Oh agency, how we all wished for you, how God planned for you, but how hard it is to give you, use you. I work with the girls 12-18 years old at our church. Focusing mostly on the girls aged 14 and 15. It’s a tricky age group. They’re suddenly experiencing life through more questioning eyes. The safe black and white of their youth is no longer acceptable, and they’re trying to find their way through the gray. I love working with this group. I’m negotiating my way through the gray too, while also feeling secure in more black and white understandings of some very vital things. It’s those vital things that I most want to help the girls grasp, accept, and find peace with. Funny, but I just realized that there is a lot of parallel with an experience I just shared with my son. I helped him put up his play tent. (I’ve been preparing a lesson on muscles, bones, blood- the body for preschool this week.) So, thinking of that, I said as I fed in the poles- these are like the “bones” of the tent. Life is a lot like a tent without poles when you don’t have any concrete understanding, or knowledge of spiritual things. Sleeping in, and most certainly living in a tent without poles would be frustrating, annoying, and uncomfortable. But add a few poles and suddenly it becomes a livable space. We could extend the metaphor by suggesting that while a tent is a suitable dwelling place for a few days, it would make for a difficult dwelling place year round, harsher weather and real life necessities- nutrition beyond granola bars, a way efficient way to clean one’s self, etc, would eventually lead us to seek a home with a foundation, insulation, walls and conveniences like a kitchen, bathroom, etc. Similarly a few poles of gospel truth might get us through a short while. But if we are to weather the storms and necessities of life we need to be continually adding to our “home” until eventually we have built our “mansion”- in heaven.
But I digress, so what do you do when your student, child, friend, continues to “choose” to live in a tent without poles? Any loving mother/father/friend would offer poles, would encourage movement into a more permanent home. A parent might even force it. Sticking their own poles into the sleeves, or pulling the child out of their sloppy tent and into their own comfortable house, but that’s where the metaphor falls short. With testimony this is impossible. You can’t offer poles. You can gush about how much more wonderful life is in a tent with structure or even in a home with heating and plumbing. But they have to build them themselves. They have to be willing to “try them on” and slip them into the sleeves. They have to be willing to maintain them. This is the law of agency. This was the great gift that Heavenly Father gave us, required on earth. Agency is the plan Christ supported, the lack of agency- the Devil’s. But where is the line? Where as a parent is it still your responsibility to require/force your child to live in accordance with what you believe is best? On one extreme some parents offer little advice, letting their children navigate the world entirely on their own. On the other, parents strictly enforce their set of rules/beliefs and children who deviate are punished or disowned. I believe, as with most things, the ideal falls in the middle. But I certainly haven’t figured out where that middle is. I would say in my brief experience, it’s easier and quicker to force- but much less desirable to all parties. I always feel a peace when together Scotland and I are able to work out an arrangement that is equally respectful, understanding, and fulfilling. Like this morning, after being asked five or six times, Scotland still hadn’t dressed for church, and we soon needed to leave. I knelt down and petitioned “Scotland, I don’t know what to do. You aren’t listening, and I’ve committed to not get mad at you today. But what am I supposed to do?” He responded curtly. I stopped, thought, considered the situation, and said “Perhaps we need to go back to what we did a few months ago: where all those that happily and readily prepare for church will get to have dessert with the family after dinner.” He loved the idea and quickly went up to dress. Contention had been avoided, we both left respected and a clear plan had been set. (Now I just need to make a checklist so he knows what all needs to be done to be “ready” for church.)
It’s easier when you can supply earthly rewards, but what about when the only real rewards are spiritual? Testimony can’t be attained through bribery, punishment, or any other means. We try as leaders and parents to provide as many opportunities as we can for our children/students to feel the spirit. But in the end it’s a personal, spiritual endeavor. It doesn’t relate well to our temporal physical realities. We had a lesson today about the sabbath day. The same topic had been taught by another teacher two weeks earlier while I was out of town. Which provide me with a perfect opportunity to say, “Great, so how have you changed since two weeks ago? What are you doing different now?” The response, absolutely nothing. Did the teacher a few weeks ago fail? No. She did her part, they didn’t do theirs. Joseph Smith said “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” How often do we receive great insight from the spirit, and then do nothing with it? It’s good to turn the attention to ourselves, because suddenly we sense how universal this issue of agency is. We suddenly see that the Father is working with this same law with each of us. I can’t imagine His frustration when time after time he sees me ignore/ not act on something He’s taught me, knowing full well that I am missing blessings, and perhaps facing undue stress, anxiety, and sadness- and still, He doesn’t force me. Next time, I go to Him and say “I’m struggling with this, what do I do?” He’ll lovingly tell me again “XYZ.” And more likely than not, he’s told me that “a hundred times!” 
Writing this all out, I realize I need to be more patient. My YW might not turn into spiritual giants before they graduate. They may not grasp the beautify of the personal progress program for decades. They may never realize the spiritual edification of various spiritual acts, I can’t force them. I can only love them, teach them, and continue to build and display my own beautiful “home” full of comfort, peace, and joy.
So I wish I could have worked through and organized, and edited this a bit. . . but I’m lucky I found the time to write what I did- so it is what it is! 
 

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