To Act Or Be Acted Upon – Our Gift of Agency

I had to pretend I was writing a 5 minute talk for my religion class this past semester.  I worked really hard on this talk, only to find out, it was over twice as long as it was supposed to be! I sent my instructor the Reader’s Digest Version, but I wanted to share the original version on my blog.  I used to shy away from religion on the internet, but with all of the loud voices out there denying Christ and God, I wanted to offer my perspective to the mix.  I feel like my background allows me a little more perspective than your average, run-of-the-mill member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More on that later.  Here is the talk! Thanks for reading!


Today I am going to give a talk on the topic of Agency. Specifically our ability to act versus being acted upon.

As most of you know, last year was a decent trial in our family’s life as I struggled through post partum depression and anxiety after the birth of our 6th baby. What only a couple people know, is there were many days I wanted to completely check out, I was certain I was ruining everyone’s lives.

I was at a crossroads. I spent a lot of time in prayer for the desire to act and fight and work towards the person I felt like I had lost before I physically took the first action. I chose to act. Before I acted, I chose to pray for the desire to act.  

Spencer had seen me struggle with anxiety and depression in the past, but not to this degree. I had nothing but support from my family and ward, and tools like fitness and nutrition I would turn to in the event of feeling depressed or anxious.  None of it was working this time.

I was utilizing every aspect of the medical community, and spending every sane moment learning all I could about why what I was doing wasn’t working.

The struggles didn’t end there though, there were plenty of setbacks and angry prayers as to why things weren’t fixing right now. I kept hitting that same crossroad, I kept having to choose to act, over and over.

Elder David A Bednar said, “In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.” “And Nothing Shall Offend Them” Elder David A Bednar, October 2006

In my instance this was a something… my something was depression, anxiety, panic attacks, sleepless nights, inappropriate content being shared at school to my then 1st and 2nd graders, a broken foot, the neighborhood kids all ending up at my house after school while I was trying to nap with a very high maintenance infant, and just trying survive. I needed so desperately to feel alive and in charge, but I just felt like I was surviving and life was happening to me. I was out of control.

Despite being able to do other things to help relieve the anxiety, when I broke my foot I took on the challenge to read The Book of Mormon in 30 days – 8 chapters a day not including the introduction and testimonies!

Even though my ability to feel emotions and connections deeply were severely compromised, I both loved and hated, mostly loved, the message as I was studying 2 Nephi chapter 2.  I noticed the phrase “to act” repeated 4 times in the context of the right and responsibility we have to choose.  The result/consequences of our choices will be determined by whether we chose to follow God’s plan or give in to our carnal natures.  The opposite is also true, if we do not choose to act, we will be acted upon. Agency is not ‘free,’ it is a gift as a result of the Atonement.

In verses 11-16 it reads:

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

So why did I both love and hate this message? Because my human nature wanted my trials fixed now. I didn’t want my suffering to be necessary.  I was hurting and I was mentally and emotionally unstable, and I was also doing what we felt prompted to do in bringing another child into this world.  So why was it such a challenge to adjust when I was following the Lord’s plan? You see, we cannot go through life without the pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. We have to have one side so the pendulum can swing to the other. Otherwise, we would be stuck in the middle, never experiencing or growing.

President Russell M Nelson talks about the significance of the great eternal plan as well, and this perspective really helps me keep a more eternal mindset when making choices. He said, “Scriptures refer to this plan of God by many names. Perhaps out of deference to the sacred name of Deity, or to depict its broad scope, it is also called the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, the plan of redemption, the plan of restoration, the plan of mercy, the plan of deliverance, and the everlasting gospel. Prophets have used these terms interchangeably. Regardless of designation, the enabling essence of the plan is the atonement of Jesus Christ. As it is central to the plan, we should try to comprehend the meaning of the Atonement. Before we can comprehend it, though, we must understand the fall of Adam. And before we can fully appreciate the Fall, we must first comprehend the Creation. These three events—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement—are three preeminent pillars of God’s plan, and they are doctrinally interrelated.” “Constancy Amid Change” President Russell M Nelson, October 1993

Keeping the Plan of Salvation in our minds, we understand the purpose of this mortal life. The Knowledge of the creation, the fall and the Atonement don’t take away the hurt, offense, mental illness, sins, or consequences of choice, however it can help us “keep our eye on the ball,” and stay focused through our trials and tests of our faith. The Atonement not only cleanses us from sin, but it enables us to face through our trials and afflictions.  As we turn our hearts and minds to the Savior, our purpose here, and the Atonement, our burdens are eased.  Even though things are hard, they aren’t as hard as they could be without maintaining Gospel perspective.

It is my testimony that trial and opposition favor God’s plan and are essential to our growth. Because of the need for opposition, we will also experience insurmountable joy, as was our pain, if we choose to follow the eternal plan of happiness and accept both the redeeming and enabling power of the atonement in our lives.

We are promised eternal life should we choose to abide by the Atonement and its laws and precepts. Should we choose to follow our carnal natures, we are promised that ‘awful monster,’ captivity and spiritual death.

There is a relationship between the creation of all things, the fall of Adam and necessity of it, and the need for the Atonement as a result of our commandment to choose.  We cannot avoid this choice. We all accepted the creation, and we all accepted the Fall of Adam- otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We are on step 3 of 3, accepting the Atonement, which can happen many, many, many times throughout our lives. I believe in the power of the Atonement to help us throughout our trials, it can’t always take them away, but you can have strength and power to do what God commands. He will always make it possible to keep His commandments and accomplish His requirements as His servants. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


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