|Scene from the 1993 classic: The Sandlot|
Anyone from my era has recollections of the anxiety provoked by the Physical Education teacher telling us to “line up and pick teams”. I’m not sure if they still do this given how traumatic it can be for the kid picked last. I vividly recall the anticipated horror of being unchosen, and forced upon the team with the last pick. Kids generally were not that nice about those kinds of things. It was a cold reminder of social stature on the playground and left the unchosen one feeling unwanted, rejected and less valuable than everyone else (see a related diatribe here). Thankfully, if it happened to me, I’ve managed to repress the memory. Still, there was always one unfortunate kid at every game. For those unchosen, it was a big deal–not always something you could just walk off. In contrast, the prospects of always being chosen and highly valued didn’t just impact playground hierarchy, it also influenced one’s self-esteem.
These playground memories came back to me as I was reading about what it means to be chosen from the perspective of scripture. In the scriptures, the theme of being chosen first by God is remarkably pervasive. It is beautifully summarized in Deuteronomy:
For thou are an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6 (see also Deuteronomy 14:2)
The scriptures have some pretty high-profile passages that refer to the elite status of the chosen: “many are called but few are chosen” (D&C; 121:34, 40; see also Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14; Abraham 3:23) is often our mantra in the church. We are also promised that, because of this chosen status, we will be highly favored, blessed and sanctified by God (D&C; 19:9; D&C; 95:8; D&C; 105:35-36). If being chosen first on the playground boosts our sense of worth and confidence, then being chosen first by God should be of enormous advantage in life.
Yet, like the children of Israel, we are extremely vulnerable to a certain elitism that comes from being one of the chosen. We must ever remember that the line between self-worth and pride is razor thin. To cross it is to lose any advantage we had from being picked first. As I think about the “many are called but few are chosen” mantra, I realize that things could just as easily have been stated thus:
Though many are called, most remain unchosen.*
It should be enough to bring back the awful sense of foreboding you felt as a kid in PE. “What if I don’t get picked!”
The unchosen in PE would have done almost anything to be chosen. Yet there was only so much a kid could do: it all boiled down to a complex mix of popularity and athletic ability. But the same is not true of those that would be picked first by the Lord. In fact, it has nothing to do with popularity, ability or lineage. Rather, it is all about believing in Christ:
Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world. 3 Nephi 19:20 (emphasis mine; see also 3 Nephi 19:28)
It remains within our own control whether we are chosen or unchosen. Independent of our assets or popularity, we can be on the team. And, once there, it is within our ability perform at a level that vastly exceeds our talents.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. 1 Corinthians 1:27