Fourth of July
July 4 is the day the United States of America celebrates its independence as its own country. There will be barbecues, parades and flag raising ceremonies. As the heat of the day wears off, there will be fireworks displays to commemorate “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air.” Feelings of patriotism will surge, and for at least one day, political differences will be put aside as we remember the foundations this country was built on.
What Does “Independence” Mean?
One day a year we celebrate independence as a republic. But what other types of independence are there? The dictionary lists some synonyms of independence as: autonomy, freedom, liberty, autonomy, self-government, self-determination, self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Those words can easily be applied to the country as we talk about its break from England some 240 years ago.
But what about us as individuals? Many of those synonyms contain talk about “self.” Individual independence sounds like there are no boundaries, almost. And the most efficient way to gain total autonomy is being able to act as an agent for oneself.
“The great purpose of this life is that man shall gain experience and strength in freely making his own choices. Divine guidance will be given, but man must be free to choose obedience or disobedience, otherwise his actions have no ethical or religious value.” (Henry D. Moyle, “Individual Commitment in Sustaining Freedom,” April 1959 General Conference.)
The prophet Lehi said that during this mortal life, we are all “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…” (See 2 Nephi 2:27.)
Though it sometimes seems counter-intuitive, obedience to the laws of God are the best (the only, really) way of achieving and maintaining true independence. The word “obedience” can be a little scary sometimes, as it evokes images of needing attain some (impossible) level of perfection to be eligible for God’s blessings. But that’s not really what it means at all, and to limit our understanding of receiving blessings is to limit the blessings themselves.
Elder Russell M. Nelson gave one example of how obedience can elevate us to a state of greater independence. “A strong human spirit with control over appetites of the flesh is master over emotions and passions and not a slave to them. That kind of freedom is as vital to the spirit as oxygen is to the body! Freedom from self-slavery is true liberation!” (Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” October 2013 General Conference.)
Independence Equals Choices
Life is a series of choices, each with its own consequence. Some have more importance than others, and some have eternal consequences. The more you choose to make correct choices, the more freedom you ultimately give to yourself. Correct choices carry elevated consequences, which open roads and doors you may not have otherwise.
Who you are is a series of choices you have made. Who you are becoming depends on choices you make today. And who you will become depends on what you choose to do with who you are becoming. “Agency used righteously allows light to dispel the darkness and enables us to live with joy and happiness in the present, look with faith to the future, even into the eternities…Our use of agency determines who we are and what we will be.” (Robert D. Hales, “To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency,” April 2006 General Conference.)
Yes, we celebrate our country’s independence each July 4th, but let us not forget the author of our personal independence: Jesus Christ, the Mediator of all men. As we choose to follow Him, we invite Him into our lives. Amulek taught that when that invitation is extended by us, it is accepted instantly. “…if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (See Alma 34:31, emphasis added.)
I can think of no greater freedom than the power of the Savior in my life and companionship of the Holy Ghost. To follow Him is to choose eternal life (see John 17:3). “God knows you and invites you to know Him. Pray to the Father, study the scriptures, seek to do God’s will, strive to become like the Savior, and follow righteous mentors. As you do, you will come to know God and Jesus Christ, and you will inherit eternal life.” (C. Scott Grow, “And This Is Life Eternal,” April 2017 General Conference.)