who He is and why we need Him.
4. The Holy Ghost-who He is and how He works in our lives.
During the next week I will post an entry for each of these four. In the meantime, take time to observe your own activities and watch how these principles inform your life. And PLEASE leave your comments about how to learn, exemplify and minister these principles.

A Source for Good

When I was raising my large family there were times when I felt like I’d scream if I heard one more person cry, “Mom!” It felt like somehow mom had become a four-letter word. While pondering these feelings one day, I looked mother up in a dictionary. The word is used as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. (The dictionary was obviously written by men or women without children because it didn’t account for its usage as an expletive.)
As a noun the word means “a female parent” or “a woman in authority.” Those definitions are what we usually think of when we hear the word, but the next definition sums the word up better: mother means “source or origin.”
As maternal mothers we are obviously the source of life, but maternity isn’t all that defines a Latter-day Saint mother. Pres. John A. Widtsoe explained that “motherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood” (Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960], p. 308.) Therefore, mother is a title all worthy LDS women bear whether they have given birth to children or not. Why? Because besides being a source of life, mothers are a source of love, laughter, comfort, peace, nurturing, and affirmation not just to their own children but to everyone with whom they come in contact. Every woman who is seeking to follow Jesus Christ can define herself as a mother, a source of all that is good.
As the Lord said in his letter to the exiles, “Seek the welfare of the city [situation] where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” As we do whatever good we can in whatever situation we are in, we are a source for good-we are mothering.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, mothering is about much more than producing children and it isn’t about producing children that never make mistakes. Mothering is about being a source for good. Eve mothered Cain as well as Abel. Rebekah mothered Esau as well as Jacob. Children have their agency and our status as mothers is not determined by their choices. Eve and Rebekah were sources of great good! In addition, Miriam mothered the children of Israel (see Micah 6:4) and Deborah mothered the Israelites and we know nothing of their maternal status. All these women worked for the welfare of the people around them–they were mothers.
Why is this important to understand? Because when we define ourselves by what we do instead of our circumstances or the outcome of what we do, there is great peace and joy in life. Then mothering brings joy. Being a source of goodness is pure delight. Nurturing is what we were created to do and when we do it to the best of our ability, despite how it is received, we can rejoice in our efforts. When we understand this, instead of a disparaging expletive, the word becomes an exclamation of joy: “Mother!”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Letter From God

Shortly after Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem the Babylonians swept through the Holy Land, destroyed the country, and took captive the most able and talented Jews. During this time the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter in the name of the Lord to instruct and encourage the exiles.
Shortly after Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem the Babylonians swept through the Holy Land, destroyed the country, and took captive the most able and talented Jews. During this time the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter in the name of the Lord to instruct and encourage the exiles.
The letter reads:
“To all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon's seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:4-11 NRSV).

I love this letter and like to read it as if it were a letter from God to me. After all I am an exile from my heavenly home and am wandering in this strange, foreign place of adversity and trial. When one understands the symbolism in the letter, this reading is even more poignant. While there is no agreement on the translation, some scholars believe the name Jerusalem means “founded peaceful” and it is symbolically a Promised Land or Holy Land. In contrast the name Babylon comes from the word babel and is known as a city of materialism and sensual pleasure–symbolically the telestial world we live in. In addition the numbers seven, seventy, or seven hundred are all symbols of completion or perfection.
Therefore, in "my" letter the Lord is telling me three things. (1) Make the best of whatever situation I am in. As an exile from heaven, I should build, plant, do what I can to create goodness where ever I am for in doing so I will be happy. (2) I should never pay attention to the false teachers and others in Babylon who are trying to lead me astray. (3) I should never give up hope because when the time of trial and testing is completed, when I have learned what I am supposed to learn, God will rescue me. He has wonderful plans for me. Nothing I encounter will harm me. Instead the Lord is planning for my welfare and to give me a future with hope.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Golden Cord of Hope

An old Greek myth tells the story of Theseus who faced the daunting task of entering an elaborate labyrinth, finding and slaying the Minotaur, then finding his way back out of the maze. After falling in love with him, the princess Ariadne gives Theseus a golden cord to insure his safety. Theseus ties the cord to the entrance of the labyrinth and unrolls it as he goes. Thus after defeating the Minotaur instead of being hopelessly lost in the depths of the winding maze, Theseus finds his way out easily by simply following the golden cord.
This story has some wonderful parallels to life which often seems a dangerous labyrinth that is difficult to navigate, but when a golden cord ties us to our eternal destination, the task is not so daunting. And what is our golden cord? The good news that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we place our hope in Jesus Christ, and follow His teachings we have our own golden cord.
The prophet Ether tells us that hope is an anchor to the soul (Ether 12:4). The meaning of that metaphor becomes more poignant when we realize that the Hebrew word often translated as hope is tikvaw which literally means "a cord." It is easy to see how the word cord became associated with the feeling of hope because hope is something you so very much expect to happen that you "tie yourself to it." When you are tied to something, you are pulled in that direction. In other words, your hope directs your life. It is your anchor. When Jesus Christ is our hope, we are tied to Him. He is our anchor.
With this in mind, it is important to realize that everyone has hope. Everyone ties themselves to something. We sometimes hear people say that they have no hope, but that is not true. Even a suicidal person has placed their hope in the belief that death will bring them comfort and peace. Some people place their hope in wealth thinking that if they just have enough money they will be safe and comfortable in life. Others place their hope in intelligence thinking that if they know all the answers they will be safe. Others hope that popularity or materialism will give them peace. Hermits hope that if they can withdraw enough from society and other people they will be safe and comfortable. There are hundreds of things people place their hope in, but only one thing that will give eternal comfort and salvation: hope in Jesus Christ.
As we "tie" ourselves to Him, amazing things begin to happen. Like Theseus, we find the way back to safety and security well defined and navigable. In addition, we experience something Theseus never did. When our hope is tied to Christ, we feel him pulling us along, helping us make the journey, helping bear the weight of our burdens which makes the journey lighter.
When we are "tied" to Jesus Christ, we hope not just in His saving power, but in all of His teachings and doctrines. We have our own golden cord of hope and therefore fully expect to find our way back into the presence of God–an eternal place of safety and comfort.