My dear daughter:
As I watched your dad baptize you yesterday, I felt so proud of you and tremendously thankful to God. There’s nothing more joyous for Christian parents than to see their children following Jesus and growing in faith. Knowing you took that step yesterday because you wanted to, I couldn’t have been happier.
On this milestone occasion, I not only want to tell you how pleased I am. I also want to take the opportunity to tell you a few things I think you should know after 12 years on this planet.
1. Your baptism and your growing faith will not inoculate you against problems. Every person longs desperately for fulfillment, contentment, and happiness, and we are driven to chase them. We’re sometimes shocked when our efforts to pursue them earn us blinding pain instead. And as Christians, we sometimes fall prey to the mistaken assumption that our relationship with Christ means a trouble-free life. Making good choices will save you a lot of heartache. Knowing Jesus will bring meaning to your life even in times of great darkness. But neither will keep you from feeling the repercussions of sin’s explosive arrival on this planet at the beginning of human history. You’re a student of history; let your knowledge of the past teach you what to expect in the future. I can promise you, as Jesus did, that you will have trouble in this life. I can also promise you that the God you have publicly committed your life to will never leave you and will never be intimidated by what this world dishes out. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
2. Don’t confuse faith with your feelings. In his mercy, God often grants us feelings of peace, assurance, and even happiness. But just as often, we are flooded with feelings that reflect disorder, doubt, desperation, and soul-deep loneliness. I promise you, you will have days when you feel certain that everything you’ve ever thought you knew was merely a mirage. You’ll have other days when the light of the sun itself seems to be shining in your heart. And God will be the same on both days. Your emotional connection to him will be frequently interrupted. Your mood will shift with the wind, and the God who seemed so real and so close yesterday will feel like a distant, uncaring politician, much too busy for you. In such times, hang on. Your faith is in the one person who doesn’t change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
3. Wrestle with doubt. Belonging to God’s family doesn’t mean you always live at home. Belief is not always easy. You will hear plenty of voices which tell you there’s nothing more to life than what you can see. Other voices will tell you they’ve found a better way. You will hear your own voice of doubt and your faith will waver. Take your doubts before God. Ask him to grant you the grace to follow when you don’t see, the faith to believe the truth even when you aren’t sure you know anything at all. Your faith will be stronger—not weaker—after building muscles on these times of doubt. But to grow stronger, you must push through, seeking truth, refusing to wallow in questions and stay there. God has promised, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). And as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:20).
4. By now, I know you well enough to be pretty sure you’ll always want to get things right. God has given you a drive toward excellence that will bless you with success and make the world glad you were here. It will also sting you with a pain unlike any other when you realize your best hasn’t been good enough. When you stand next to someone else who outdid you. When you exhaust yourself in pursuit of a prize, only to watch it turn to dust in your hands. Please resist the temptation to live for the goal of perfecting yourself and your accomplishments. God is not looking for perfect people. He’s not fooled by the ways we fool ourselves. The more you believe you must not fail, the more it will hurt when you do. The beauty is, that’s when God will do his most amazing work in and through you. As he told the Apostle Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Your life is not about you and your pursuit of perfection. It’s about a God who saw how desperately imperfect you and I would be and left his own perfect world to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
5. Pursue reality. There’s no point in pretending to be someone you’re not. Pretending in front of other people will destroy you from the inside. Pretending before God is downright pointless. If you try to live someone else’s life, you’ll wake up one day and have to face the agonizing truth that you are almost completely empty. Accept the person God has made you, and seek to be the best possible version of yourself. And always recognize your need for a Savior. Jeremiah’s words are as true of you as of anyone else: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is not an excuse to refuse the transforming work of God’s Spirit. To appreciate light, you have to acknowledge darkness. And to fully accept God’s grace, you must be honest about who you are without it.
6. Because you have always known it, the Christian faith might seem like some kind of kids’ religion. Don’t be fooled—meaningful life doesn’t end at 20, and neither should your understanding of God. Some people think the Sunday school stories are all there is to know, and they figure they’ve “graduated” from church just when they’re gaining “the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18). Yesterday, you were baptized alongside people in many different stages of life. You heard the gospel described by children and by adults. By people who have walked the narrow road and by people who have wandered the wide path and barely lived to tell about it. By people who have just started down the path, armed with an understanding of the gospel that is simpler than it will be in 40 years—when it will be much, much deeper. Remember what all those people said because some of them have picked up searing scars I hope you never do, only to discover that life really is empty without Jesus.
7. Hold on to the church, and love her even when she seems unlovable. Like all loved ones, the church will drive you crazy sometimes, hurt you when she doesn’t mean to, crowd you, and embarrass you in front of your friends. Sometimes you’ll fight and you’ll decide you never want to see her again. And at other times, if you give her the chance, she will be there for you when you have no one else, surprise you with her tenderness and her wisdom, remind you that you’re not alone, and give you hope when you have forgotten how to find it on your own. You’ll realize that the church is not someone you can truly leave. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). She is you and me and the rest of the imperfect people who have knelt before Jesus, who have been granted the mission of serving as his body in this age. You saw a tiny sliver of that body yesterday as a variety of Jesus’ followers, young and old, entered that pool and came out soaked in the same substance. We’re all in this together. We don’t get to choose who else gets into that pool with us, and as soon as we start thinking some people shouldn’t be in there, we stop being the church we should be.
8. Yesterday you also saw a glimpse of your place within the ranks of Christ-followers. You heard people describe their journey to belief, their struggle to find the right path through life. You have not been asked to walk that same road; you have been granted a heritage that taught you the truth at a young age. You have been blessed with tremendous gifts and wisdom beyond your years. You are extremely talented and insightful, and you have been born into a place and time when you have nearly unlimited opportunities to develop your potential. Don’t throw away what God has given you. These privileges, blessings, and gifts are not merely for your own enjoyment, but for the sake of building God’s kingdom. Please remember, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48). At the end of life, no one ever regrets living as God calls us to live. Use what God has given you to make your mark on this world—a mark that looks a lot like the light of Christ.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.