As the worship music flowed around my family in church, I held Jorai close and we swayed together. She was cooing and sometimes would throw her head back and let out a long, "Aaaaaahhhh!" My baby girl was worshiping God, too.
A moment later, I caught a glimpse of another worshiper. He was a young man, in his late teens. His eyes were clenched shut, his hands crossed over his heart, his body moving to the beat of the music. He sang freely, happily lifting his hands as if he were trying to touch God. A look of pure love shone across his face. He didn't care who saw him, or what he looked like to others.
His worship was utterly uninhibited.
And this lovely young man had Down Syndrome.
As the tears welled up in my eyes, I turned to my friend, Hannah. She had seen him and was teary-eyed, too. How was it that in worshiping God, his physical disability had been transformed into an ability?
The ability to dwell in a moment of utterly self-forgetful worship is a difficult discipline. This young man had no trouble forgetting himself and worshiping God with his whole being.
"I want to have moments of praising God like he did," Hannah told me later. "As a "normal" person, there are things that inhibit me from worshiping that way."
I agreed. How often have I arrived at church flustered, worried, distracted or self-absorbed? How often have I been mentally disconnected during worship? How often have I allowed self-conscious thoughts to rob me of full surrender to God?
Watching this young man in worship made me realize I had often looked with pity on the disabled--but not with the right kind of pity. My pity made private determinations about which lives were "worth living." My pity was based on the false assumption that a meaningful life is one that is personally and materially successful, a "contributing member of society," one that others can look at and say, "Wow, she lived a great life!"
But these are all human standards of success. This is not how God measures us.
In Matthew 21 we read of Jesus healing the blind and lame, and the children singing praises to Him in the temple. The scribes and chief priests are angry with Him. But Jesus rebukes them, saying: "Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"(v.16)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."
In theory, I always believed this. But that Sunday morning, the veil was torn from my eyes and I really, truly understood it, believed it, experienced it.
In God's eyes, every human life is precious because every life---frommy baby Jorai to the young man with Down Syndrome--can bring glory to God. Thus, every life is worth living.
If the ability to praise God is the measure, then the worshiper with Down Syndrome wasn't disabled.
He was gifted.