"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
November 12, 2014
A Calf and a Choice
by Kathryn Grant

It seemed things were going so well for the children of Israel: Moses had taught them the word of the Lord, and the people had made a united promise: “All the words which the Lord hath said we will do.” (Exodus 24:7.)

Then Moses received the amazing invitation from the Lord to come to Mount Sinai to receive additional instruction for the people. So, leaving them in the care of Aaron and Hur, Moses went to commune with the Lord. The children of Israel must have been awed to see the glory of the Lord “like a devouring fire” on the mount. (Exodus 24:12–17.)

The scriptures record that while Moses was on the mount, the Lord revealed many things that would have brought great blessings to the children of Israel, including the promise that the Lord would dwell among his people. (Exodus 29:45.)

Fast forward 40 days. Moses returns from the mount to discover the people in riotous revelry, worshiping a calf which Aaron had made from their own golden jewelry. (Exodus 32:1–5.)

The irony is painful: God had been preparing Moses for 40 days to teach and bless the people; but instead of preparing themselves, they had made choices which made it impossible for them to receive those blessings.

There’s a little-known story that seems to epitomize what went wrong. When Moses angrily calls Aaron to account, Aaron protests. He says in essence, “Don’t be angry. You know what troublemakers these people are. They told me to make a god for them because you’d been gone so long and they didn’t know what happened to you. So I asked for their gold, put it in the fire, and ... out came this calf!” (Exodus 32:22–24.)

Seriously? I can’t help but smile when I read this story, but it’s because I see myself and human nature in it — something worth remembering before we’re too critical of Aaron. If we’re honest, most of us have built our own idols and put the blame elsewhere.

Funny thing about agency: it can be used to destroy itself. The slippery path starts with telling ourselves we’re not responsible, that other people or circumstances made us act as we did. We cast others in the role of agent and portray ourselves as victims without a choice.

But when we do so, we begin to yield up our agency, one of the most precious gifts we’ve been given — the gift that makes life not only possible, but meaningful (see Helaman 14:30–31, D&C 93:30).

It’s true that circumstances and other people’s choices do have an impact on us. But we make things much worse than they need to be when we use those choices and circumstances as a reason to avoid taking responsibility for our words and actions.

Particularly insidious is the emotional bondage that results from our story of helplessness: we blind ourselves to the solutions that would free us, and we live in perpetual resentment.

It’s worth noting that this same victimhood mentality led the children of Israel to reject the promised land (Numbers 13 and 14) and resulted in their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

So how do we escape this trap? We use our agency!

It’s a decision, really. It’s a choice. We choose to take responsibility. We repent of whatever we might need to, including any rejection of the gift of agency. We give up resentment. And most of all, we use our agency to plead for and accept the enabling power of the Lord’s atonement.

Funny thing about agency: it can be used to strengthen and increase itself. The more we choose righteously, the more power we gain to choose righteously. Making the most of the gift of agency is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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