Saint Lydia's Book Club

About writing Orthodox Christian novels.

Side Effects of Adult Baptism

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Were you baptized as an adult? Were you surprised by the way you felt afterwards?  Baptism into a new faith is an enormous life change. It is a beautiful and loving act of faith, but like so many beautiful things, it is hard-won, and it does not always lead straight to peace.

Like snowflakes, we human beings are all different. No two of us respond to any life event in exactly the same way, and this is true of baptism also. But as the years began to pass after my own baptism and I spoke to other people who converted as adults, I discovered there were things many of us had in common. The most powerful thing we had in common was our decision to become Orthodox, and our willingness to do the work that comes with such a momentous transformation. But that was not the whole story.

One of the first things I didn’t expect was the feeling of awakening. In every life, there are unresolved problems and unanswered questions. In my former faith life, I didn’t have the spiritual tools or context to address these things, so I just let them go numb. I stopped thinking about them, walked around them, stepped over them, ignored them.

When I became Orthodox, I felt that my inner being had come to life. This was a good feeling, but also a bad feeling. All the things I’d been stepping over and ignoring suddenly surged back to life, and I found I needed to address them after all. Oddly, this was reassuring. Before I was Orthodox, I used to feel like my faith was a toy with no batteries. If I wanted it to do anything, I had to pick it up and move it around myself. When I became Orthodox, my faith was like a toy with batteries. It could move under its own power! It could have effects on my life that didn’t originate with me.

Another surprising effect of baptism was that I suddenly felt the need to question every single decision I made. Before I was Orthodox, I knew everything I could possibly need to know. I had been in the same church my whole life, and I knew all the answers. I even knew the proper way to make up answers when I didn’t have any real ones!

But now, I was Orthodox. So every time I took a step and reached for my usual response to something, I paused. Did I still want that usual response? What would an Orthodox person do? This came up especially when I was parenting or making an important decision, but sometimes it came up when I was making an apparently small decision.

For example, I remember hearing an Orthodox mom casually mention her bedtime ritual with her children. I listened to her, and the other women she was talking to, and I felt lost. There’s a bedtime ritual? How would I know that? I would know if I had been raised Orthodox. I had no Orthodox memories to go on. Suddenly, I missed those Orthodox memories I didn’t have.

The wish for Orthodox memories manifests in another unexpected way. When you are baptized into a new faith, you give up all your traditions. All your holiday rituals are gone (as well as some of your holidays!), and your songs and prayers change, and the format of your service is different. All the things you were attached to are gone. They are gone because you chose a new faith in which they have no part, but they are also gone because you have lost the faith that gave them life. They are doubly gone. Even if you went back to them, they would no longer be there. Not the way they were when you believed in them.

Sometimes, the loss of a familiar thing can be a relief. If you loved everything about your old faith, you wouldn’t have been seeking a new one. But the loss of familiarity itself is hard to bear. It is a loss of affection, of the comfort of doing what you have done since childhood, since the beginning of all your memories. If you have ever moved to a new house, you know what this is like. You are cooking in your new kitchen, and you reach for a drawer that isn’t there. You can’t remember where you stored that spoon you need in this new kitchen. And for a few seconds, you wish very much for your old kitchen and the security of cooking in a place where you don’t have to think twice to reach for a spoon.

Time and patience with yourself can lessen this feeling. If you go to the services in your new Orthodox church over and over, with your new Orthodox friends, the services and the friends will start to become familiar. They will never be the prayers and the people of your childhood. But then, you are no longer the person you were in childhood. In time, you will learn the words of these new prayers by heart, and the music will start to play in your mind, even when you are not in church. You will find ways to encompass the realities of your spiritual adulthood. You will sift your past and keep what is worth treasuring. And slowly, you will attach to your new life.

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Author: Saint Lydia's Book Club

Melinda is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Letters to Saint Lydia, released in 2010 by Conciliar Press. Her second novel, The Other Side of the Bonfire, will be released in August 2012 by Lingua Sacra Publishing.

5 thoughts on “Side Effects of Adult Baptism

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. “I had been in the same church my whole life, and I knew all the answers. I even knew the proper way to make up answers when I didn’t have any real ones!” This is exactly where I came from, from knowing everything and having everything familiar to knowing almost nothing, to unfamiliar and challenging. I could no longer glide through my spiritual life, I have to be an active participant. That’s one of the things I love about our small parish, you cannot miss a service or gathering without someone calling to make sure you’re feeling ok and if you need anything. This is not the Church of my childhood, and you are right. I am not the person I was before and what a blessing that is!

  3. Melinda said:
    ——————-
    “Another surprising effect of baptism was that I suddenly felt the need to question every single decision I made. Before I was Orthodox, I knew everything I could possibly need to know. I had been in the same church my whole life, and I knew all the answers. I even knew the proper way to make up answers when I didn’t have any real ones!
    But now, I was Orthodox. So every time I took a step and reached for my usual response to something, I paused. Did I still want that usual response? What would an Orthodox person do? This came up especially when I was parenting or making an important decision, but sometimes it came up when I was making an apparently small decision.”
    ——————-
    (First, sorry of my poor English, I am Serbian)
    I completely agree with you. That is surprisingly very same with me. But I was in different spiritual situation. I was born in Orthodox tradition, but without Orthodox life (in communist`s antichrist tyranny), and i was THINK that I know everything that I need to know.

    In fact, that was not real thruth. Few years after I have baptised in Orthodox (in my 42) and really have lived in Church, I realized that all things, all thoughts, all movements, all wishes and all works become different.

    Pause You mentioned is very interesting. Yes, every mind product is filtered by question “what would my Orthodox faith said about that?” or: “what is better for my eternal life and for eternal life of my children?” Life have receive new quality. Peace have become new “master” of my minds. Almost nothing have power to disrupt my life. That is my new drive, my new route. Very different of “early Milorad”, there is not place for sadness in my soul, only sorrow for other people that live in between coldness and heat.

    I am falling every day, I sin every day. But now I have might to get up once again and many times again, with smile (and even in terrible situations). And I realized than count of my fall-downs is every day smaller … with the help of God.

    Let God be with You and with all Orthodox and with all people of good will.

  4. Pingback: Side Effects of Adult Baptism : OMHKSEA

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