This is my favorite post from 2014. It was one of my first on this blog.
Baptism and Pain — A Counselor’s Perspective
“Baptism doesn’t come up much in a counseling session,” I remember a colleague stating in a meeting.
I was surprised. I was still in my internship as a Mental Health Counselor, in the last year of my Master’s program. I didn’t have years of experience behind me, but in my own sessions, it came up ALL the time.
In seeking out a Lutheran counselor, whatever situations bring my clients through my door, their issues are accompanied by a profound struggle with faith.
“How do I know God loves me?” they ask with pain in their eyes. “I don’t think He does.”
“Are you baptized?” I would ask.
Sometimes the answer would be a simple “yes,” often followed by “but I was a baby and I don’t remember it.” Other times, a dam would break, and all the doubts and pain would gush out. I would let them go ahead with whatever they needed to say, because it takes a lot of courage for a Christian to even speak their doubts, fears, and anger. Having these negative thoughts and feelings makes them afraid. They are afraid that God will turn their back on them and they are afraid I will turn my back on them. They are afraid of rejection, and that rejection could bring their faltering faith closer to dying. When I don’t condemn them, their relief is palpable.
Thus would begin a discussion about all the beauties of baptism, because in many ways, baptism is an answer to whatever doubts that person has with their relationship with God. In baptism, they were adopted by God. By God’s promise and through no accomplishment of their own, they have become entitled to His love and attention (Romans 6 and 8). They were made one in Christ’s death and resurrection, and given new life (Romans 6:3-7; Colossians 2:12). They have been set free from the bonds of sin (Romans 6:8-11) and given salvation (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16). They received the gift of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter, who gives faith, strengthens faith, and, well, comforts.
God does all of this for each one of us. Why would He do that if He didn’t love us?
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 ESV
We have been promised that, as Christians, we will suffer — but it is sin that causes the suffering, not God. We sin and people sin against us, and it hurts like crazy. Sin nailed Jesus to the cross. Christ knows our pain and He promises to carry us through it. He is there because He promised to be there. He gave us His Holy Spirit at our baptism, to be with us always. Our baptism is a fixed point in each of our lives where our Lord, our loving Father, gave these promises to each one of us, calling us individually by our names, each precious child.
Pointing to this Sacrament is useful precisely because it is so real. Whether the person remembers being baptized, they know they were. They’ve heard their parents tell them about it, they’ve seen the certificate, and they’ve watched others be baptized. The promises that are tied to their baptism are what they have forgotten and what they need to hear. This is where you were washed of your sin. This is where you were born into Christ. This is where you became a child of God. This is where you become tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is where you become a member of the Body of Believers – His Church. This is where you have tangible, witnessed proof that God loves you with everything He is.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if my clients are dealing with crisis, loneliness, and/or mental illness. Through baptism, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We will find ways to deal with false thinking, diagnosis, how to heal, practical coping mechanisms, etc. But this is the first thing and often the very thing that they are most hungry to hear. As their sister in Christ, and a fellow layman, I am not there to hear their confession or grant absolution, but I am there to give the encouragement that a fellow Christian can give and is supposed to give. Being a Christian counselor, thankfully, I am not just limited to the psychological tools that I do believe have value; but I can also point to the Means of Grace (Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, the Proclamation of the Word) as the places that God has promised us that we can find His grace and His comfort.