While playing at her water table this morning, our young daughter took a truck in one hand and a cup filled with water in the other. As she dumped the water over her truck she looked up at me to say: “I baptized it!” Two months ago when I was leaning her head back under the kitchen faucet to rinse out the maple syrup (don’t ask) she said, “I am being baptized!” And many times she has taken her baby doll and after snuggling her has proceeded to baptize her.
As a parent of a toddler, my heart leaps when I see her mimicking behavior and integrating play that keeps faith and God’s love as part of her play and language! It has been fun to see baptism be a part of the realm she lives in.
It’s hard to know exactly how baptism has become part of her daily life, but here are six things we have stumbled upon that (we think) have helped shape her early understanding of baptism and her identity as a beloved child of God. Note: I am writing with the assumption of infant baptism since that is my own experience—though many of these ideas could still be used in a tradition of adult baptism.
1. Hang pictures of your child’s baptism –preferably in their bedroom. Don’t worry if it’s an artistic or professional photo– just something that actually shows the day or moment of this special event—the water being poured over them, the family group photo at the baptism font, a close up of their celebration cake, them being held by their godparents—all these are visual reminders for them of the special day. A framed baptism certificate is also an option – but I have liked having the visual cue of actual photos that connect the child herself to the day and event. We often pause to talk about the pictures (and her baptism), and these visual images help her imagine this special event and see that this event is still important in her life.
2. Celebrate their baptismal anniversary each year! Obviously step #1 is actually knowing and remembering their anniversary (if you don’t know, the church will have this on record). We light J’s baptism candle she received as a newly baptized infant and talk about the Light of Jesus that shines within her. If you do not have a candle from your child’s baptism, you could order one (there are approximately 10,000 options for baptism candles available on-line)—or even just use a special-looking generic candle. After we light the candle, we hold her baptism cloth (used to dry her head when she was baptized). We watch again the video of her baptism and look through all the photos of the event and party. We see the water being poured and talk together about what the water, creed, candle, and sign of the cross mean. This celebration may or may not also include a cake—it is “new birth” after all, and children know that cake makes something special. Also to consider: celebrating YOUR baptism anniversary so your child can see that baptism is still an important part of YOUR life, too!
3. Read books about baptism. We purchased the board book Welcome, Child of God (Anne Ylvisaker) well after J’s baptism, and we have been singing this book to her since. Now she knows the song, and we can sing it while getting ready in the morning or driving to preschool. Since it’s a board book, it’s perfect for younger ones. The music is printed on the back so you can figure out the tune, too (and you can listen to the mp3 on the Augsburg Fortress website where the book is listed). I also give this as a gift for the little ones I know who get baptized. (Another book we have seen but don’t yet own is Washed and Welcome)
4. Pray the Aaronic/Priestly Blessing before bed. This is a bit less direct, but saying this blessing has helped form J’s use of the phrase, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” In Numbers 6:22ff, God instructs Moses to tell Aaron to use this blessing as a way to “put God’s name on his people.” This familiar blessing is known as the Aaronic or Priestly Blessing. In Lutheran liturgy this is often used at the end of a worship service to send the congregation out into the world. I have been praying this over J every night before bed. I ask if I can bless her. I hold her with her head resting on my shoulder, pray it, and make the sign of the cross over her back:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
J can almost say the whole thing with me now, though most often she just snuggles and listens. We also make the sign of the cross on her forehead at times, and she knows that the sign of the cross was made on her forehead at her baptism. She will often mimic that by dipping her thumb in her mouth, dragging it across my forehead with the words: “…Spirit. Amen.” A slimy and awesome reminder that she is (and I am!) a Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
5. Observe other baptisms. I have long hoped for a reality show that shows baptisms 24/7, but in the meantime, we rejoice in the baptisms in the real communities we’re a part of. Of course, seeing baptisms means you need to have a church—and what better excuse to find a church than wanting your child to really live her baptism daily and know she is always part of God’s family. When our child sees a baptism, she’s naturally curious and asks great questions—it also allows us to strike up conversations. To be asked “Why is he being baptized?” by a 2.5yo has opened up great conversations, like…
6. Use language like: You are a child of God…You belong to Jesus. When we watch a baptism, I try to be especially intentional about the language I use with J: “That boy is getting baptized today because he belongs to Jesus and is a child of God, too… That woman is getting baptized because she has just come to know Jesus is a child of God.” The book Welcome, Child of God has helped reinforce this, and we try to use many opportunities to talk about what it means to be a child of God. Most nights before I leave J in her room for sleep I will ask her, “Honey, do you know that you are a Beloved Daughter of God?” “Mmm-hmm!” comes the muffled reply as she sucks her thumb and drifts off to sleep.
There are so many things you can do to keep their identity in Christ alive for your child—these are the basics that have worked for us. What kinds of conversations have you had with your child about baptism? What practices or rituals have worked for you? What books do you read? Please add to this list in the comments section below.
Want more ideas? Try Living the Promises of Baptism: 101 Ideas for Parents, from the Augsburg Fortress website. This idea-packed book is pertinent for infants through upper elementary aged children.
Pastor Sara Wolbrecht is head of Care Ministry at a Lutheran church in the suburbs of San Francisco’s Bay Area, married to a musician and mother to an almost 3yo daughter.