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March 5, 2013
Goodness Matters
Because I Want To…
by Vickey Pahnke Taylor

Remember the movie Sweet Home Alabama? The opening scene showed a young girl and fella on the beach. Near the very end of this movie, we see them back on that same beach – in the dark, with lightning flashing all around.

The male character says, “Why do you want to marry me, anyhow?”

To which the female character replies, “So I can kiss you anytime I want.”

Anytime I want…. There is plenty to think about in those words. Often I ponder over this priceless gift of agency – the ability to choose… anytime we want.

While many have been swallowed in the world because they “Get to do whatever they want”, deeper study makes clear what is meant by free agency: It’s not a matter of “I get to do what I want” – though this mortal mission allows us the option.

No, the concept of free agency according to scripture, the words of living prophets, and the echoes from our own souls, is built upon a nobler seed of eternal truth.

Because we are free “according to the flesh”, we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:27).

When I first began reading 2 Nephi as a teen-aged investigator of the Church, this chapter mesmerized me. While I knew there was a lot more to ponder over, I just didn’t ‘get’ it. Now I see more clearly:

We are here to choose, freely, whether or not we’ll determine to seek for eternal life and righteousness, or choose (yes!) for whatever myriad of reasons, to choose a lesser route… “according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

I didn’t begin this thought to pound out a sermon. I’m in no position to stand on a soapbox and cry out, “Pay attention! Do you see that we choose, hundreds of times daily, our thoughts and words and actions?!? Small choices – freely made – determine whether or not we’re really free!”

But I want to stand up and do that, many times. Acckkk… I want to whisper it in my children’s ears, glue it into my grandchildren’s minds so they have to roll it around and really look at it and understand. I want to “make” my friends and loved ones better understand freedom!

That’s not the plan though, is it?

For all the times we sit and stew over “poor me”, President Gordon B. Hinckley basically said [and, of course, he’s right] that we’re merely being selfish and thinking only of self. If it’s what we’re choosing, we are free to go that route.

The plan, when we can grab hold of it and keep it in our mind and heart, is based on the next scripture in 2 Nephi… the only directly following verse 27:

“And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit.” (2 Nephi 2:28)

Freedom – real freedom – is linked to choosing purposely to do the right thing. To be in harmony with the Holy Spirit. To want to, to need to, to choose to do what is good and right.

Many folks debate over the words or phrasing… Free agency? Agency? Moral agency? Here’s my take, realizing that I’m no authority:

Toss out the bickering over exact wording (although it is certainly important to determine, dissect, and define scriptural words) and go according to the feeling of the matter. And to the scriptural counsel. The key? Asking for heavenly direction, and moving accordingly. This part is crucial.

Here – I’ll share a beautiful thought from Mikhail Bakunin, who was a Russian anarchist. Here’s a man who ‘got’ the principle of real freedom, but he left out the part about moving according to the Holy Spirit:

“Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that he does good not because he is forced to do so, but because he freely conceives it, wants it, and loves it.”

That sounds great, right? But as he got lost in his thoughts and caught up in the world’s goings-on, his ‘freedom’ took him off course. I’m not pointing an accusing finger, nor making judgment. My point is simply this:

With the best core of understanding, the guidance of the Holy Ghost is absolutely necessary. Which would indicate we try to keep our vibe pure enough to enjoy the association of the Holy Spirit. Key word: Try.

It may feel as though I’m all over the map here. It is sometimes hard to pour into words the feelings that come from a better place – and words are inadequate. I’m probably falling short … Mark Twain’s words are taunting me a bit:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

So, consider me the lightning bug. And go after the lightning, by way of heavenly guidance.

Freedom is precious. Choosing righteously – even when friends or circumstances or worldly standards are teasing, inviting, or taunting. That’s freedom.

Choosing to do the right thing “whenever we want to” takes on an even more noble feeling. Because of Jesus Christ’s role and gift, we can freely choose. That comes with all kinds of mistakes and missteps. By our own experience, we gain an understanding of right and wrong, or good and evil. Falling into the stinky mud, we can choose to stand up and shake it off, clean it up, and make a better choice next time.

Eventually, it can become easier and more joyful to choose – freely – to do our Father’s bidding. Not because we ‘have’ to but because we ‘want’ to. Life teaches us that His way really is the best way.

There is divine advice to decipher in 2 Nephi 2: 27-28. To work at doing the right thing “because we want to” brings a lot more goodness to this mortal journey.

And goodness matters.

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