This morning as I sat at my desk, listening to Audrey Assad, and trying, unsuccessfully, to concentrate on reading the sermon on the mount, my mind was taken back to my baptism.
Not the time I was sprinkled in the Methodist Church when I was 12, but the one in which I was fully immersed, outdoors, in a portable baptismal on the front lawn of the church when I was about 35.
I was serving at a church conference that functioned as a finale, of sorts, for a small group curriculum I was helping to lead.
As I sat listening to the different sessions I became acutely aware of the deep sense of shame I had felt for most of my life. I had no explanation for it – it was just a sense of shame of who I was at my core…of my very existence.
I became a total, crying, wreck. Side note: it’s always a bit humbling to be trying to help lead something and have your own mess go on display. It’s not a bad thing – just an awkward thing.
I couldn’t explain why the shame had become my companion (the understanding came later) but I knew I didn’t want to live that way any more.
I was a Christian, I was trusting and following Jesus, but this thing was still there. The process of change happens slowly, for the most part, and things get peeled away in layers. That’s not wrong or unusual – it just is.
They were offering water baptism at the end of the conference for anyone who wanted it and I’d been wanting to have a full immersion baptism for a couple of years. When we finished I scurried around doing my last minute clean up and ran out the door to be baptized.
As I waited in line I began to get a little nervous, because of all the eyes watching. Then, I became a little shaky, but not because I was nervous. I suddenly became unexplainably aware of God’s love for me. I was fully convinced of it. It’s not something I had felt in that intense way before, or have since.
I was fighting back tears, because of the people watching, but when my turn came and I got into the water, I couldn’t hold them back. When the pastor asked me if I loved God and if I knew God loved me, I could barely speak. I just nodded and tried to say yes.
Most people who came up from the waters came up in a sort of victory pose, like they just scored a touchdown. I can’t remember what I did, but I remember how I felt: I felt clean.
There is no way to describe or explain what happened to me, but it was as if those baptismal waters washed away a thick layer of mud from my body. I went under feeling shame and came up feeling light and clean. Literally.
And that sense that my very existence was wrong or unwelcome, was gone.
That day comes to mind every now and then – it was a marker, a line in the sand for me. The old school bible word is, “ebenezer,” which is a reference to a stone Samuel placed as an altar in remembrance of how God helped Israel fight off a fierce enemy – and we are told that the enemy never returned for the duration of Samuel’s days on earth.
Days will come that will challenge you, to cause you to question who you are, to question God’s love for you. It’s good to go back to the places of strength in our lives, to remember what God has done in us and for us. From that place we can be renewed in our thinking and be reminded what’s true.
Sometimes a circumstance or something I do or something another person says, sends out an invitation for shame to come visit me again.
For me, this morning, I’m reminded that shame is not, and cannot, be my companion. I left it in the water.