For Fear of Hell

I was baptized on May 20, 2007. It was just before I was going to be an eighth grader – I guess that means that I was thirteen. I just remember waking up one morning, a Sunday, and telling my parents that I wanted to get baptized. That night. And then I went back to sleep, which was weird. My parents really didn’t ever let me sleep through church unless I was running a fever or throwing up. But that morning, as I remember anyway, I just went back to sleep in a sea of pink. The light in my room was positively vibrant – pink from the curtains, and from the walls, and from the bedding.

Let me backtrack a little. I don’t know why I got this into my head, but even as a kid I was terrified that I would die, and since I wasn’t baptized, I would go to Hell. No questions asked, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars style. (Actually no, I completely understand how that got into my head, but more on that later.) I have clear memories of trying to baptize myself at the swimming pool, hoping that my mom wouldn’t know what I was doing and ask me about it. I wanted it to be personal, my elementary school last ditch effort to save my soul. And I think that God probably looked down on me, and gave a sad little chuckle. Sad at my fear, and grinning at my innocence. And then you fast forward to seventh grade Maggie, just waking up and feeling like it was high time I was actually, properly baptized by my dad, in my church, with others there to see it.

Part of me is kind of annoyed at seventh grade Maggie for that. I had no idea what I was committing to, the ramifications of living a life with Christ, and I knew it! I knew that I had no idea what I was really getting myself into, and was immensely aware that there was no way that I could live up to the expectations of a Godly woman one hundred percent of the time. I guess part of what pushed me over was this weekly Bible study I went to. I remember the woman in charge asking us one day what we were waiting for? And I said “I’m just scared that I’m not ready yet, that I’m not good enough.” And she said, “Well honey, you’ll never be good enough! Nobody is! You’ll have to stop waiting for that!”

But there’s another part of me. This Maggie finds great joy in the way that my thirteen year old self just jumped into it. That I, for a moment, was able to say “I know that I won’t ever be good enough, but I want you and for you to take me anyway”. Trusting in God has become so much harder since then. I’ve been thinking a lot on the passages that talk about leaving one’s father and mother to follow Christ and I’ve decided that that is just about the most horrible thing I can imagine. To no longer have them within driving distance for an extended amount of time; but I fear that God is calling me away regardless of this fact. He knows the taste I have for adventure, and he is using that to his advantage. And I’m just going to have to trust that whatever happens is the right thing. And that is horrifying, but if I trusted God when I was thirteen and had no clue about what the future held for me, why can’t I trust him now? My spur of the moment baptism, I feel, symbolizes the way I’ve walked with God. It’s been messy and irrational and I screw up a lot, but he reminds me with random moments of his love, unconditional and eternal.

And then there’s another part of me that is just kind of flat out angry with the church. In elementary school I was afraid that I would go to Hell if I wasn’t “properly” baptized in front of my congregation, or the part of it that showed up, anyway. Maybe I’m just a particularly fearful person, but I think that we as the church need to rethink the way that we think of redemption. Yes, I do believe that we need to take on Christ in baptism, but I don’t think we need to indoctrinate children in a way that makes them grow up to be people who are baptized less for a love of God and of people than for a fear of damnation. How we do that? I have no real idea. All I can think of is love. And I believe that love is truly the most powerful tool we have be given. We can build from there.

I guess I’ve been thinking about my own baptism a lot lately because we’ve had so many staffers be rebaptized. It makes me want to do the same, but I’m terrified that doing so would be doing it for the wrong reason. Like keeping my original baptism is a testament to my faith in God’s salvation. There’s this little voice in my head that says if I’m rebaptized, I’m doubting. I’m trying to save myself with a little extra holy water. But I know that’s silly. Rebaptism isn’t an attempt to save myself. It’s a shout of joy at the everlasting hope that I have in God. It’s a physical reminder that I am cleansed, and accepted. I haven’t decided yet, and I am in no rush to. I know that I am redeemed. But, on the off chance that you’re reading this, and you’re the praying type, I would appreciate it if you would pray that I make a decision that is right with God.