Sunday I taught a lesson to the 16 & 17 year-old girls at church about agency. I based the lesson around these three quotes.
First a definition of agency from Elder Hales.
We teach that agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and ‘to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon’ (2 Nephi 2:26). Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions. Our agency is essential to the plan of salvation. With it we are ‘free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil’ (2 Nephi 2:27).
– Robert D. Hales, “Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life,“ Oct. 2010 General Conference.
Choice is so important. If you’ve ever read the book A Wrinkle in Time think about the world with It. No choice. Everyone does exactly what they are told, when they are told, how they are told. It’s the creepiest place. No room for growth. No room for progress. Without agency this life would have little meaning.
This second quote really gave us something to talk about:
A number of years ago, a one-inch article in my local newspaper caught my attention, and I have remembered it ever since: “Four people were killed and seven workers were rescued after clinging for more than an hour to the underside of a 125-foot-high [38-m] bridge in St. Catharines, Ontario, [Canada,] after the scaffolding they were working on collapsed” (“News Capsules,” Deseret News, June 9, 1993, A2).
I was, and I continue to be, fascinated by this brief story. Shortly after reading this account, I called a family friend who lived in St. Catharines. She explained that the workers had been painting the Garden City Skyway bridge for about a year and were two weeks short of completing the project when the accident happened. After the accident, officials were asked why these men did not have any safety equipment. The answer was simple: they had the equipment; they just chose not to wear it. After the scaffolding gave way, the survivors held on to a one-inch (2.5-cm) lip of steel girder and stood on an eight-inch (20-cm) ledge of steel for over an hour until rescue teams could reach them.
– Ann M. Dibb, “Hold On,“ Oct. 2009 General Conference, emphasis added
Did you catch that? They had safety equipment. But they also had agency. They used their agency to choose to use or not to use safety equipment. But that doesn’t mean we can choose the consequences of our decisions.
We all have safety equipment in our lives we can choose to use or not. Scriptures, family, prayer, fasting, temples, the Spirit, and many other things are there to give us safety. The scaffolding will fall out from under us in our lives. But if we’re using our safety equipment we can hold on until help comes.
This final quote is about deciding once what we will or won’t do, not waiting till the scaffolding falls to choose to use your safety equipment.
What can each of you do to be a guardian of virtue? It starts with believing you can make a difference. It starts with making a commitment. When I was a young woman, I learned that some decisions need to be made only once. I wrote my list of things I would always do and things I would never do in a small tablet. It included things like obeying the Word of Wisdom, praying daily, paying my tithing, and committing to never miss church. I made those decisions once, and then in the moment of decision, I knew exactly what to do because I had decided beforehand. When my high school friends said, “Just one drink won’t hurt,” I laughed and said, “I decided when I was 12 not to do that.” Making decisions in advance will help you be guardians of virtue. I hope each of you will write a list of things you will always do and things you will never do. Then live your list.
– Elaine S. Dalton, “Guardians of Virtue,” April 2011 General Conference
At which point in the lesson I handed out a bookmark for each person. One side was titled “I will ALWAYS” and the other “I will NEVER.” They were to list things on both sides that they will always/never do. Making those decisions now means they don’t have to decide when the pressure is on. They can decide when they are calm and can think clearly. That was the only point in the lesson that was completely quiet. They all set out to write down their lists.
Some things on my lists:
I will ALWAYS
- Attend my church meetings
- Pay tithing
- Pray, even when I don’t feel like it
- Eat my vegetables & fruits
I will NEVER
- Speak ill of my family to others
- Drink, smoke, or use illicit drugs
- Kill or steal
Think about your own lists. Make the decisions now. Use your agency. Guard your agency. Don’t let others, people, or things, take it from you.