The Chosen

By mraynes

I remember the first time I was introduced to the “doctrine” of being chosen.  I was attending EFY and one of the speakers congratulated every teenager in the room for being born under the covenant to an American family.  He told us that teenagers in our blessed circumstances were less than 1% of the spirits of Heaven and that we had been chosen for this life due to our righteousness in the pre-existence.  I was profoundly troubled by this idea but I was young and had no way to qualify why it was so disturbing to me.  Ten years later, I hear this pet doctrine almost weekly.  I have never been able to find this doctrine propagated by a prophet (although maybe some of you with lds.org skills could point me in the right direction), yet it permeates throughout the church.  I understand why the theory is popular; to think that we are blessed because of our own righteousness is not only a wonderful ego stroke but it assuages our guilt of having a relatively easy life.  Unfortunately, the idea that the situation we were born into in this life was predicated upon our righteousness in the past life, smacks of classism and racism. If we are blessed because of our steadfastness, it only follows that those who have a more difficult existence are suffering because of their lack of character in the pre-mortal existence.   I cannot rectify this belief with the God I know.

Recently I attended the sealing of my husband’s cousin.  During the ceremony, the sealer mentioned that the bride had been chosen for her life because of her worthiness as a daughter of our Heavenly Parents.  Although this is a variation of the aforementioned doctrine, I found it more nuanced in that the sealer said she had been chosen for her life.  I like the idea that we are all chosen for a life; where it breaks down for me is in saying that those who were righteous and steadfast in the pre-existence are blessed with an easy life full of light and truth.  If anything, it is those who were strong in the life before that can handle more trying circumstances in this life.

In thinking through this, I thought of the women I counsel everyday.  As victims of domestic violence, my clients have heartbreaking lives full of violence and poverty.  The world has reviled and betrayed them and yet these women continue on with a strength of character I have rarely seen.  I believe these women are chosen women, chosen to live through unthinkable heartache and show the rest of us true grace.  Allow me to share one example of a chosen woman, one whom the world will forget but has meant so much to me.  (Warning: I do discuss physical and sexual violence in the next paragraph)

I met Brissa* late one April night; her eyes were swollen and several angry scratches traveled down her left cheek to obvious bruising around her neck where somebody had tried to strangle her.  Although I had been working in the shelter for eight months, I had never seen a victim so severely hurt.  What surprised me most was that Brissa was eight months pregnant; I had only given birth to my son two month previously and I couldn’t believe that anybody could hurt a woman so obviously vulnerable.  During the course of my first interview with Brissa, she shared that the initial beating had come from the father of the child she was carrying.  A male friend had eventually intervened and taken her to his home.  Once there, he proceeded to rape and beat her until she lost consciousness.  The savagery of what Brissa had been through brought tears of anger to my eyes and we cried together.  As time went by, I gradually learned more about Brissa.  She had been severely abused by her family during her childhood.  Somewhere in her teens, Brissa had a psychotic break and was diagnosed as manic depressive and schizophrenic.  To deal with the horror in her home and inside her head, Brissa turned to drugs which led to a life of prostitution to feed that habit.

Let me be clear here, I in no way think that God wanted Brissa to be abused.  I’m sure He wept when she was beaten and raped and sorrowed with Brissa when the demons inside her became overpowering.  That is the God I believe in.  In saying that Brissa was chosen for her life, I only mean that God saw the same strength that I saw and knew she could handle her challenges.  While pregnant, Brissa could not take her psych meds and was constantly trying to fight off the voices that told her to hurt herself and the baby.  When she finally delivered, Brissa chose to give her baby to a loving couple who could not have children of their own.  The sacrifice nearly destroyed her but Brissa smiled through it and focused on the love she was providing to her son and his adopted family.  While at shelter, Brissa was a constant comfort to the other women, supporting them through the grief that comes from an abusive relationship. 

Brissa’s whole person exuded love and I believe that she was chosen to be a part of my life.  I needed to learn from Brissa how to love as Jesus loves; to see the sinner and offer compassion, to provide comfort and healing to the sick and the weary, to sacrifice for the good of my brothers and sisters.  These are the things I learned from Brissa; they are things that I could not have learned from a typical woman who knows or even scripture study.  I believe in a merciful God who puts people in our lives to show us a way back, even if that way is the path less chosen.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    mraynes,
    what a fun topic. I too heard of ‘the chosen’ generation that was so righteous in the pre-existence it was sent here during this time of wickedness. Seems like I heard it a lot in seminary, and I’m pretty sure I also heard it over the General Conference pulpit. At the time I think I probably liked the idea. Now I too am bothered.

    “the idea that the situation we were born into in this life was predicated upon our righteousness in the past life, smacks of classism and racism.”

    Excellent point.

  2. Janna says:

    I am reminded of the scripture(s) that states that God is no “respecter of persons,” which gives me great comfort in the face of this particular tradition of man wrapped up in the packaging of modern-day revelation.

  3. Janice says:

    “the idea that the situation we were born into in this life was predicated upon our righteousness in the past life, smacks of classism and racism.”

    The is like saying that hiring the smartest and best qualified applicant for a job is being discriminatory.

    I am not saying that we are here because of how we acted in a past life ( I have no idea myself ), but gaining benefits because of how hard we have worked in the past is how life works. Why wouldn’t life here on earth work that way?

    To the original author, your post turns in to a matter of simple semantics at the end. You say Brissa was CHOSEN to a part of your life here and now for one reason “…I believe that she was chosen to be a part of my life” The EFY guy essentially says she was CHOSEN to be here at this time for a different reason. Either way, you both espouse that we are CHOSEN to be here right now. How is your choosing any different or more comforting than his?

  4. stacer says:

    I think, though, that too often we forget that the audience we are speaking to of youth aren’t all from the same class or familial background. It does smack of classism in that I know a lot of people who told me such things as a youth had no idea the poverty and abuse I suffered at home, and assumed that because I was white and smart I was therefore one of the “chosen ones” in that way. But I think there are PLENTY of teens who need to hear that God knows them, loves them, and has chosen them for their life, including all the trials and horrors that many of us have experienced.

    It took a lot–a LOT–of therapy and prayer and personal blessings for me to realize that I wasn’t damaged goods to have come from the family I do. Rather, it showed trust in me that I might be a light to my family.

    Also, I just wanted to point out that by using phrasing like “the rest of us” still places women like Brissa–and me–in an Other category–she is not one of “the rest of us.” I don’t think that’s true at all. “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” To varying degrees, we all, in this church and out of it, experience sorrows and heartaches. She *is* us.

  5. Deborah says:

    “I’m sure He wept when she was beaten and raped and sorrowed with Brissa when the demons inside her became overpowering. That is the God I believe in.”

    Me too. We can laugh about “Jesus wept” as the shortest scripture . . . but isn’t it also the most profound? No qualifying adverbs. Subject verb. A god who mourns with those who mourn.

    I’ve recently been rereading Viktor Frankl for one of my counseling classes . . . your story about Brissa reminds me of this passage from “A Man’s Search For Meaning”:

    “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

  6. Howard says:

    Maybe all those born in the covenant were righteous in the pre-existence.

    It doesn’t necessarily follow that those who appear to be less fortunate were less righteous. Perhaps they were chosen or volunteered for these difficult roles.

    Maybe she passed over your spot for hers.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    What a beautiful story! I’d love to hear this as a sacrament talk.

  8. Jim Donaldson says:

    I don’t think that there is any doctrine about any generation being ‘more chosen’ than any other. It is a warm fuzzy cheek kiss used to build unearned self esteem in our kids, which is why it is usually spread in seminary and youth programs. I don’t know whether it is classist or racist–it’s just wrong.

    No one gets a head start, back wind or downhill grade in the plan of salvation. It’s the same struggle for us all. I don’t see God passing out short cuts. That’s true for generations as much as it for individuals. I think that is one of the things that makes it all fair.

    I have my own little pet doctrine I call the Angel Rule. In the scriptures, if God sends an angel to you, it generally isn’t good news, because God knows you are sufficiently depraved or at least so out of harmony that you are capable of rejecting the testimony of an angel–Laman and Lemuel come immediately to mind. This is necessary or our agency would be lost. Most of us would be so impressed with an angel that we’d do whatever the angel said automatically–no faith, no moral choice, just hop to it. That’s why we don’t get angels.

    Many of us are born with great advantages that we have done nothing to earn: political freedom, church membership, good families, affluence. Others are born on dirt floors into poverty, tyranny, and starvation, all equally unearned. How can God make that fair?

    I think it is because the level of expectation and the ability to fail are both so much greater for the comfortable. Those of us born into favor are born with enormous burdens to live worthy of our circumstance–to live the gospel, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the jailed, proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, sing the hymns loudly, and to get the home and visiting teaching actually done, along with a million other things that we are supposed to–and expected to–do. The temptation is to ignore all that, take advantage of our affluence, grab a cold beverage, throw our feet in the hammock of life, and tell that angel to get back to us when we are not so busy.

    And by the way, take a look at the history of ‘chosen peoples,’ it is all pretty spotty anyway.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    mraynes, thank you for this post. It was really powerful and explained this concept in a way I haven’t thought about it before.
    When the stake counselor called my husband to be the EQP, the High Councilman (who works closely with DH now) kept repeating the phrase “covenant people.” He used that phrased much like you’ve used “chosen people” in a way that conveyed our superiority over others. It bothered me at the time, but like you said, I couldn’t put my finger on it until I thought about what you’ve said.
    I’m interested if anyone sees a difference between the phrase “covenant people” or “chosen people.” Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions on this one.

  10. Angie says:

    -I’m making this comment before I’ve finished reading the post. Your opening words made me think of this:

    http://www.schoolofabraham.com/struggle.htm#Saviors%20on%20Mount%20Zion

    My first thought about being “chosen” is that only God knows the end from the beginning. We may judge a situation as being “an easy life full of light and truth.” This may be the case, or it may not.

    Also, I thought of this scripture:

    Luke 16:19-25

    Again, only God knows the end from the beginning. Okay. I’ll now go read the rest of the post and the other comments.

  11. Angie says:

    I LOVED stacer’s comment. YES!!!! “She is us.” (From what I understand of this blog’s purpose, this could be the mission statement, right?)

    I also totally agree with Jim Donaldson. When I am blessed with a car that works, or health, or a loving relationship, then I am free from certain problems and stresses. This frees more of my resources for use in helping others. We really can make it through this life if we all lift each other.

  12. Jana says:

    mraynes,
    First of all, welcome to The Exponent! 🙂

    On this topic: I believe that there can be great value in believing that we chose a particular path, or that specific challenges and/or blessings were placed in our lives for our individual growth.

    However there seems to be much danger when we start judging others’ life circumstances–as either evidence of their valor or their misbehavior. I don’t believe that we can ever truly understand why some people’s lives seem more ‘blessed’ than others, and I find it reductive to ascribe earthly circumstances to premortal behaviors.

  13. My personal belief (and I repeat, it’s only my PERSONAL belief) is that some of those who are born into a miserable existence, filled with pain, sickness, poverty and circumstances beyond their control, are born into such a life because they were already so righteous and Christlike in the pre-existence, that the Lord requires little more of them than to acquire a physical body and do what they can to rise above the pain, just as Christ himself did. They may have been given the short end of the stick in this life, but their reward in the next life is perhaps out of reach for the rest of us, who are born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Perhaps the Lord knew he had to make it easier for us so that we would stand a chance, because we are so stubborn, proud, and selfish. And with that privileged life, we who have been given so much, much is required of us, as the scripture goes. It is us who will be held accountable for whether those who are born into negative circumstances are able to rise above their challenges or whether they will be held down. It is the poor, weak, and despised of the world whom everyone will be pointing the fingers at in the next life, as if to say how special they must have been to have endured such a miserable earthly life and still made it back to live with the Lord.

    I realize that this is a vast generalization of people and life’s circumstances and that there are certainly exceptions, but sometimes it’s the only way I can “explain” how there can still be a God that really cares about everyone, despite the inequality, injustice and misery that so many endure on a daily basis.

    I was born into the covenant and I never wanted for anything growing up. Because of this, I don’t feel any sense of pride, but rather a huge burden on my shoulders. At times I feel ashamed and feel that I’ll never be able to do enough to bridge the gap between my life and someone like an AIDS orphan in Africa or a child bride in Afghanistan. I’m ashamed that it’s them and not me, and yet if I were given the chance to trade lives with such, would I do it?

    Hence my guilt.

  14. gladtobeamom says:

    What a wonderful article. I too have watched around me the many women and even men who seem to be born into pretty awful lives.

    I agree with faithful dissident. I just keep thinking the more your given the more that is required. I have been given a lot. I dont think I am better or more choosen just that I am required to do more.

    I struggle when I watch our youth told these things only to see many of them act like little jerks. It does give them a view that they are better and good old pride sets in. I struggle with what to teach my children. I want to help them understand there are many chosen people who are not LDS. Who I too believe either chose their life or where chosen to live a life the rest of us can’t imagine. I want to help them realize and see the responsibility they have in reaching out and helping others. Not just on a gospel standpoint but in all aspects of their lives. I am also affraid this puts a heavy burden on well less then perfect people who have it quote un quote easy. It is such a balance. There are some who even born into such blessings have very difficult lives.

    I guess after all my ramblings it comes down to realizing once again that we are all equal in Gods eyes. We all no matter what our circumstances have his help. Sometimes or rather lots of times I think he uses us to fulfill that role of comforting or helping others.

  15. gladtobeamom says:

    one more thought. I have been thinking about the word chosen. Chosen for what? Maybe that is what we need to think about.

    Maybe those others are “Chosen” as well. Again “chosen” for what?

    Maybe to teach us to serve, love, have compasion etc.

    Maybe we were chosen to learn what they have already learned and they where chosen to teach.

  16. vicki says:

    I absolutely agree with your discomfort associated with believing that we, as Americans, were more righteous than others. I don’t believe that. It seems more probable that we were the LEAST courageous and needed to be given the easy life so we would have an easier time embracing the gospel and enduring to the end. I also have to mention that I found it offensive that you would recount the things you heard in a sacred sealing.

  17. sarah says:

    Threadjack here: I fail to understand what could possibly be offensive about what a sealer said in the non-ceremonial portion of a sealing.

  18. sarah says:

    Ugh. That didn’t come out how I meant it. I fully agree on the whole point of the post, i.e., the issue of being “chosen.” I used to love that idea, but lately, it bothers. I can’t stand hearing it in reference to people’s mortal circumstances. My own personal belief is that where we are is pretty much luck.

    What surprised me is the above comment that recounting words said during a sealing could be offensive. There’s no doctrinal basis for this. The guy who performs the ceremony gives weird advice, (to my husband on our wedding day, the sealer gave this gem: “Don’t be a jerk.”) elaborates on folk doctrines, things his grandma told him, his own opinions, etc. It’s not a sacred/secret portion of the ordinance. Or is it just me?

  19. sarah says:

    I didn’t mean for that winky to show up, but it’s curiously appropriate.

  20. mraynes says:

    Wow! So many comments, I guess I shouldn’t stray too far away from my computer when I have a post up. Thanks for all the wonderful response you guys, I really appreciate it. I’m glad I wrote about this subject because many of you have given me new ideas that I had never considered.

    Caroline: I think it is natural to like the idea of being chosen. Faithful Dissident and gladtobeamom made the point a couple of comments down that maybe we who were born under the covenant in American families were the less faithful spirits and I have to admit that I cringed a little. I cringed because I want to be chosen, I want to prove myself, I want to have been the most faithful to God. Despite my abhorrence of this doctrine there is a little part of me that wants to be the best and I think that is only human.

    Janna: That scripture carries me through a lot of doctrines that I find troubling. Thank you for bringing it up.

    Stacer: I had the same thought when sitting in that EFY class, the likelihood of all the teenagers in that room coming from the ideal home was incredibly unlikely. That is why I think this doctrine is so dangerous, it gives some people an unhealthy sense of pride and others a feeling that they are not worthy of God’s love. I also agree with you that I put Brissa in an “Other” category which was unfortunate and I should have been more careful. I was only trying to illustrate that although we are no better or worse than women like Brissa, there is a lot we can learn from women who have been born into different circumstances. Women like Brissa can also learn a lot from women like me. Like you say, we all have “sorrow that they eye can’t see” and it is our duty as brothers and sisters to be compassionate and support each other in our trials.

    Deborah: I love that book, thank you for reminding me of it. There was a time when I really doubted the goodness of God and humanity, that book renewed my faith in both.

    Howard: I completely agree, I don’t believe that a person born outside of the covenant was any less righteous than I was in the pre-existence. And maybe your right, maybe those who were born to hard lives sacrificed so that some of us could have easy ones.

    Thanks, EmilyCC. I think we’re going to be asked to talk in a couple of weeks so maybe I can work this topic in. I’ll let you know if I can :).

  21. mraynes says:

    Jim: I agree that the topic I was talking about is not doctrine; I’m just not sure what to call it. I think you’re right, this little theory is very prevalent in places like Seminary and EFY because they are trying to pep up teenagers to be excited about the gospel. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I would just the emphasis placed on doctrines that we do know, like being Christlike to one another. I don’t agree that no one gets a head start; my son is in a drastically better position because he has two loving, educated parents than the baby boy who currently resides at my shelter that comes from a violent relationship and two drug addicted parents. Now, they can both make choices that will either improve of damage their lives but my son has the better chance of having a happy, spiritually fulfilling life. But you are right, because of the favorable circumstances my child was born into, he has an obligation to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and heal the sick. Thank you for your comment, it definitely made me think.

    Jessawhy: I hadn’t considered the similarities between “chosen people” and “covenant people.” I guess I find “covenant people” less insulting just because anybody can make a covenant, there is no pre-condition of righteousness in place. Unfortunately, I think you’re right in that we use “covenant people” just like we use “chosen people” and that is problematic because it inspires a hierarchy of righteousness.

    Angie: Thanks for the link, I’m looking forward to reading that article. I agree, I love stacer’s comment as well that “she is us.” This is the beauty of the gospel to me, that we bear one another’s burdens and have compassion and empathy for our brothers and sisters.

    Jana: Thanks for all your help in getting me set up on Exponent, I couldn’t have done it without you.

  22. ZD Eve says:

    Sarah, heh heh. When I got married our sealer said all KINDS of wacky stuff about how my husband should keep my purse inviolate and never look in it (because it’s the only thing that will continue to be mine??) and how we as a society shouldn’t use the term “making love” (great thing to hear about as all my future in-laws look at me!) and why we can’t talk about Heavenly Mother (too sacred, naturally) and how women are “given” to their husbands along with the priesthood to become little gods (yep, women are chattel to aid men’s heavenly development). He was a harmless old coot, in a sense, but I was a little annoyed at how he went on and on about his own personal opinions, and I wouldn’t consider a word he said in the least sacred. It was clearly a mishmash of the folklore of his generation.

    I’ve since heard very reliable rumors that temple sealers are instructed not to blather on about their personal opinions. If I were going through the ordeal of a wedding again, I’d definitely try to get a sealer who’s going to focus on the ceremony and not on his own ideas.

    Anyway, sorry for the digression! Back to being chosen….

  23. mraynes says:

    TheFaithfulDissident: I love your personal belief, it gives me some comfort in the face of the inequality I see in this world. I think that would be a good point to discuss in tomorrow’s book discussion of God’s Problem as it is a possible answer to the sorrow and suffering of much of the world’s population.

    Gladtobeamom: I also struggle with what to teach my children. My son is only 17 months old but it definitely weighs on my mind on how I best teach him to love the gospel, be grateful for his life and love his brothers and sisters. I hope that I am up to the task to show him that we are all equals in God’s eyes in the face of mountains of contrary evidence.

    Vicki: As I said in my comment to Caroline, your belief that we were the least faithful in the pre-existence makes me uncomfortable, not because I think you are wrong but because the perfectionist in me wants to be the most faithful. I guess all I can do is be as faithful as I can be in this life and constantly strive to be like Christ to those I come in contact with. I’m sorry that I offended you in mentioning what was said in the sealing. I hope, though, that because I merely presented an idea from the non-ceremonial portion of the sealing that I have not walked too far over the line of what is acceptable.

    Sarah: I love the advice the sealer gave to your husband, I’m sure that it has been fairly useful :). I don’t feel too badly about quoting the sealer of this ceremony because he is my husband’s grandfather and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. He sealed my husband and I and said much of the same things in our sealing as well as outside of the temple. He is a wonderful man and I am grateful for the things I have learned from him.

  24. Abby says:

    I feel very uncomfortable about “we’re better than you” attitude of Mormons. As a mormon, originally from Africa I know a lot of good non mormon people- these kind of doctrines used to make me wonder the Kind of God we serve.

    As far as I know, God loves us irrespective of our backgrounds and does not discriminate.

  25. Caroline says:

    sarah, it’s not just you. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning what a sealer says in the non-ceremonial portion. In fact, I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with mentioning the wording of the covenants of the temple. The only things we’re told in the temple to not reveal are the signs and the tokens. At least that’s my take on it.

    mraynes, I didn’t mention this before, but thank you so much for telling us Brissa’s story. My heart goes out to her.

  26. Sally says:

    I don’t think there is a difference between “chosen” and “covenant” people. It only becomes offensive when it is looked at from the wrong way, making one person better than another. Chosen means that a person is chosen to make and keep covenants, building the kingdom and preparing the way for the Lord’s coming. But the Lord wishes all of us to be His chosen people. Anyone who enters into His covenants becomes one of the chosen and part of the family of Abraham. Either through birth or adoption, we all can be part of His covenant people. It is through our desire and righteousness, not a decision on God’s part.

  27. Sally says:

    Also, being one of the chosen is different from “the more we have here, the better we were there” mentality. I don’t agree with that one, either.

  28. Kiri Close says:

    Hilarious post!

    yes, i, too hate the over-rehearsed & rehashed phrases used over & over again in this church that mean nothing at all to me–the ‘chosen generation’, ‘covenant people of America’ is no exception. Eerily, this fuels racial arrogance of one nation (who happens to have the biggest military guns or access to them) over another. Yeah, real enlightened for a chose generation of a chosen country (said sarcastically).

    Also said sarcastically: And I just love how Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian Amerians, and other ‘American’ groups are listed as not chosen (though they are American!!!LOL). I guess you have to be white racially and/or culturally and/or socially to fit this ‘mold’ of chosen as defined over the pulpit, in our church manuals, etc.

    Speakers who use these insipid lines (& countless others) are obviously performing.

    My question is why choose this performance? What is @ the pit of it their usage?

    These lines are obviously a load of horsecrap.

    oh, i’m off to bed. Tonight i feel ill about my church goofing up every 5 minutes…oi vay…

  1. August 21, 2008

    […] – bookmarked by 3 members originally found by nappykid2 on 2008-08-03 The Chosen http://the-exponent.com/2008/07/07/the-chosen/ – bookmarked by 4 members originally found by […]

Leave a Reply