The other day, my friend Melissa asked me to tell her about my baptism. We’ve only been friends for a few years, which means we missed important moments in the other’s life. Over time, we make a point to tell each other those stories.
Both my church and Melissa’s have celebrated baptisms recently, so she asked me to tell her my story. When, she asked, and where? And did your life or faith change at all?
In October 2010, I was baptized at the beach. An Orlando Magic basketball player was baptized right before me, almost seven feet tall, so the pastor waded back in towards shore when it was my turn. I don’t like to swim in the ocean; the waves are overwhelming and I worry about whatever creatures lurk near my toes. Before I let the waves crash over my head, I was calm standing amidst them. Only afterwards did I realize how tightly I was clutching my pastor’s arm.
It may be just a lapse in memory, but the church I grew up in didn’t talk about baptism much. (Or at least, they didn’t talk about water baptism much. They’d provide a weekly opportunity to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but mentioned water baptism only once in a great while. It seems backwards to me, now.) I think I was already in college when my younger sister was baptized. (I don’t remember being present for her baptism, and being away at college is the only excuse I can think of.) I can’t tell you if or when my parents were ever baptized; we never really talked about it.
When Kelsey was baptized, I had a sense she was beating me to the punch, that this was something I should have done a long time ago. How could my younger sister be baptized before me? But any time I was invited to consider baptism, I thought I should do it, but it never something I wanted. I didn’t see the point; I just thought it was something anyone with a mature faith should probably do.
In college, my church would pull a baptismal tank right out onto the stage and baptize people in the middle of any old Sunday service; no pomp or circumstance necessary. Each time I saw someone get baptized, a singular nagging thought ran through my mind: “I am being disobedient.” I felt that baptism was a clear directive from God, and it was one I had been disobeying or ignoring all my life.
I remember talking to my father-in-law afterward my baptism and saying, “It’s just never something I had felt ready for before. I was probably being a little disobedient.”
He looked at me and said, “Well, no, I wouldn’t look at that way.”
Melissa asked me how my faith changed that day, if at all. I couldn’t think of anything at first, but as I’ve mulled it over more, it came to me.
I used to believe that every little thing in my life was done in either obedience or disobedience to Christ. I feared making the wrong choice and was sure I had made the wrong choice when it came to baptism.
I am so grateful that this sense of “should” and obligation was not enough to make me take the plunge. I’ve since learned to recognize when I am letting “should” call the shots. “Should” is bossy and often forces me to behave in certain ways, but it is never enough to make me brave. I’m sad to think of what I might have missed had I let guilt drive my decision.
I used to believe that God operates in a world of right and wrong, yes and no, should and should not. My faith changed after baptism because I began to lean into the freedom Jesus offers me.
I stood in the water and remembered Jesus on the cross. I ducked under and remembered that his death means I am no longer punished. And I stood up in the sunshine, shook the saltwater from my hair, and opened my eyes to see nothing but freedom. I remember that Jesus doesn’t ask for my obedience or my right choices; he doesn’t ask for my correctness or good example. He simply asks for me, and gives me Himself in return.
Perhaps the best part of my baptism experience was that it took place on the beach; it makes for an easy and frequent metaphor. I love weddings because they remind me of my own marriage vows and the sweet man who’s mine. In the same way, the beach reminds me of joy, peace, freedom, and resurrection.
The sand rubs against the soles of my feet, the sunshine warms my bare shoulders, I watch the blueish water lap up on the shore, and I remember.