Eight years old, wearing a thin white dress not quite keeping out all the cold of a metal chair, I sat as attentively as I could listening to the story behind the silver dollar held out to me. It was my baptism, and Sister Eshrich was speaking just to me. She held up the coin and told me how it had been given to her as a little girl, bright and shiny, but over time had dirtied and tarnished. It was true: the coin was grey, dimmed and dull. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out another coin, its twin, but brighter, radiant and clean. Sweet Sister Eshrich then handed that coin to me, still warm from her pocket and told me when things become dull they can be shined up again like new: me and my new coin. I couldn’t believe my luck, owning something so beautiful.
* * *
Sitting in sacrament meeting, I pulled out my phone. I wanted to talk to my son so I open to the note section and begin to can type.
What is baptism?
I pass the phone to my son. He reads, and I gesture to him to write back. He gleefully starts tapping, delighted to be passing notes, on my phone, at church.
We’ve been working through this conversation for months now. I’ve been teaching and talking for years now, trying to create a space to talk about things that matter. Now feels like a final push; trying to make sure he knows enough about the choice he will be old enough to make in a month’s time. I want him to make it for himself, as much as he can, knowing as much as he can to make that choice.
We had spent a lot of time talking about what baptism is, and the purposes of baptism: to participate in an ordinance to enter the kingdom of God, to make a covenant with God, to become a member of the church, to wash away sin, and to follow Christ’s example. With as much as I had talked about all of it, he could recite them all. I wanted him to know that pleasing your family wasn’t one of the answers. I told him to pray, to get his own answer before he made up his mind.
Our conversation continued:
- Do you know that you get a new name when you are baptized?
-No. But that is silly.
-Actually it is true. Every baptized member of the church takes on Christ’s name when they are baptized. That is what it means in the sacrament prayers when we say we take his name on us. When we are baptized we become members of Christ’s church- Christians. And taking on his name is a way to remember we are trying to become perfect, and truly good, as he is.
-I do not know what you mean.
Had I been making it too complicated? I realized I was asking him to know and discuss concepts I hadn’t thought deeply about for years past the age he is now. I wondered how deeply I had thought even then. In my mind now baptism is so rich and conscious with so much pending on it. But, I needed to distill out the essence of it if I really wanted him to understand.
* * *
I sat at the computer, trying to condense down everything I wanted to say to him one last time before he took the plunge. I’m relieved and happy that he’s prayed and felt an answer of his own to be baptized, giving me occasion to speak to him one more time before he joins the wet mormon club. The more I thought about the talk, the simpler I realized it had to be. I couldn’t go back through each conversation we had had. For all of our sakes I wanted the talk tied up in five minutes or less. Less is more, especially for a young audience. I continued thinking about it as I walked over to my jewelry box and fished out my silver dollar.
The coin had tarnished, it was dull and muted from the shining token I had received so many years ago. I took cleaning paste to it; lathered it on the surface and rubbed away the grit. I smiled as the coin began to shine as it once had. Despite my neglect, it was still good, still the same valuable coin, it just needed a bit of work to restore its luster and me choosing to do it.
I knew what I wanted to say.
* * *
I stood up at his baptism and talked about Jesus: the reason we were at the church that night, the one who had showed us what we needed to do, and the kind of person to be. Loving. Forgiving. Serving. No matter what. Choosing to be baptized was committing to be to be like Jesus, to follow his example, and even when you mess up, recommitting and trying again. No matter what.
Wet and washed from the font, he came to sit down next to me and told me he felt so warm and good inside. He has a newly-clean, shining silver dollar in his hand, still heated from mine. Looking at the silver dollar, newly cleaned, I think I can be that way too, it will just take effort.