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.