free will comes with a price

One of my favorite quotes was given by a past female leader in our church.  She said, "The hardest sin to repent of is the one you didn't commit."  The reason I like this quote is because it allows for some personal interpretation, but it also is undeniably about being on the receiving end of someone else's poor choices.  

Free will is a God-given gift that we treasure.  We can spend a whole lifetime learning to tame it, and when the end comes we still may not really have it mastered.  One of the toughest things about the principle of free will is allowing people we have any stewardship over to exercise their own portion of it.  "I love having my own free will, and while I am at it why don't I just show you the best way to use yours!" 

Luckily there is an appropriate period of time when we are to help our own children learn how to make decisions and even act as a buffer for the consequences.  Before my kids would turn 8 years old I would sit down with them and talk to them about TV programs, movies, and other activities that I felt were not great choices for them.  When they were at friends' houses they would have to call and double check with me about a video being shown or an activity that was suggested.  I helped them make the best possible decisions while letting them pitch in on the discussion.  Once they were 8 I started to expect them to make some of these decisions alone- after all, they were not life-changing things, but they were a good place to start.  At 12 they were allowed into a friend's house if parents were not there, but never before 12 unless it was family.  This was a rule to protect them and to teach them about accountability.  My husband and I felt good about these guidelines.  But then comes the gray area concerning free will.  

There are rules about how old you have to be to drive, to vote, and in our church, to date.  But where are the rules written down about reporting every activity engaged in in their free time?  And isn't it unchristian to only allow our children to have friends of the same faith or family dynamic as our own?  When do we start letting them make some of these choices on their own, no matter the consequences?  When do we get them out of the jams they create and when do we let them unstick themselves?  All I know is from my own experience with my boys, and all I can say is that there is really no set answer.  And until you have a teenager you can't really relate to the mix of joys and heartaches that come bundled together in their growing, skinny, pimply selves.  

Some things are always good, like chocolate, chats with friends, time with a spouse.  But some things are mixed blessings even though they come from God.  Free will is one of those things. We treasure it and we loath it, all depending on where we are in our lives.  The trick is learning to embrace this principle even when we are stung by it, because, like other complicated ideas, there are plenty of great things we reap from it too.


Juliana | August 5, 2008 at 3:57 PM

Great post! :) Every time I put my 6-yr-old in time out, I remind him that he chose to disobey the rules and he knew there would be consequences.. therefore, he was choosing time out and I am merely enforcing the rules. "Choice" AND "accountability"!

charrette | August 8, 2008 at 12:13 AM

Oh, I love the way you explored the blessing and the curse of free will! So hard to allow that for our kids sometimes, yet so essential to their progress.

I spoke at sunstone today on meaningful approaches to scripture, and chose to use the story of Shadrach to illustrate my points. Shadrach and his buddies are victims of someone else's bad choices. Yet the essential other side of the free will coin is the atonement. You really can't have one without the other. In Shadrach's case, they are rescued. And we are too. The atonement not only rescues us from our own mistakes, but from the pain we suffer as a result of other people's choices as well.

Such a perfect plan!