Sending a Letter to Myself Back in Time: What I Wish I'd Known about God as a Teen

In a small town, inside a smaller church, an even smaller boy stood chest deep in big tank of cold water. His parents and older sister looked on, as did the congregation of believers. Lights shone. The water gently lapped at the white robe he wore. With one hand on the boy's back, and another covering his nose and mouth, the pastor leaned the child's body backward, burying him beneath the water, saying, ''I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.'' Down he went and up he came. No more than a second or two passed but an eternity was effected. That boy, standing there drenched from head to toe, was a newborn child of God. That boy was me. And should I live 120 years, that day shall always remain the most important day of my life. But there was a time when I acted as if the blessings of that baptismal day had somehow simply evaporated. For a few years later, stumbling through that weird phase of life we call puberty, I went through a crisis of faith--as it turns out, only the first of many. Feelings of certainty about my salvation were wavering. Was I really a Christian? Was I truly sincere in my commitment to Christ? If I died tonight, would I go to heaven? Those nagging questions came to the fore during a revival at my church, and I was convinced that it was time for a fresh start. So, I recommitted myself to Christ, and the following Sunday stepped into the water for baptism #2.

If I could write a letter now, and send it to myself back then, in those dark days of doubt, here's what I would say:

Dear Chad,

As you look inside yourself, trying to figure out how real your faith is, all you see is the turmoil of uncertainty. Your spiritual life yoyos daily, up in devotion to Jesus, down in doubt about salvation. You’ve prayed, asking that God would speak to you in some way to calm your fears. But the only still, small voice you hear is the one that points out how many times you’ve screwed up. You believed in Jesus, and were baptized, at such a young age; did you know what you were doing? were you sincere? if you were, why would such doubts plague you? You’re thinking that it’s time to start over, to become a true disciple, to commit with 100% of your will to Christ.

As odd as it might sound, the worst thing you can do is to look inside yourself, to try and discern the devotion of your heart. It’s self-defeating. Peering into the abyss of doubt will only deepen your doubt. That's like eating a cup of salt to quench your thirst.

Certainty of where you stand with God is found only where God stands for you, in your stead, doing on your behalf everything necessary to make you his own. It's outside you, not inside. Jesus' fidelity is stronger than your infidelity; his trust triumphs over your doubt; and his utter goodness perfects even your worst, most shameful failures.

Why strain to detect a still, small voice within you when you hear a clear, confident declaration from God's own word that affirms he loves you enough to send Jesus to bleed and die in your place? Why worry about how young you were when God brought you to faith, for Jesus bids little children come to him and holds them up as exemplars of faith? John the Baptist believed in the womb (!), leaping with joy inside Elizabeth his mother as Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came into his presence.

On the day of your baptism, it wasn't you committing yourself to Jesus but Jesus committing himself to you. He baptized you, and did it right, the first time, for all time. You can't be “rebaptized” any more than you can somehow have Jesus redo his birth, death, and resurrection. As with your baptism, he did it right the first time, for all time, for you. You can't repeat or improve on divine doing.

There's nothing wrong, or unusual, with struggling through hard questions in your walk with Christ. But don't confuse emotion with faith, or the lack thereof. What determines reality is not how you feel but what God says. And he says, loud and clear, ''I love you with a love higher than heaven, deeper than hell, larger than the world, and so incredibly personal that I am your very own Father and you my son, now and forever.''

Sincerely, Me