Agency and Parenting

September 19, 2012 – From 1 Nephi 8:37: “And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off; yea, my father did preach unto them. And after he had preached unto them, and also prophesied unto them of many things, he bade them to keep the commandments of the Lord: and he did cease speaking unto them.”

For those not familiar with 1 Nephi 8, it is an account of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. A central theme underlying the vision is the use of agency by various groups of people, only a few of whom are identified by name. Two of his children known for their rebelliousness (and who would eventually be cut off from the family), were identified specifically in that vision (or better said, their choices were identified). They are the persons Lehi “[exhorted] … with all the feeling of a tender parent.”

While younger children can be rebellious at times, their nature clearly tends still toward submission to their parents (and we don’t believe they are accountable before God until the age of 8). Personally, I have yet to raise children through their teenage and young adult years, so I can’t speak much from experience on this matter, but I have worked for several years with teenaged youth and young adults in our church and have seen a wide array of faithfulness. That said, I am particularly struck by the closing thought in the quotation at the start of this post: “and he did cease speaking unto them.”

I believe this thought was originally presented to me by Gene R. Cook in a book that he wrote. Ultimately, parents who desire that their children be upright and faithful will find that there is a time for preaching and exhorting and a time for silence while their children make their choices. Neither will likely occur just once, but will come in cycles. The important point is that both (exhorting and allowing children to act) need to occur.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7.)

“And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, … it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. … Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they 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; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. And now … 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 2:15-16, 27-28.)

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