Shortly before Christ visited the Americas, the Nephites had become a righteous and God-fearing people. They knew, Mormon tells us, that Christ had been born and that, according to the prophecies given them, He would visit soon.
"Therefore they did forsake all their sins . . . and did serve God with all diligence day and night."
But even at that, there were some who exercised their agency by choosing evil over good. The righteous chose to teach those who had made bad choices "and as many as would repent of their sins . . . were set at liberty."
However, a few would still not hearken to the word of God, refused to feel of the influence of the Spirit and chose sin over righteousness. (See 3 Nephi 5:1-6.)
Their agency was theirs. They were free to choose — even when their choices caused them to reject the God who gave them that freedom.
Agency, of course, is essential to God's eternal plan, a plan that perfectly provides for our eternal joy.
To some, the ultimate irony of agency is that by choosing to conform to God's will — restricting ourselves, some would say, by keeping God's commandments — we free ourselves. To those who understand agency, there's no irony at all. The freedom achieved by choosing to serve God is, perhaps, best understood when one simply looks at the bondage wrought by sin. While, initially, sinful practices may seem pleasurable and cost-free, they ultimately — without exception — lead to physical, emotional and spiritual slavery.
Alma was entirely correct when he declared to his son Corianton that "wickedness never was happiness." (See Alma 41:10.)
But properly exercising our agency brings another, sometimes less noticed, freedom: self-mastery.
Simply put, to fully control ourselves, we need to sometimes choose to do those things that we'd really rather not do, but should do.
The list of such things is as varied as it is long. It contains, for some, things that are not there for others. For many, it could include spiritual duties — scripture study, sacrament meeting and temple attendance, fasting — that are essential to everyone. And, sadly, for others the list would include eliminating sinful behavior.
But, for most, the list of difficult-but-important opportunities probably includes things that to others are easy and routine.
Maybe the list for a teenager includes rising early. For a middle-age man, it might include eating less. For a new mother it might include exercising. For virtually anyone it might include watching less television and for some it might include reading more. For a college student it might include studying more, while for a professional it might include spending more time with friends or family.
Whatever the case, two obvious truisms remain constant — and bear repeating:
- Only the individual truly knows what the individual’s list must include.
- Mastering oneself can be achieved only by oneself.
Equally obvious is the fact that choosing to tackle tasks that aren't easy isn't easy. But doing so is a marvelous step in mastering oneself. And the blessings of so doing are so personally rewarding.
Moroni promises the Lord will help, despite the difficultly of the tasks.
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27.)
As one sister so eloquently said: "I'm looking for that peaceful spot in my soul. I try not to live for anyone else, but try to do the right thing for the right reason."