What happens to you when, a few minutes after delivering your baby, you are told there is something wrong? Yesterday I heard Amy Julia Becker speak. She had lived that scenario.
Her husband, who had spoken with the doctor, came back into her hospital room, his eyes glazed with tears. “They say our baby may have Down’s Syndrome,” he said.
Penny did indeed have Down’s Syndrome, and Amy Julia Becker went on to write a book about the experience of mothering this child, A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.
At first, she could only compare Penny to all her friends’ children. What could they do? And what could Penny do? When all the other kids could walk, could read, could score a soccer goal, Penny could not. As long as she asked only what Penny could do, Penny would always come up short.
Finally, Becker confessed yesterday in her moving presentation, “I began to ask not what my daughter could do, but who she was.”
Identity. Not achievement. Penny was a loving, open-hearted child of God. She had ultimate value and worth because she was a daughter of God, who loved Penny perfectly.
Becker did not say anything I didn’t already “know,” but somehow it sunk in yesterday. Maybe it was because Becker was clear that her daughter’s identity was in God. Penny was precious not just because her mother and father loved her—they did, but as Becker reminded us, all human loves are partial and imperfect. Our identity lies ultimately in God, she reminded us. That means, at our core we are always precious in God’s sight. Perfect as-is. We don’t have to do anything to be worthy.
That’s a tough sell in this world, though. “Sure, my identity is in God,” Becker said, “but now I have to go get that ‘A’, I have to win the prize, I have to make partner.” It takes a lifetime to let the truth of our identity sink in.
It seems we must spend the first half of life rejecting our real identity—the one simply given to us by our Creator—and work like crazy to create a false identity, one manufactured out of all our achievements. The things we can do.
Then at some point the false identity becomes too much to bear. We realize it’s pitiful and futile and joyless to live behind that mask a day longer. For Becker, that moment came when they placed into her arms a little girl who broke her heart because she was never, ever going to be able to do enough. But that heart break broke her through, into the truth, not only about Penny but about herself.