Monday, November 21, 2011

Receiving a Little Child

TITLE: Receiving a Little Child
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:48
THEME: Reflections on kids with Down's Syndrome. Are they any less precious?

"Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest."" (Luke 9:48)

I remember a time speaking with a friend about his wife being asked to do an amnio. According to many medical experts, once a woman over the age of 35 gets pregnant, the routine advice is to undergo the test. The main purpose in doing an Amniotic fluid test is to check for any abnormalities in the chromosomes, in particular, the detection of Down's Syndrome. My friend makes a committed statement that he is not going to let his wife do it.
"So what? If the tests reveal a Down's Syndrome baby, are we going to abort? If it is no, then why do the test?"

I like his conviction. He is one of those brothers in Christ I have that says, believes, and acts at the same beat. We need more of such people. In many parts of the world, both rich and poor, the pattern is to prefer the good and despise the not-so-good. Like selecting Fuji apples in the grocery store, we pick and choose only the crunchiest and nicest looking fruit. The slightest defect merits a toss to the side. Only the best gets selected. While this is quite understandable for a little fruit, what if the attitude extends to the human domain?

A) Our Flawed World

Sometimes when I read the daily papers, I get dismayed when the newspaper headlines seem to elevate the rich, the famous, the most intelligent, the most beautiful/handsome above all others:
  • "Prodigy kid is the youngest to get his PhD."
  • "Top student fails to get a scholarship."
  • "A New Millionaire has risen from the slums."
  • "Prettiest girl comes from humble village."
  • "..."
Our Messed Up World. (Credit: Internet sources)
This can also be called 'elitism,' that only the top, the richest, the best gets royal treatment.

I think to myself, "You mean the average, the ordinary, and the lesser student is of less worth? What happened to the everybody-is-equal belief"

As a result, there is an unwritten disdain for the poor, the weak, the unknown.

This widely circulated picture on the Internet on the right tops it off when painting the overall shape of cultural sentiment. After the outpouring of emotions at the death of a technology icon recently, the world reacts in shock and disbelief. All of a sudden, the everyone is talking about how the world has lost a charming inventor. People value the Apple icon and inventions more.

One wonders why the difference in reactions? With the ongoing poverty and hunger conveniently forgotten, one wonders if they are any less important.  Something is very wrong. Our world is a messed up world. We treat human beings like apples. Worse, we may unwittingly assume that the messed up world is a norm that cannot be changed. A messed-up thinking can also infect the way we treat children.

B) Focusing on the Chromosome and Missing the Child 

It is a common prayer request for Christians that their child will turn out 'normal.' What if the child turns out different? What if they have something extra? What if they have an additional chromosome, that labels them a Down's syndrome kid? Will that chromosome reduce them as a real person? I hope not.

Are we more afraid of how the child will survive in this world, or are we more afraid of the stares public eyes will throw at us when we walk our child out in the streets? Probably, both.

When Amy Julia Becker learns of little Penny inside her having an extra chromosome, her emotions turn into a state of turmoil. The amnio tests reveal that Penny is most likely to be a Down's Syndrome kid. Her theological training only makes it worse.

"What I want to figure our is whether Down syndrome is a mistake, I said. 'I know that scientists and doctors would say that it is.. . . But how do I think about it in terms of God? Is it a manifestation of sin in the world? Is Penny less perfect than that little girl who was born next door?'" (Amy Julia Becker, A Good and Perfect Gift, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011, p48-9)
Further tests only reveal the hard truth. It is not just Penny but a "Penny has Down's Syndrome" feeling that dominates. For anyone whose child has an abnormal medical condition, it is tempting to become fixated on the problem, that the person is missed out.

C) Receiving Children

I often hear Luke 9:48 being spoken about at Communions, at Sunday School children dedications, baby shower celebrations, and so on. While that is good, what about letting Luke 9:48 maneuver a little deeper and a lot wider to include ALL children? Whether a child is sick or not, a child is a child. Whether a child scores straight A's or all F's, a child is a child. Whether there is an extra chromosome or not, a child is a child. The words of Jesus is plain and clear.

Then he said to them, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest." (Luke 9:48, NLT)

The journey to receiving a little child is long. We need help. We need companions. When the Beckers learn about Penny's Down Syndrome condition, they begin to appreciate the openness and warmth extended to them by counseling groups, self-help organizations, and well meaning words of support. They learn to learn to forgive others of insensitive advice, and to be thankful for the loving counsel from some wise friends.  Most importantly, the spousal support is key. Amy recalls her husband, Peter's words.
"Peter said the other day that he thinks our highs will be higher and our lows will be lower than most parents. That the joy will be more joyful, her accomplishments even more exciting. But the fear and sadness will be deeper, too." (67)
When we embrace the child we have, just as they are, no one is going to take away the privilege of celebrating the highest highs, and enduring the lowest lows. For whatever condition is the child in, love can still be given.


Key Note: Jesus' primary reason when coming to earth is not to solve problems but to SAVE people. 

D) Loving the Child Regardless

While we are called to pray for all children, may I ask that we specially pray for those raising up children with Down's syndrome or other 'abnormalities.' These parents and children are the ones who have to endure insensitive stares whenever they venture into public places. They have to tolerate weird advice too by people who mean well but communicate terribly. Pray for wisdom to love the child regardless. Encourage them, just like this friend has encouraged Amy in an email that says simply: "I can't wait to see the ministry that Penny will have." Only time will heal. Wise counsel will help.

Here is Amy's reflection:

"It hadn't crossed my mind that Penny would have a 'ministry,' a means of giving to other people. And that simple sentence, with its hopeful words, made me realize that as much as I insisted that our experience was different from other parents, and that our child was different from other children, different didn't mean less than. Penny would give to us. She would not only be blessed. She would be a blessing." (79)

My challenge to you my reader is this. Let the beauty of God's love stack higher than the ugliness of sin. If you believe in God, believe that He can cause all things to work out for good, in His perfect time, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. The presence of an additional chromosome does not mean the end of the world, but the beginning of a special journey. It is a journey to enlarge our heart of love. Once we are able to love our children just as they are, we will be better equipped to love others just as they are. Let us never call any child, 'retarded.' Jesus will never look at the child and say: "You're retarded," and then hurries to the next activity on his itinerary. Instead, he gazes lovingly at any child to say, "I loved you so much that I died for you too."

Thought: "'Amy Julia,' Virginia said. 'I know you don't like this word, but I'm going to say it anyway. Your daughter is not retarded.'" (218)

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