Getting Thoroughly Wet . . .
The water took more and more of our legs as we stepped further out into the Atlantic. The rocks and sand below felt natural to my bare feet, and the saltwater, cool and clean. I never thought that I would be getting baptized, but a lot of changes had taken place since I had become a Christian.
I felt irrepressibly excited, but from the outside, anyone would have asked why I looked so solemn. Solemnity could be due to sorrow or mere melancholy. In this case, however, it was due to gratitude for the deliverance that the Lord had brought about. He had saved me from one of my own decisions.
Over a year ago, my mother had pointedly asked that I inform her before being baptized. Back then, I had been a believer in Jesus less than half a year; both sides of my family had always been Buddhist, as far as I knew. When the subject came up again recently, I was surprised that the question upset her.
“Denise, you always do whatever you want anyway. It does not make any difference what I say … I can’t stop you from doing anything. You do not listen to what I say.”
I was saddened by her tone and her response. I didn’t want to make her mad and, least of all, to rebel staunchly against her wishes. I was glad that she could not see me patting my tears away as we talked over the phone. My voice, too, would have betrayed me, and I was glad she continued.
“Why don’t you wait until you are more mature — in grad school or something … I wish you would not be in such a hurry …”
I finally regathered myself enough to say, ” Mom, I know that you are worried for my sake, but I think that this is not only the best thing to do for myself, but also for the family.”
It tore me up inside to see my normally patient mother so upset, so I reached for a compromise. I had been “baptized” long ago in my mind, saying that I chose to belong to the Lord Jesus. The Lord knew it and I knew it. And a small matter such as baptism, a mere external action, should be the least of all to cause so much trouble. Paul wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:12) The divisions and trouble would surely come. There was no need to wrestle at every juncture. I felt at peace about my decision not to join the rest in entering the waters of baptism.
A few days before the baptisms, the topic, as if it were not already completely worn out, came up again. The older Christians around the dinner table, not knowing I had decided not to be baptized, discussed some verses that were about water baptism. Full immersion or was sprinkling enough? Well, the scene in Acts 8:38 clearly suggests the former. Is baptism reserved for those who have made a conscious decision to follow the Lord? I Peter 3:21 shows that baptism is the response of a repentant sinner to God. The details of the specific doctrine came into the air and I felt nauseated. They kept on talking and from my seat, my housemates resembled corrupt authorities whose power was derived from the rules that they made up and perpetuated.
When Adam and Eve gained the knowledge of good and evil, a consequence of eating of the forbidden fruit, their eyesight was affected as well. My myopia jeopardized me on this occasion. Had I not been short-sighted, had I not been a child descended from Adam, had I not been a human being, I would have seen that my heart nurtured hatred toward the Lord.
As I held fiercely to my own conceptions, I gave less than full obedience to the Lord. I insulted the Lord by rejecting His counsel and even by despising the fellow believers through whom it came. My insistence on my way was an opaque veil of disobedience that enveloped me more and more. I would have been enveloped entirely had it not been only for the Lord’s grace and mercy. So generously He poured them out as I bent in prayer.
“Lord, okay, I let go of my conceptions, my decision, even my reservations out of consideration for my mom. And I ask you what Your mind is, and why such a big deal about baptism? Lord, always I have said this — that I will yield to You, and to You first, on all occasions. Whatever You will, may it be so, even now.” After this little prayer, I felt at once the limitless refuge of the Lord. I was safe, trusting entirely in Him once again, and not in what my feeble mind in a mere 20 years had digested, sorted through, and accepted.
I pleaded again with the Lord and admitted my confusion. I had asked Him to show me the reason for baptism and I did not see it to be more than a public declaration of faith. And yet, why was my mother so upset because of it?
My heart began racing and I shuddered. It was so obvious. My mother did not want me to be baptized because she did not want me to give my life to Jesus. My mother, with her Buddhist leanings, knew the meaning of Christian baptism. If I gave my hand away in marriage, she would regard it a very serious thing. To her, the baptism was that serious a commitment. And through her, ironically, the Lord revealed to me the reason for baptism.
I thought, “Yes, I want to give my life to Jesus. Could there be any question about it?” I thought my family and my desire to make them comfortable after they had sacrificed so much for my benefit. Now, plans were forsaken in order to commit all that I had to Jesus. Not that I would neglect my family, but following Jesus, He would lead me to respond to them as I should, in the light of eternity. He indeed loved them more than I did.
The Lord had wooed me with His love and revelation and it was so natural to open my heart fully to Him, myself thirsty for His direction. And then I was prepared to accept that which the Lord extends to all people. I picked up my Bible. How beautiful that God provided His truths in commands, instruction, and prophecies. Know them, live by them, and meditate day and night on them, He invited.
I could then accept the Lord’s provision in a verse I had read many times but had never understood. Paul wrote, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
I wanted to be “buried” with Jesus. Waters washing over my head, I wanted my pangs of ambition and desires for recognition to be taken cleanly away. These desires stemmed from deception, the deception that personal glory and success could nourish me, give peace to my soul, and even aid me when I faced the Lord, the holy Creator of all things, at the end of my days on earth. More than that, my own plans and desires distracted me from serving my Lord wholeheartedly and caused me to miss out on His original and perfectly suited design for my life.
I heaved a sigh of immense relief as the burden was lifted off, and I rejoiced recognizing the Lord’s clear invitation to me to bury self, with all of its subtle ways of pursuing its own desires.
That day, the waters came fully over my entire body. I went down, and came up, sure that I had a new life. “If any is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17) I did not have to be sad any longer that my own ways interfered with getting to know my Savior and doing His perfect will. I would always be able to think back on my baptism and remember how it signified that I lived a new life, that I was free.
Denise Chen, Branford ’95, SOM ’00
© 1994 The Yale Standard Committee