I was baptized when I was 6. I’d been “saved” for more than a year but I was afraid of the water. I “became a Christian” in Mrs. Patterson’s first grade class. I remember one morning, like she did every morning, Mrs. Patterson talking about Jesus and sin and inviting Jesus into our heart and if anyone wanted to talk more about that to raise their hand. So I did. I did want to talk more about it and I did raise my hand.
I “invited Jesus into my heart” that day. I knew, as the daughter of southern Baptist minister, that the next step was to be dunked in the baptistry. I don’t recall a conscious decision to not be baptized as much as I remember mustering up the courage to go through with it.
That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Because of my fear of water I was having to force myself to do it. Where’s the joy in that, right? But for a 6-year-old who was deathly scared of the water, overcoming my fear of water in order to do the thing I wanted to do and to be obedient was, I imagine, I pretty big thing nonetheless.
I knew, even at the young age, the importance of obeying Scripture. I remember wearing a pink dress with a few lacy frills. I remember standing on an old wooden chair so I was tall enough for the congregation to see me and for my dad to grab hold of me and lay me under the water.
That chair put little 6-year-old me right at dad’s shoulder height. Dad, as was customary in baptism, held one hand around me, the baptis-ee, and one hand arm in the air toward heaven. Just before he places his hand around your mouth and nose to hold them closed while you’re under water he says “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
I’d seen enough baptisms to know this meant it was coming. And, the story goes, I started tugging on my dad’s tie whispering “Daddy I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it.”
What was dad to do? Whether it was me or any other child, should he stop, go ahead, what? Dad moved ahead. He finished his prayer, put his large dad-sized hand over my mouth, pinched my nose and ducked me under the water. My mom says I came up saying, “Now I can go to heaven.” My theology just a wee bit off.
I’ve wondered, at times like this one as I’ve reflected on my baptism story, if I need to be baptized again, if the first time counted. Was I old enough to know what I was doing and really have a “believer’s baptism.” Similarly, I’ve wondered was I old enough then to understand salvation and was I really “saved” as a 5-year-old. And I believe whole-heartedly that I was. I believe that my salvation experience at age 5 was real. Because throughout my childhood, teen years and adulthood that my belief that God and Jesus and sin are real and that Jesus really died on the cross for all the wrong things I do in life so I didn’t have to die eternally and that He wanted relationship with me and wanted me not to sin but to live a full life with Him — gives me that “I know that I know that I know” confidence.
I believe my baptism was done in obedience. I don’t think I need to be baptized again. But how much sweeter would it have been if it hadn’t just been about obedience, but had been more about a joyful desire not just to follow the credence of the faith for the sake of following them but to joy in following in the footsteps of Christ himself who was baptized. I wish I hadn’t let my childhood fear rob me of the joy of baptism.
Even today Especially today, there’s a great lesson in that about not letting fear rob us of joy.