For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven

It’s been a week.

The “back to school ick” is running rampant and we became its victims this week. One by one, our entire family was overwhelmed by snot and coughing and exhaustion. My husband had a really busy week at work with some later nights at the office and sometimes at home. My mother-in-law, who usually helps when things go off the rails, got sick as well and needed to rest at home. So for a few days it was just me and our circus all to myself.

I was feeling pretty crummy, of course, so I let the kids watch many more movies in one sitting than I ever have before (except for long car rides). During my “forced” quiet time while they were watching “Pooh” movies, I was scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. But what I probably should have been doing was reading my Bible and in prayer with God. I was completely and totally untethered to Truth. And, what’s worse, I knew it and I just ignored it. Just a few weeks ago I had resolved to not eat the bread of idleness, but there I was, snarfing it down.

Predictably, it didn’t take me long to unravel.

It was the end of a long, difficult week. Neither kid napped Friday afternoon, so we were all grumpy after dinner. Before bedtime, I had to suction the our youngest’s nose out so she could take her bottle. She hates nothing as much as she hates that saline spray and suction bulb. She screams and cries and flails and oh my heavens it is SUCH an ordeal.

The baby screamed and cried. The toddler, who seems to think yelling at her sister will stop her from crying (I don’t know how she hasn’t noticed yet that this method has the exact opposite effect), was also screaming.

I had been incredibly patient all week, but I was tired and exasperated from fighting kids to help them. I started to cry. I grabbed the toddler and deposited her in her bedroom and slammed the baby gate behind me.

“I can’t handle both of you right now, I will be back later,” I snapped.

Later, with baby sister in bed, I went and got our oldest out of her room. I felt terrible. I knew I had scared her by crying and yelling and I had been unkind with my words. I took her out to the living room and sat on the couch with her. I told her yelling at other people is always naughty. She shouldn’t have yelled, but neither should have Mommy. I apologized. As I was saying that I was trying to be a good mommy, but sometimes I just don’t get it right, she interrupted me. Turning to face me, she patted my head and said:

“You’re good, Mommy.”

All in one sentence and totally unawares, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter showed me the grace I did not deserve, could not earn, and was ashamed and yet so eager to have. It was like I was hit with a lightning bolt of pure joy. I bawled. She thought I was laughing so she laughed, and soon I was laughing too.

I should be living in that lightning bolt of pure joy every day. How amazing, how wonderful, that God can teach a grown woman about the radical grace of Jesus through her child. I see more clearly every day, “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

Putting away the bread of idleness

Through various Bible reading plans and studies, I wound up reading Proverbs 31 three times this year. Yes — I willingly looked at myself through the lens of this mythically perfect woman not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. And you know what? I was not totally discouraged. Rather, I was challenged, in more ways than I expected.

One of the things I noticed in my readings of this chapter was this woman’s use of her time. She is a cheerful worker (v.13), she rises early (v.15), she is not idle (v.27).

Can I admit something to you? One of the things I covet most is my idleness. I want to sleep in. I want to sit on the couch and read or watch a TV show or nap when the kids nap. These things in and of themselves aren’t bad when rest is needed (more on that later), but they are my natural tendency. I give in. A LOT. I eat the bread of idleness whenever I get a chance and declare it good by telling myself, “I’m a mom, I deserve this.” But this year God has been convicting me of the wrongness of my habits via Mrs. Proverbs 31.

I’m sure many people reading this know of that one incredibly spirit-filled person in their lives who rises at some ridiculously early hour to read their Bible and spend time with God in prayer. I know a few people who do this and have always written this off. “It is NOT for me,” I’ve said. “I have KIDS.”

Every mom knows exactly what I’m talking about. Amen?

There is also the legitimate issue that the early morning hours are not my best. I am not a morning person (and that’s an understatement). If I were to rise early and read my Bible and pray, I wouldn’t be giving God my first fruits. I am my most alert and at my leisure during the kids’ nap time. But during nap time, if I’m not giving into my love of idleness, I’m usually working out, showering, and maybe doing one household chore if I can squeeze it in. So I do my Bible reading at night before bed. But if I’m honest with myself, this is giving God my last fruits. At the end of the day I want to spend time with my husband having an actual adult conversation without interruptions from our beautiful babies, and then I want to go to bed. God is getting the last MAYBE half-hour of my day.

This Sunday our pastor preached a great sermon on prayer that kind of kicked me in the rear. All of these things I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Proverbs 31 swirled around as I was listening to the sermon and I was really convicted that it was time to bring this part of my life and lay it on the altar for God to use.

The confluence of these convictions led me to come up with The Plan. I was going to rise at 6AM, work out, shower, and get going. I would do my Bible reading and prayers during nap time. After dinner and the kids’ bedtime would be 100% my husband’s and mine. I would go to bed early, and I would start all over again the next day.

Perhaps what happened next was entirely predictable. In a series of events that seemed pulled from the very pages of The Screwtape Letters, The Plan completely unraveled.

I went to bed a little later than planned because I wasted time on social media. Not a problem in and of itself, BUT, the baby woke up at 3:50AM. I got her back to sleep no problem, but I was wide awake until after 5AM. I knew what was happening even then – and I prayed that God would not let Satan (who had clearly sensed opportunity and was trying his best to take it) steal the day. I had to give in and set my alarm forward to 7:30. No working out. By the time we reached the kids’ naptime, I was completely wiped out. I had to sleep when they did. No working out, no Bible time. It will be done in the evening, not like I planned.

But even in a day like today there have been bountiful mercies. Some fights I was expecting with our toddler never emerged, both kids napped for a long time in the afternoon and I was able to get the rest I needed to catapult me through the rest of the day. As I sit here writing this, both kids are playing nicely on the floor and not harassing each other (don’t get me wrong, I know this will not last!) I’m discouraged by the way today went, but I know that Satan wants that discouragement to keep me from trying again tomorrow. By God’s grace, it won’t!

Plunged to Victory

So this weekend I did a thing. But in order to tell you that story I have to tell you another story first.

I was raised and baptized as an infant in a Presbyterian church. I attended Presbyterian, Lutheran, and nondenominational congregations until I moved to Wisconsin and began attending a Baptist church with my husband. While there are differences in the method and timing of water and professing, Baptists and Presbyterians hold similar views on the issue of baptism — that is, that it does not confer salvation — but the manner and timing are treated differently in these traditions. (Disclaimer: this is an incredibly simple treatment of an important theological issue that I am not going to break down on this blog. But you can read some thoughtful pieces on believer’s baptism (credobaptism) vs infant baptism (paedo-baptism) here and here). Long story short, I never felt the need to get baptized as an adult.

Our church here in Wisconsin requires credobaptism for membership. Submitting myself to the authority of a church through membership is something I feel very strongly about. As the wife of a member, it seemed out-of-step to not have our household unified in responsibility to the church community and in answer to its discipline (Jack was, for his part, less worried about this than me). As far as I knew I had been baptized, even if it was when I was an infant, and I made several public professions of faith (for instance, when Jack and I dedicated our daughters, we professed faith before our church). My question therefore was: was I coming to baptism as a box to be checked for church membership? I wanted to submit to the authority of the church on this matter because membership is important. But I did not want to come to baptism lightly. We have two kids who will ask us questions about these things one day. What would I say if I got baptized just to join the church?

So Jack and I spoke with our pastor. We read some books. We prayed. I read a bunch of articles online. I read the book of Acts. I read some more articles online. After a month or more I was not convinced that I wasn’t baptized as an infant, and therefore was without a good reason to seek baptism as an adult.

Then, one day, I was thinking about this and wondered if I was being obedient. I went back to the book of Acts:

So then, those who had RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41

But when they BELIEVED Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. – Acts 8:12

And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (And Philip said, “If you BELIEVE with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”) And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. – Acts 8:36-38

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They asked him to stay on for a few days. – Acts 10:44-48

And after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having BELIEVED in God with his whole household. -Acts 16:30-34

And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, BELIEVED in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were BELIEVING and being baptized. – Acts 18:8

And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to BELIEVE in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 19:1-5

First believe, and then be baptized.

For probably the first time I became convinced of the argument that my infant baptism was more of a profession of my parents’ faith than mine. Which isn’t to cast aspersion at my parents, but it raised questions for me. I believe, so, why not baptism? But wasn’t I already baptized? And if I was, did it really matter that my parents were the ones who made the decision and not me? Weren’t all of my subsequent professions of faith a confirmation of my infant baptism?

I was going in circles with this question again and again, and in exasperation I just prayed to God for clarity, “Just tell me what you want to do because I want to do whatever that is.”

The next Sunday, we went to church and the pastor gave a sermon in which he asked, “Do any of you need to be baptized?” The immediate answer in my heart was “Yes!”

Thus the wheels were set in motion. In the days following I felt such peace and happiness in the decision. Not because I was checking a box, or had finally determined that for some technical reason of timing and application of water that I had never been baptized and was now rectifying this situation, but because I had sought an answer from God and in his mercy, he gave it. I was at peace and happy because I could respond to God’s grace and his mercy with an act of obedience.

So on Saturday, my family and I got together with some friends from our church down at the river. We sang some songs, read from the Bible, and I told my story.

And then I got in the water with Jack and our pastor, and I was baptized.

Some years ago, I visited the battlefield at Gettysburg on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the battle. As my friends and I sat on the battlefield at twilight participating in the commemoration events, the past suddenly felt very near. It was almost as if I could lift my eyes to the hills and see the campfires of the opposing armies in the distance, poised to meet the next day.

That feeling of nearness to the past washed over me as the water closed in over my head in my baptism. I was plunged back through time, connecting with the first generations of Christians who were received into the faith in the same way. I would not have been surprised if when I emerged from the water, Peter himself had been standing there. The experience was wonderfully ancient.

I am still in awe of it. I feel changed by it. And, of course, that’s the point of baptism: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4).

So praise God for his word, answered prayers, and a continually-transforming life.