Today I baptized you. For you it was exciting, because you were the center of attention, and there was a party in your honor afterwards. You understood what it meant and affirmed a core creed that I would want to hear from someone who follows Jesus. But I think having all eyes on you sealed it for you.
I don’t know that you will understand what it meant for me for a long time.
For just a moment I was every parent. Every parent wants to hope away the bad off of their children as easy as a bath. We want to hope away all that might adversely happen to you and all the adversity you might cause. In the back of my mind, I have some rationalized understanding of a God who uses pain, suffering, and even death for redemption, but there’s a part of my heart that would gladly stand between you and all that. I can talk about your character, but I’m mobilized by your safety. I’m not defending this; only confessing.
I realize of course, that when I pray, “Deliver us from evil,” my mind goes to shadowed alleyways in which evil lurks, the kind of evil that would hurt my daughter. But Jesus preempted that line with “Lead us not into temptation,” because the dark alleyways he was concerned with are the ones within us.
So like every parent, I wish I could wash all of the shadows away. Baptism doesn’t do that. But as a symbol, it’s a physical manifestation of that hope. I hope that those parts of my own daughter that would lead her astray might die and something else would grow in its place, submerged and arisen. The only way that can really happen is if I put you in His hands. And that is why, when we stood side by side with our friends at the pool and prayed, I had trouble catching my breath. That was a moment for me in which I had to surrender you to Jesus, knowing that only he can do some of the things that every father would want to do.
Then we tiptoe into the cold water together on an overcast June day. Also particular to fatherhood, I tell you that it isn’t cold at all, and then you put your foot in and roll your eyes at me. We wade out long enough to acclimate. You are smiling and present to the moment. I’m lost somewhere. I start to say the words and have to swallow to get them out. You disappear for a second.
I wonder if in the moment of incarnation the Father had trouble catching his breath because of all that he hoped for his Son and for all of his children. I wonder if he knows the feeling of wanting to do it quick to keep from crying.
Then you are up again, smiling. Everyone applauds and I exhale.
At the house there are friends and cake and more attention, all of which suit you well. One of your observations later in the day, after everyone leaves, apparently unrelated, is, “Two of my favorite words that begin with ‘F’ are ‘famous’ and ‘fabulous.'” Sure enough, that was today.
Now you are baptized, and again I feel the sense for why we call God “Father.” We share in the feelings of the one who made us, who died for us and who rose, who watches us be born in a world in which we die, and who has given us a way to rise.
Our little reenactments are pale shadows of the real thing, only impressions that are meant to touch our hearts with a sense of it. But in those moments we get a feel for God. Our rites are like a child invading a father’s wardrobe and dressing up like him in oversized clothes that we will one day grow into. I hope that in these younger years you dress like Jesus and then grow into him.
Two of my favorite words that begins with ‘F’ are “Father” and “faithful.”
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3