My dear daughter:
I’m so proud of you for deciding to get baptized. Your baptism was a beautiful public declaration of your faith in Christ and your intention to follow him throughout your life. It was also a powerful symbol of what he has done for you–cleansed you of your sin and awakened you to a life with deeper meaning and higher purpose than you would ever find on your own.
As I watched your dad baptize you, I thought about a few things I wanted to tell you. Things I’ve learned along my own journey, which I want you to know–and which I know you’ll understand more as you accumulate more years on this planet.
1. You’re beautiful inside and out. And in many ways, you will grow more beautiful as you get older. As you go through life, take care of yourself but don’t let the world convince you that what you have to offer is skin-deep. Your youthful beauty–the kind that is so pleasing to this world–will fade and can be taken from you in an instant. But your purpose and the significance of your life will outlast it. So invest yourself in strengthening your character and pursuing your true purpose. Pursue a life of depth, truth, and courage. At the same time, know this: Deep is not an easy way to live. But the apparent ease of any other way is deceptive–bubbles always pop. Living for something true and lasting is the way to go. As Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).
2. Let God love you, and let that love make you strong and wise. Let God’s love be the foundation for the love you accept from and offer to others. Let God tell you who you are, because no one else (including you) really knows. You’ve been given a generous and loving heart, and sometimes your soft heart will make life very hard for you. You will be rejected. People will try to take advantage of you. This world will never be what you wish it was. You will be tempted to harden your heart and let love’s unfulfilled wishes turn to bitterness. But don’t let disappointment and hurt make you stop giving. If you know you’re secure in God’s love for you, you can live as Jesus asks us to: “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Be careful who you give to, wise about what you give, and smart with your heart–and let God keep it soft while you protect it.
3. With God, your weakness will be strength. When life feels like too much for you (and it often will), when your emotions overwhelm you, when you feel too small for what is required of you, God has you right where he wants you. He can be your strength and courage, and he can use you as you go along with his plan. The point of this is not for you to be wildly successful and achieve all your dreams; it’s for God to make his presence apparent in your life. In such times of weakness, you will experience a kind of grace that will, ironically, spiritually carry you through times of strength. And as you learn to fall back on his strength more often, you will find a deeper purpose for your life. The Apostle Paul wrote a powerful testimony to this kind of spiritual growth when he described his own suffering. He asked God to end his suffering, and God’s response was something we all need to hear from him: “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
4. Just because you went in and came out of that water, just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you won’t screw up. You will screw up. You’re still as human as you ever were, and having faith doesn’t make you a better person than others. So don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect, and don’t believe other people when they say you should be perfect. The good news is, your relationship with Jesus means you have a source of great power in your life, the Holy Spirit, who helps you know and do the right thing. Over time, as you follow Christ, you’ll see yourself change and grow and become more like the person you know you should be. You can rejoice in that process, and you can participate in it, but you can’t rush it and you can’t make it all happen now–or on your own. Keep believing that this process will happen–God will not leave you the way you are. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).
5. During your baptism service, one church leader baptized someone he had met for the first time that day. He said something striking: “I’m not meeting a stranger, I’m meeting a brother.” That man, baptized on the same day you were, is your brother too. In fact, everyone baptized that day, people in the audience, people all around the world–we’re in this together. You’re part of a great big and growing family. As you walk the Christian journey, remember that you are not alone–although sometimes you might wish you were. Like it or not, you’re not just an insignificant face in the church crowd, who can come and go as you feel comfortable. You are the church, together with all Christ’s followers, an integral part for which there is no substitute. So when you criticize the church, you’re criticizing yourself. And when other people criticize the church, they’re criticizing you. When you’re tempted to drop out of the church community, know that it won’t mean actually dropping out of the church itself. Being absent doesn’t mean you no longer belong or have impact. Your refusal to engage will hurt the very organism to which you belong. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:4-5). The church is your spiritual family, and just because you skip the family reunions doesn’t mean you don’t belong. You can choose to be a healthy, working part of the body or a limp and cold part that sucks life and energy from the rest.
6. Following God is a great adventure. You have not signed up for an easy life, a safe one, or one that will guarantee you trouble-free passage downstream. Your life has purpose, and that purpose will carry you to places you never thought you would go. You are called to live for another kingdom, and you were put here and now for a reason. “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9). Even the dullest days can be an adventure when we pay attention to what God is doing in and through us.
7. God has given you great gifts that have drawn you into relationship with him at an early age–Christian parents and grandparents, faithful ancestors, a church family, a desire for spiritual understanding, a great capacity for devotion. Be careful not to take these gifts for granted or squander them; they will help arm you for the life God wants you to live. In giving you much, he has equipped you to make a mark on this world. Even your faith is a gift from God–cling to it and thank him for it. Remember, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
8. Your baptism day ultimately was not about you or about the other people who made their declaration of faith alongside you; it was a celebration of God and Christ’s loving work of redemption. That’s true for all the good you see in this world. Keep practicing and learn to view the world through the lens of faith. Don’t lose your awareness that what we see is not all there is; what seems so real to us now will not last. Keep your spiritual appetite sharp. Don’t let it be dulled by substitutes. Don’t stop pursuing Christ, seeking to know him, and letting him fill you. You won’t always want to keep him in view–do it anyway. When the world around you makes you feel like a weirdo for thinking and caring about Jesus, hold on. Eventually, you’ll realize that when people need someone to love them and give them hope and wisdom, they come to weirdos like you. People who are living for more than what this world offers. “For we live by believing and not by seeing” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
© 2013 Amy Simpson.