A happy drowning

Photo by Ryan Wilson on Unsplash

by Emily Olson

On a clear summer morning, under an azure sky and prickly hot sun, I watch our six children splash at the swimming pool.

How innocently joyful they are. My two oldest sons tackle the monkey bars over floating lily pads, drift along the current-driven lazy river, clamber up the climbing wall to hurl themselves into deep water, almost instinctively remembering how to paddle and float. My fearless daughter scales the tower again and again to slip down the long, twisting chute. My little sons wade hesitantly, and then with more confidence, under the raining water of the splash pad and shallow play area. The baby turns her head under her sun hat, trying to see the sources of shouting and showers. Outside of our normal, hurried lives, I’m reminded how priceless each child is, how quickly they’re growing up — and away.

At the same time, I see their fallibility. Like many parents, I am all too aware of how constant water safety vigilance should be. One false step, one trip or glide into slightly deeper water, and my children could disappear, silently submerging, in an instant their thrills turned to deadly struggling. Despite the presence of sunglasses-clad lifeguards, all holding their bright red rescue buoys and constantly scanning the water, I can’t stop counting my dear ones, searching for the older ones’ gleaming heads amidst others and staying an arms’ length away from the tottering, gleeful younger ones. I simultaneously rejoice in their simple delight and fight my fears of their drowning, of their deaths.

Christians experience this contrast of fear and delight, of death and life, too, in the sacrament of Baptism. Without Christ, we face death, an abyss of suffocating darkness and torment. Yet we have hope in a Baptism that is both a bathing and a burial. Water by itself, of course, confers no such awesome work. The word of God in and with the water makes Baptism, a washing in the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:19). In this simple act, baptism bestows awesome benefits: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism).   

A happy, terrible act is Baptism — a rebirth of life and, at the same time, a drowning and death. We see this contrast in Romans: “We were buried therefore with [Christ] 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” (6:3-4). In baptism, we watch our children drown — and at the same time, receive new life.

I will always struggle with worry as I watch my children venture into deeper water, both physical and spiritual. I also pray that God might constantly reassure me, and them, of his unfailing mercy. For my children will die someday. But they’ve already drowned — and been rescued by God, who shed his blood for them (Romans 5:9) and who gave them his name in their baptisms. I cling to his promises, like a desperate swimmer clinging to a buoy, that “he who began a good work in [them] will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Emily Olson is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Casper, Wyoming.

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