My eleven- year- old son frequently uses his “free will” as a reason why he won’t keep his room tidy.
I have explained many times that we have family rules for a reason but then he pulls out the excuse that he is being forced to obey and that when he gets out on his own, he will do whatever he wants to. This is certainly a daily challenge for anyone with strong spirits in their home.
Unlike the millions of imperfect parents like myself, I know that Heavenly Father will never, ever force us to do anything. That any of his children would be forced into obedience was never a part of His grand plan. That method belongs to our enemy. I have heard the Spirit whisper the messages to me that my Heavenly Parents would have me receive but they come by invitation to accept the blessings that come with willing obedience. As the Book of Mormon states, we are free to choose life or death. (Helaman 14:31)
What happens when someone refuses to follow His counsel and does not progress? I look back at my life and see many instances when the Lord blessed me with a course correction, not by force but through circumstances that required a willing change on my part. He loves us and will do what needs to be done to put us on the proper path.
Often, He helps us recognize what needs to be changed by a feeling of discomfort or anxiousness. If we are stubborn, we could choose to live that way for a long time, growing numb to the gentle whispers of the Lord’s messenger. I compare it to having a toothache. We might be able to withstand the pain for a while but as time goes on, we will grow bitter and grouchy, eventually needing to seek treatment with a care provider. The spirit will continue to whisper through our bitterness until we are ready to act on his counsel.
Another possible result could be that we choose to change our situation right away. He may ask us to decide how we will plan to change and bless the efforts we put forth. This is how he asked the brother of Jared to light the barges before they crossed the great ocean. Or He might present an unanticipated option to us that comforts and gives direction like the Liahona for Lehi and his family.
Agency to Choose
We will always have the agency to choose how we respond but the Lord is incredible at using life circumstances to nudge us one way or another. How many families have lost a job only to find a better one that brought greater blessings? How many people have had a great blessing come from a challenging trial? How many testimonies come from heart-wrenching pain?
In 2nd Nephi 2:2, the prophet says that God will consecrate our afflictions for our gain. Elder Oaks spoke about this idea when he recently visited with the Saints in Florida who had suffered through Hurricane Michael. He said, “Affliction and obstacles are the reality of mortal life, but afflictions need not be suffered in vain. God desires to “consecrate” such suffering for the benefit of His children. If we are faithful and prayerful, the Lord will help us get through them and He will consecrate [our afflictions]—which means set apart—for our gain, our blessing, and our growth.”1
Even when hearts are hardened, and ears refuse to listen to counsel, our Heavenly Father can still help us reach the right path. He will because He loves us more than we comprehend.