I recently read a fascinating article by Mette Harrison in Religion News Service. She described Latter-day Saint beliefs about the premortal existence—Heavenly Father and our Savior's plan versus Satan's plan, the war in heaven, and the role agency had to play in these events.
"Agency is a pillar of Mormon faith. It begins in heaven itself and permeates every part of our lives. We are allowed to choose at every step in our path back to God," Harrison writes.
She continues with this fascinating observation about our culture: "But despite the fact that agency is so important to Mormon doctrine, there are times when what we preach is closer to Satan’s plan of enforced obedience than it is to Christ’s plan of mercy. We so desperately want people to make the 'right' choices and to avoid the pain of making the 'wrong' one that we try to obscure their agency. This is especially true when it comes to children."
Harrison goes on to make an interesting case about how, in many instances, we shelter children our children not only from sinful or dangerous substances or behavior but even from different lifestyles, complex issues, and challenging experiences that could help them grow.
While I'm not advocating for everything in Harrison's article, I do think parents in the Church should consider whether the rules they put in place for their children limit their agency and their ability to grow.
The reason we selected our Heavenly Father's plan in the premortal world was because it gave us room to choose for ourselves, to gain knowledge, and to grow. In short, it leaves open the potential for us to become like Him. But alongside with that potential to rise is the frightening potential to fall—a fall more painful because of all we gained.
As parents, it can be painful or scary to watch children fail. It's hard to focus on the lessons, strength, and knowledge they might gain by falling when we see them hurting. But so much can come from our children coming against challenges they are uncomfortable with, problem-solving difficult situations on their own, and taking charge and responsibility of their own lives.
That's our Heavenly Father's plan. That's what He has allowed us to do, and we should try to emulate His parenting.
That doesn't mean we don't give guidelines and rules that will keep our children safe. Our Heavenly Father has given us commandments. But He also trusts us to make up our minds and receive personal revelation regarding so many aspects of our lives.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson put it so beautifully when he said:
I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.
Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).