Witnessing people become parents for the first time is transformative. As far as I can tell, while life was once good, it is now amazing because the world is shared with this small human who has a future with enormous potential.
I've seen friends who have children for the first time begin to care about issues to which they were indifferent before: People driving too fast, the quality of the phonics program at the local preschool and finding gluten-free, hypoallergenic baby food.
It is astounding the lengths parents will go to ensure their children have the best possible futures.
A couple who recently had their world turned upside down in this way invited me to the baptism of their 6-week-old daughter, Leila, who indignantly howled as she was stripped and dunked into the baptismal font.
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I find the words that follow to be the most moving part of the baptism. Handing the parents a white garment, the celebrant tells the child, "You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven."
While the idea of dedicating children to their faith might seem completely normal to some, others hesitate to do this. I have often heard parents wonder if it's better to allow children to mature and then let them decide what they believe. Baptism, Sunday school and even church itself are avoided so children don't get confused or feel forced into religious practice.
I believe faith is the greatest treasure we will receive, and the earlier it's fostered the better. What if, after Leila had been baptized, her parents went to the bank, opened an account in her name and deposited a chunk of cash for her to use later in life? Over the years, they continue to add to this fund. It's not always easy, but they're certain this is what's best for her future.
Do you think the banker would encourage them to wait until Leila was old enough to decide for herself what she believed about money? To not make investments in her future, but wait for her to "figure things out on her own"? I think all parties involved would argue planning for the future is the way to go, especially when Leila finds out her college education/first car/summer spent learning basket weaving in Argentina is provided for.
I realize that in this day and age, the thought of saving for a child's college education is more feasible than attempting to establish a framework that will one day save his or her soul. When Leila was given that white garment at her baptism and told to "bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven," I thought of all the things she would encounter in her life that would attempt to rob her of this dignity. All the choices she'd have to make about the people she would hang out with and places she would go.
Does her parents' decision to initiate and raise her in the church from the ripe old age of 6 weeks mean she'll be invincible to all the evil in the world? No. There's no magic formula for producing religious adults. However, she now has a wealth of grace available to help her sort it all out. A foundation in faith that could make all the difference.