The statistics are remarkable.
- 99% of those surveyed are happy with their lives.
- 97% answered yes to the question, “Do you like who you are?”
- 99% agreed with the statement, “Do you love your family?”
Do you know of any group of people, of any economic status, educational level, age, ethnicity, or geographic region, who approach those percentages? Who are these happy people?
People living with Down syndrome.
World Down Syndrome Day
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. As the statistics above show, there is a chasm between the experience of living with Down syndrome and the perception given to future parents about how awful life with Down syndrome must be. That perception results in horrible things.
And March 21 — which is 3/21 — is the perfect day to recognize our uniquely made family members, neighbors, and friends because Down syndrome includes an extra, or third, copy of chromosome 21 in every cell of the body.
The intimacy of Psalm 139:13 — “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” — is clearly evidenced by those God makes with Down syndrome. God added that extra copy of chromosome 21 more than a trillion times in a baby with Down syndrome. It is a lot of knitting.
An Amazing Demographic
And one impact of that knitting is that people with Down syndrome report much greater happiness in their lives than any other demographic sample in any part of the world.
Of course, we must not discount the hardship and suffering related with the disabilities and learning complications associated with Down syndrome. Some babies with Down syndrome must have immediate surgeries for heart defects, and there is a higher risk of childhood leukemia and other conditions. Medical care, therapies, and education are all expensive and time-consuming.
The cognitive disabilities associated with Down syndrome, which vary with every child, will mean learning will take longer and can be discouraging for everyone involved. Meltdowns, stubborn refusal to obey, sadness about a circumstance, and fights with siblings will be part of the mix. Add how badly many in our society behave towards people with Down syndrome, and you are guaranteed to have hard days.
An Opportunity for the Church
So, this presents a great opportunity for the church. As Christians we already have a reason to welcome people with Down syndrome into our lives and our churches — God made them (and everyone else) in his image, for his glory. Christ’s church can look at and respond to both the suffering and the joy in realistic and hopeful ways that make God look glorious and build up families experiencing disability of every kind.
Because of Jesus, we can live like Paul instructed, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10), as we walk alongside families experiencing Down syndrome. We can do so because the God who made the child with his or her unique chromosomal makeup (Exodus 4:11) is the same God who promises he will supply our every need (Philippians 4:19).
Dispel the Myths About Down Syndrome
World Down Syndrome Day was started to dispel myths about Down syndrome. That’s a laudable goal, especially given the astounding and tragic number of unborn children who are aborted. And let’s not add to myths by overstating how loving and gentle “they” are. God makes every one of us uniquely, even those who share the characteristic of an extra copy of chromosome 21.
And let’s really confound our culture and the world by encouraging those with Down syndrome to develop and use their gifts in our churches. They have God-given good works to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Next time you hear that Down syndrome is part of the package of a child coming into a family, or you see a young person or adult with Down syndrome coming to your church, don’t stereotype into categories of “tragedy” or otherwise. Rather, pray for wisdom, go introduce yourself to an inherently valuable person (or her parents), and see what God might be pleased to do for them through you — and for you through them.