It was a Sunday morning. We were down at the beach before going to worship. A baby turtle had just broken through the sand after hatching and was making his way down the man-made path toward the ocean, helped by the guiding hand of a volunteer “turtle person.” My 3-year-old son watched with us and cheered the palm-sized turtle on as he scuffled.
A couple hours later, we watched a boy of about fourteen commit his life to Jesus as his grandfather lowered him into the water.
The hatchling turtle follows only instinct. We’re not sure yet how they just know to make for the ocean all alone. This is the time in life when they are most vulnerable to predators. Many do not make it. For the ones who do, several years are spent maturing in the waters before they settle and become adults.
I remembered my own mad dash for baptism.
For children growing up in a Christ-centered home and congregation, the first years are sometimes like a spiritual period of gestation. We feel safely buried in something comforting yet unknown, growing in a shell yet not knowing much else. Later, we hatch from this fundamental understanding and yearn to climb up and out through roughness. Before long, we see light, we see landscape, we see terrain. We are not sure what to make of all of it, but we see enough to know what we must immediately do. We must strive for the water.
This can be dangerous. The turtles are creatures of instinct only, and the babies have no assistance from their parents. Human volunteers, with their godlike reign over nature, can hinder or help the journey.
Hinderances: the distractions of flashlights, the obstructions of equipment, and that great disappointment—pollution.
Help: A set watch over the eggs, an assassination of would-be predators, the carving of narrow paths, the guiding of hands.
Parents can do much to protect their children and show them the way. But we must allow for the decision of our children to follow Christ to come of its own accord. It must not be forced too soon, or it will not be natural. The desire to follow God must become as instinct as our children “hatch” from the protection of our raising and become responsible for their way of walking in the world, letting the spirit guide them. Our teaching cannot be forcing.
But upon reaching the water, the growth has just begun. If we are to see baptism as our entrance into our new home, our gateway from the danger of perishing, our milestone of becoming a dweller of a brand new kingdom, we must know that our maturation only begins with the completion of this step of faith. After all, if baptism is rebirth, then we must also regrow.
First comes the instinct to respond to the Gospel. Our instinct may not be fully understood. Even as a teenager, I did not understand the faith as much as I do now. Some may make a mad dash for the waters, but this does not mean they know the full significance of what they are doing. This also takes guidance, and guidance must follow us all the way.
As the farmer who sows his seed, the turtle lays her eggs and knows that the rest is up to a mechanism beyond her. We can lay the seeds of faith for others, but we know that it is God who carves the path, has gifted us with instinct, and who will guide us with his hand toward the everlasting waters.