Understanding Agency and Liberty usually comes in stages, with those stages matching our stewardship. Although the different stages overlap and may not always come in the exact same order for everyone the basic path is quite common.
The first stewardship is over ourselves, as we become our own agent. We have to learn to control our appetites and desires within the bounds the Lord has set, putting off the natural man.
The next step in our stewardship is a spouse. More so with our spouse than anyone else we have an opportunity to learn to love as Christ, and to live so that they can trust and learn to do the same. We learn to forgive and self sacrifice and to inherit the traits of exaltation; long-suffering, gentleness, patience, meekness, kindness, humility, diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, and love unfeigned. To lead, not drive. To beckon and persuade, not force or manipulate.
The third step is children, where we further refine our techniques and develop other roles. Following this is our communities and finally our nations and peoples. Each step changes its lessons and trials in significant ways. The stewardship over yourself grows by self mastery, the stewardship over you spouse grows by self sacrifice. With your children it dissolves over time, and solidifies over eternity. In your community you may one day be a teacher, the next a student, one day a Bishop, the next a nursery leader. With your nation you may be the Chief Judge one day, and just a missionary the next.
Learning Christ-like love in each of these stewardships will be significantly different as well. Some children will be Labans, and some will be Nephis. Some neighbors will be good Samaritans, some will be oppressors. You will have to forgive others, and yourself.
Because of this stewardship chain, perhaps the best place to begin to understand external agency (not your own) is with your spouse. You should try to live your life in such a manner that your spouse trusts you with your agency. You should also respect and honor the agency of your spouse.
The problem is, we don’t do this very well.
From the time we come out of the womb, we begin to learn to manipulate our surroundings. Crying comes as a natural response to distress but we soon learn (with loving attentive parents) that it gets our tummies full and our diapers changed. We then begin to employ this new wonderful tool to get our needs and wants met. At some point in this experiment we will not get our way and will yell in anger. Once again this new vocalization will get a response. By three we are using everything from a temper tantrum to butterfly kisses to get our way. Saying “I have to go potty” will delay bedtime and “pretty please read me the dinosaur book just one more time” can work wonders.
By the time we are entering our second stewardship, we have learned some horrible practices to get our way. We punish our loved ones by not speaking to them or pasting them with “the eyeball”. We want those in our lives to CHANGE to meet our wants and desires. We even resort to using their love of us as a tool :
“if you loved me, you would __________”
“if you don’t ___________ then I will know you don’t really love me”
Christ set the example here for us as well, Come, lets follow Him.
In the vision of the tree of life, Lehi makes it to the tree himself, and from there, pleads with those he loves to come, partake. He does not drive them along the rod. He beckons.
When we seek to force or manipulate change in those we love, we are engaged in unholy practice. We have forsaken the example of the Master. This does not mean you cannot beckon or seek to enlarge the soul of those we love. Indeed the path of happiness will require of you that deep love that desires all to be able to partake.
To respect the agency of those whom you love, you must look to make the change within yourself. When you say, “if you loved me you would do the dishes” , you are looking to the wrong person to change. Better would be to say “if I love them, I will do so with persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness and by love unfeigned”
Instead of punishing them by anger, or frustration, or arguments, or showing them how they hurt you in any of the multitude of ways we use, try looking inward and ask yourself how can “I” be more Christ like in this relationship, and beckon from a better place. Honor their agency the same way the the Master honors yours. We normally resist efforts to make us change or to manipulate us into compliance with the wishes of others. We resent those who try to change us. Love those who are most important to you by understanding that they are agents as well and making mistakes and growing the same way you are.
This is a key to a Christ centered relationship.