We’re back with evangelical author Amy Julia Becker for the second and final installment of our conversation. Becker was named last fall by Christianity Today as one of a handful of influential women writers whose writings are shaping the church and culture. (If you missed the first part of our interview, you can catch it here):
Your most well-known book is a memoir about your experience as the mother of a beautiful little girl, Penny, who happens to have Down syndrome. What is that experience teaching you these days?
I sometimes shy away from talking about what the experience of being Penny’s mom is teaching me because I don’t want her to become an object lesson. I write about this dilemma in A Good and Perfect Gift when I reflect on John 9. It’s the story of the man born blind, and the disciples want him to represent a theological question, whereas Jesus wants the man born blind to represent a human being who deserves love and respect. Similarly, I want to make sure that Penny isn’t ever turned into a theological question. With all of that said, she, like her brother and sister, teaches me things all the time.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on the ways she has helped me to see beauty and value in all people. It’s easy to fall into a very utilitarian view of the world, even among children with disabilities. People often make comments that imply that because Penny is very “high-functioning” (she can read and write and dress herself, etc.), her life is a good one. But Penny has helped me to see the goodness and beauty within the lives of people who aren’t “high-functioning.” She’s helped me to understand that our identity as the beloved ones of God is not conditional upon achievement.
You reflect at your blog, “Thin Places,” about the nature of perfection and what it means when Jesus exhorts us to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Can you tell us more about what you believe Jesus is getting at here? How, if at all, has this understanding freed you to be a better wife, mother and writer?
I have always struggled with perfectionism. Even as a little kid, I can remember the panic I felt when I got a B+ in Math class. And I’ve known for a long time that Jesus’ understanding of perfection can’t line up with my version of it, because my perfectionism has often led me to hurt other people and myself. But when I learned that the root of the word Jesus uses in the passage you quote is telos, that helped me to think about perfection as completion, as living towards the end or purpose that God has in mind for us. I now think perfection has much more to do with accepting our human limitations and admitting our need for one another than it does in becoming superhuman and doing everything correctly.
This understanding of perfection gives me great consolation as a mother, because it is in this arena that I am most acutely aware of my failings. Not only am I unable to be everything my kids want me to be, but I also yell at them and ignore them while texting and let them watch junk or eat junk even when none of those practices lines up with what I want for our family. So I guess there is grace in understanding perfection differently, but I also see God’s hand as I have to explain to my kids that I’ve messed up, ask them for forgiveness, look for other people to fill in my blanks, so to speak.
You’ve just written another book. Can you tell us more about it and why we all need a copy in our library?
What Every Woman Needs to Know About Prenatal Testing: Insight from a Mom Who Has Been There (yes, I need an award for most concise title) was published by Patheos Press last week, so it is in fact available in ebook form only (for Kindle, Nook, or any other ereader, which includes any computer) for $2.99. It’s a book that emerged out of conversations I’ve had personally, at conferences, and through my blog, with parents who are concerned about how to navigate prenatal tests. In the book I try to address three questions—What is prenatal testing? What is the purpose of prenatal testing? And what questions should I ask before I pursue prenatal testing? I hope the result is a book that will help women and their partners begin to prepare themselves for the joys and sorrows that parenting inevitably holds for all of us.