The day of my baptism was January 7th, 2001. Even the date was significant, although I couldn’t have known how significant it was when I chose it. For several members of my family, January 7th recalled the tragic loss of a father, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that, in a much different way, it would someday come to mean the same thing for me. I couldn’t have known that, but He did. Looking back on it now, it’s as if He chose the date for me—as if He were saying: Though you shall know the pain of losing an earthly father, be comforted in also knowing that I will never leave you.
I remember being so excited that day. Happy. Nervous. And I remember that I almost didn’t go through with it. At one point, when I was waiting to be brought out to the water, someone told me that I would have to “make a confession” before being allowed to be baptized. Having a total misunderstanding of what this person meant, I assumed that I would be required to stand before my family—and an entire congregation of people—and confess in graphic detail every sin I’d ever committed to my knowledge. Of course, what she’d actually meant was that I merely needed to confess that I had sinned. I needed to proclaim my acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, my Savior, and agree to submit my life to Him. In the end, it wasn’t a hard decision to make, considering what I knew He had done for me. But in the anxiety-fueled moments leading up to that confession, I was a teenage wreck. I was trembling. I was crying. I was hiding in a corner thinking, how can I possibly go out there and confess my sins to all these people? I’m grateful that someone finally figured out what was going on and eventually calmed me down. Otherwise, I might not have been baptized at all.
That experience remains with me to this day, because it makes me wonder if the main reason why I’ve hesitated so often in expressing my faith is that I’m afraid to be held accountable for it. I’m sure I sinned on a daily basis before I came to faith in Christ. And I know I’ve sinned every day since then, too. It’s hard to call myself a Christian in the presence of those who know my failures. It makes me feel hypocritical and fake. Yet, somehow, it also encourages me to try harder. It helps me to be more purposeful in my words and in my actions toward others so that I don’t fail quite as often.
The Bible says that when a person is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of them, so that they die to themselves and become like Christ. But I don’t think it happens all at once. Like all living things, the Spirit born inside of us has to be nurtured in order to grow. And we can’t expect that to happen if we suppress it out of fear. I admit that I’m guilty of doing this, and I pray for forgiveness because I never want to spurn this gift—this precious gift of new life.