While my baptism granted me the privilege to call God my Father, it also brought a much different father into my life with a seemingly renewed kind of brute force. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44, NLT), and from practically the moment I emerged from that water, I know he was there to steal my joy. He’d failed in his attempt to stop my baptism from happening, but he had already proven his skill at flooding my mind with fear— fear so powerful that it could conquer any trace of love I had inside of me.
I should have seen it coming. After all, my fear of having to publicly expose my sin had nearly kept me from proclaiming my love. But, for a moment, that love was so complete. The depth of my passion was so overwhelming that I would never have believed anything could be strong enough to break it. Yet, soon enough, I began to hear this voice. All of a sudden, this torrent of unwelcome thoughts started rushing through my head— thoughts that I would be mortified to speak out loud, or to write on a page. I can’t even describe how terrible it was, but it made me question everything. I started to doubt my motive for wanting to be baptized in the first place. What if I had just done it because I wanted other people to think I was good? Or worse than that, what if I had done it because I wanted to make myself feel superior to other people? What if this had nothing to do with love at all? Maybe I wasn’t even capable of love. How could I possibly be, if after hearing that beautiful story of God’s love for me, I could do nothing but exploit it for my own selfish gain? All of a sudden, I just felt like a monster. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Evil.
I’d like to say that those feelings eventually subsided, but the truth is that they really never did. They actually began to grow worse the more I tried to grow in my understanding of God. In the course of my Scriptural studies, I found passages that referenced an unforgivable sin, and I became convinced that I had committed it. Furthermore, I began to reason that because I had committed it, I was destined for Hell— no matter what I did from that point on. God no longer wanted me, and it would be of no use to pretend otherwise. Thirteen years old. Thirteen years old, and these were the kinds of things I thought about.
It wasn’t until many years later that I started to allow myself the freedom to draw the connection between my self-image as a pretender and the snares of the ultimate pretender. There’s a reason why Jesus called him the father of lies. It’s what he does. And behind every good lie, there always seems to be some small facet of truth that is just significant enough to make the lie convincing.
I’m not going to say that I’ve triumphed over these thoughts and feelings of self-condemnation— because it isn’t true. Even to this day, I still struggle with them. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe it just means that, for now, I keep fighting. I keep fighting because I know that the only reason why my accuser continues to assault me is to keep me believing his lies. He doesn’t want any of us to know the truth—because the truth will be the end of his lies.