Our Struggle With Agency
What a great privilege is was to speak in the historic Salt Lake City Tabernacle. Ensign Stake Conference September 17, 2017
There are valuable lessons that being homeless can teach. One of those lessons is the true nature of ownership. In this world awash with the illusion of ownership, I know that the only thing that is ultimately mine, what I truly own are the choices I make, everything else is on short term loan.
I am grateful to know a least a portion of the value of agency. I also see how easily agency can be to abused.
In my youth I was generally unsupervised and I quickly learned that I could do anything I wanted, most often without consequences, and so I proceeded to do any and everything I wanted. I was a quick study – learning of the world and its more wicked ways at a very young age.
Unhampered by true doctrine, my choices became self-centered and my life was eventually all about me. What do I want, how do I feel, what can I do to get attention, who can I find that will make me feel loved?
The more self-seeking pleasure I experienced, the less joy I felt. My life centered around me and my temporal desires. My spiritual needs went unmet and only grew as my pursuit of earthly pleasures created immense emotional pain.
Through my experiences I have come to understand that each of us is born with a deep yearning for God that cannot be quelled by anything temporal, each of us has a ‘God shaped hole’ where only He can reside.
The 17th century Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal once said: “What elsedoes this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once inman a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print andtrace?”
We spiritually yearn for what we once had.
While in our second estate, our spiritual yearning is a battle ground. A battleground upon which the enemy fights to steal away our agency, even if momentarily. The war is the same as it has always been, it is only the weapons of war that change.
Our earthly desires often over shadow our unmet spiritual needs. Yet when we attempt to meet a spiritual need with anything temporal the sensation of emptiness may be forestalled but the need will reemerge only to be greater.
Regardless of this outcome, we often return and try to scratch the same itch, repeating the pattern of craving, temporary temporal relief with the same outcome of the eventual deepening of our spiritual need. This is how habits are created and addictions are eventually formed.
One potato chip usually leads to several but potato chips rarely satisfy hunger and never satisfy our nutritional needs. And so it is when we pursue our earthly cravings, we can never be spiritually satisfied by anything temporal.
Through a member’s eyes, I see addiction and recovery very differently than ever before. I see addiction as the human condition.
The daily anger behind the wheel, the guilty ‘pleasure’ of a reality television show, an endless stream of gossipy Facebook posts, the R rated movie everyone is talking about, another piece of chocolate even in the face of diabetes, a second glance behind our wife’s back, a few clicks further down the road of a well-worn path on the internet, one more pain pill, another pair of shoes, a desire turned into habit and eventually hardwired as an addiction. More of me and my ever-increasing hunger - less of Him and His fulfilling spiritual food. At first we make these choices deliberately until eventually they become hardwired in our brain and we lose our agency – ultimately an intervention is required.
As Nephi has stated: “And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” It starts with thin cord.
We pay the price for our selfish choices, a few extra pounds added each year, less of the spirit each week, issues in our relationships, medication with their side effects to mitigate unhealthy behavior, the illusion of personal power from plastic … but we are nothing like the ‘real addicts’!
Well, yes, we are – we are much like them - only the temporal consequences we experience are much more socially acceptable and far less noticeable - but I question - are they truly any less consequential spiritually? Certainly not should we consider ourselves to be greater than them!
Who among us hasn’t watched a loved one make choices they know will have destructive results, but they do it anyway? But honestly, aren’t we just the same – with our cookies, our chocolate, our Facebook, our driving, our lusts, our television, our shopping, our egos? The biggest difference is we seemingly get away with our self-centered and hard-hearted choices.
From the addict that will die today to my dear 91 year old mother, reaching for another Dr. Pepper against doctors’ orders, we are united in our struggle with the gift of agency.
Yes, the general state of humankind is addiction. But we, as members of His church have the cure.
Doctrine and Covenants 19:23-24 “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will.”
We experience our lives as if it were a solid time line of events, but in truth our lives are a collection of moments. Moments that pass almost before we even know they have arrived. Within each moment is the opportunity to exercise our agency - each choice we make is as if a drop in a bucket. A drop in the bucket that leads towards peace, or a drop in the bucket that leads towards chaos. Are we filling up our buckets with ourselves or are they being filled with Christ?
We are called to follow Christ, to follow his example. He was free, free of addictions, free of earthly cravings because He was spiritually full – He was full of our Father. This is what He desires for us. He desires to feed us to capacity so we too may be spiritually full.
My heart breaks when I see the rampant addictions in Zion from top of the avenues to the bottom of Rio Grande. My heart breaks because I understand that each person that has lost their way has lost their way because they, just as we have done, tried to fill a spiritual need with an earthly craving.
They sought a quick easy fix.
Each of us here have been given so much but the greatest gift next to the Grace of our Lord is the knowledge of the Gospel. With this knowledge we have the chance to be spiritually fed - fed by the Spirit, by Scriptures, fed by Prophets and apostles, fed by ministering Angels, and fed with a righteous and nutritional diet! We also have the obligation and hopefully - the desire - to feed others, to help others understand what it is they are really craving and how they too can be fed. This is how we follow Christ, to do as he did. Stay nourished with nutritional spiritual food and then feed others with the same.
Through Christ and His willful obedience on the cross our Father has made flesh subject to the Spirit. This is our great objective, to overcome the flesh with the Spirt and thereby find the true and lasting peace of Christ as we become one with Him.
I leave my testimony with you that I know God lives, that peace can be found only through following Christ in meekness, that pleasure never was joy and that all of us as brothers and sisters are very much alike. That we are here to overcome the flesh by the Spirit through learning and serving others and that as we continually strive to be spiritually full, we shall overcome in peace by His grace and will.