When Enoch talked with God, he saw the heavens weep over the wickedness of the people of the earth. When he asked the Lord about it, the Lord began His reply with a very important lesson: “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency” (Moses 7:32).
The principle of agency is a very powerful one, and yet so often ignored. Agency was so important to the Lord that before we came to this earth, He was willing to consign one third part of His children to eternal darkness so that He could preserve our agency (Doc. & Cov. 29:36). He preserves the freedom of our nation so that “every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land...to answer for his own sins” (Mosiah 29:38).
But He lets us answer for more than just our sins—we also answer for our decisions. One of the most powerful principles I have ever been taught is this: “Whoever will stand accountable for a decision must be free to make that decision.” And so sometimes, when we’re searching for the right path to take, though we pray fervently and sometimes wish the Lord would just tell us what to do, in the end, the answer is, “I will guide you, but you must choose.” And because we are free to choose, we can’t blame anyone for the consequences of our choices—we alone must bear them. It’s empowering to think that the Lord has so much faith in us, that even when we make poor choices, He will never contravene our agency.
I remember one night I spent many hours in the computer lab doing homework for a particularly difficult computer-heavy class. As I left the engineering building late that night, I was grumbling and complaining to myself about how much work I had had to do, and how unfair and difficult it was. In the midst of this internal bellyaching, a small but piercing voice spoke within me in words I will never forget: “Stop complaining," it said. And then, “Amy, this is the life you chose.”
The words stopped me cold, because I realized that they were true. I had chosen this major, knowing it was difficult. In fact, I had switched from the social sciences to engineering because my classes hadn’t been difficult enough. I had chosen this path and I had chosen to take this class. I had chosen to spend time on my homework. Ultimately, if I was overworked, it was because of choices I had made, not because the teacher was mean or the computer designer was incompetent.
Those words have come back to me throughout my life, as I have struggled with things that were difficult for me to do or handle. But the knowledge that I am choosing the things that shape my life gives me strength and power. Knowing that I chose to come to earth, even with an understanding of the trials and sorrows that life would hold, makes me rejoice in the blessings of this life and the joy that awaits me hereafter. My understanding of the principle of agency makes it all worth doing.
There was once a time in my life when I had to make a very difficult decision that I knew would have far-reaching consequences. But as I prayed fervently about the paths that lay ahead, I knew that the choice before me was so important that no one else could make it for me. So instead of asking the Lord how I should proceed, I simply asked Him to enlighten me with His Spirit as I pondered my decision. Ultimately, I made a choice that was difficult, but was the only one with which I felt comfortable. I still bear the consequences of that decision. But in the weeks and months that followed, I received very specific confirmation that the choice I had made was pleasing to the Lord, and that He ratified and approved of my decision. This time, though, His approval didn’t come because I had chosen well when confronted with sin and righteousness, but because I had, with His counsel and through the exercise of His gift of agency, made what was in my own judgment the best choice available to me, and had expressed a willingness to accept the consequences of my decision, both good and ill.
Agency is such a beautiful gift. The knowledge that we can choose our own course in life and out attitude toward whatever happens to us, and that we are therefore responsible for our own lives, gives us great strength. When we claim the power that comes from a wise use of agency and the accountability that accompanies it we become truly free.
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh...they are free to choose liberty and eternal life...or captivity and death” (2 Nephi 2:27).