“I don’t like that, Mommy!”
Charley looked up at me, pointing uncomfortably at the store’s Halloween display.
Witches, zombies, skeletons.
“I don’t either, baby.”
I explained to her that if she sees anything that makes her feel uncomfortable or scared, that she can choose to look away to protect her heart and mind.
Since that moment and countless other encounters with store and front yard displays of graveyards, zombies, bloodied faces, witches, and more, she has expressed the same sentiment.
“I don’t like it, mommy. It’s scary.”
And I have shielded her eyes or taught her to look away.
But a nagging frustration has begun to grow in my heart. Something that confuses and bewilders me.
Do we celebrate Halloween: Pumpkins, cute kids in costumes, candy for days?
Or Halloween: Scary. Death. Evil.
The town where we currently live seems to have a love affair with all things scary, gory, and evil. This is our fourth Halloween here and each year, it seems as if the front yard graveyards have multiplied. I have never lived in a place with so many Halloween decorations. I come from a town where, during this time of year, you expect to see scarecrows, hay bales, and pumpkins. Not freshly dug “graves” with legs sticking out and clowns with blood-shot eyes peering at you from under the porch steps.
I have always been sensitive to scary things. But when it comes to allowing myself to be subjected to these visuals, scary movies, or experiences like haunted houses, I have no desire. I encounter enough anxiety and fear in my daily life that it would be dumb to give myself an extra dose. The images stay in my mind. They fill me with fear and anxiety. They stir in my mind as I try to fall asleep. They assault me in my dreams.
If this scary stuff is all in fun, then I can see why people that decorate their front yard this way. They’re just joining in on the “fun.”
But here’s why I’m frustrated:
EVIL IS NOT FUN.
DEATH IS NOT A GAME.
VIOLENCE IS NOT SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE.
When I lived in Haiti, I became acutely aware of the real side of these “scary things.” The spiritual world. Good and evil. And it was not fun.
Whether or not we are willing to see the reality of good and evil in our world, it exists. Some people are more fortunate to have not encountered evil on such an intimate level. (Often, I think it’s those of us fighting for good – those who pose the most threat to the emery – who encounter the most resistance.) Regardless, we all have our own perspective – and sometimes sliding scale – of morality, good, and evil.
But here’s what I know to be true:
God is good.
And we have an enemy that is NOT.
The enemy is real and present and HE IS EVIL. He infiltrates our world, our minds if we let him, and his demons roam the earth to accomplish his work – to steal, kill, and destroy.
That’s right, I said it.
Demons are REAL. I saw one with my own eyes.
I’ve never admitted that publicly, but there’s no use in hiding what’s true by attempting to control the narrative of what others think of me.
I. SAW. EVIL.
Like a shadow, it perched at the top of the bedpost in my room in Haiti, looking down at me.Before I saw it, I FELT it. In the middle of the night, I woke, feeling the suffocating weight of terror. With my heart racing, and desperate to be saved from the crushing weight of its evil presence, I prayed and read scripture aloud and proclaimed the name of Jesus until it left.
It left me alone that night, but appeared again.
It followed me home to the US.
It clung to my back.
It tortured me.
At times, I wanted to die to escape its torment.
I forgot who I was, had thoughts that weren’t my own, including to hurt myself.
Evil wasn’t fun. It wasn’t a game.
It brought me face to face with a life or death battle.
My time living in Haiti stripped me of distractions and gave me the gift of experiencing God’s presence more than I ever had before. But in a land where hundreds of years of agreements have been made with the devil, this kind of evil I describe was also very present. You could feel it in the beat of the Voodoo drums at night. Or as you walked by the dry and splintered properties of the slave owners.
Yes, God was very real and present. But evil pushed back and showed its ugly face.
It’s the same evil that is here in the US and all over the world, but here in a land where we each of us have been given a voice and a platform, it is more sneaky. It comes in many forms amongst the many distractions and idols of our culture.
Sometimes we don’t even notice because we have made it a “fun” thing.
I’ll even go as far to say that we celebrate it.
Yes, I believe that some of us – maybe even unknowingly – celebrate evil on Halloween.
After my face to face encounters with evil, you can imagine my confusion and disgust when I see the figures and themes in stores and on front yards that celebrate the very things we simultaneously seem to be appalled by during other times of the year.
We are broken-hearted when someone we know dies but then we dress up as dead people.
We are appalled at violence but then wear a costume that makes us look like we have a knife through the skull or blood dripping from our face.
We are devastated when someone commits suicide but think a skeleton hanging from a noose in our neighbor’s yard is just a harmless decoration.
We say that we are on God’s side, but then dress up as witches or devils or demons – those in agreement with our enemy, with evil!
Why do we do this?
Have we even stopped to think?
I believe in living an intentional life.
An intentional life is one shaped by continually being cognizant of one’s own values and goals. You make decisions according to these values and goals. You question why you’re doing something and seek the best way to shape the life you’re looking for. In other words, you don’t just float along responding to life happening to you. You don’t do something simply because others are doing it, or because it’s how you were raised.
You stop. You question. You decide. You act.
I think that the need for intentionality grows when you have a family, as more people are now affected by the trajectory of your life decisions.
You are forced to ask yourself the “why.”
When you have kids, you can either do everything the way you experienced as a child or because “It’s always been this way,” or you can be intentional with your life, your parenting, and your decisions, and question the WHY.
Why do we do this?
Do I believe this is best for my child?
Does this reflect my values and beliefs?
How will this decision affect my child’s heart, mind, and future?
Here’s what’s crazy – I never taught Charley that “this thing is scary.”
Just like I never had to teach her that a flower or sunset is beautiful.
She surprised me with her reaction to the Halloween display that day in the store.
Just as she recognizes lovely things, she can also recognize evil. Charley has the kind of discernment that we should all be more sensitive to within ourselves. I didn’t have to teach her.
What I could do, if I’m not careful and intentional however, is desensitize her sweet little heart by allowing her to be continually exposed to scary, gory things. I choose intentionality and the protection of her heart instead.
When we make these things okay for the Halloween season and make light of evil, death, and violence, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re desensitizing ourselves to the reality of this evil enemy of ours.
With all the various stories of Halloween’s origins as well as the various religious beliefs of those reading, it’s not my goal to debate whether or not we should participate, how we should participate, to answer your question “should I take my child trick-or-treating,” or if it’s maybe even our job to redeem this holiday. It’s also not my position to tell you how to make these intentional decisions for your own family.
What I do want to leave here today, however, regardless of our beliefs, is the challenge to examine our own “why.”
We should ask ourselves if we believe in evil, and if so, do we make light of it or make exceptions that are detrimental to our fight?
Are we engaging in activities or celebrations that feature death, violence and evil as themes?
Are we exposing our children to these themes that may desensitize them to the evil in our world, making it seem “normal” or fun?
And if we are Christians, do we have a true understanding of whose side of the battle we’re on?
In my perfect fall world, every front porch would be filled with colorful mums and pumpkins and children posing in their adorable (not scary) Halloween costumes. Superheroes, princesses, firefighters, and of course Buzz Lightyear and Woody would safely walk the streets and receive sugar free (lol) treats. The adults would sip their hot apple cider as they chatted with neighbors. “Halloween” would simply be a celebration of all things fall.
I wouldn’t have to comfort my child in the store because of a scary display, or shield her eyes on a neighborhood stroll. I could take her to a fall festival and not worry about her being scared and later haunted by the image of the blood-stained face of the woman with a knife through her skull. Better yet, people could go to school and church and the grocery store and walk down the street without being shot and killed. They would live without inner torment. They would never commit suicide or hurt others.
They would live in peace and light and love.
But for my perfect world to exist, evil would have to cease to.
Until then, I’m going to do my best not to blur the lines.
I’m going to protect my children’s eyes and teach them how to guard their hearts.
I’ll teach – hopefully most often by example – how to don the armor given to us to fight our evil enemy. And the power of the name of Jesus.
I’ll explain inevitable tragedies through the lens of good and evil, reminding them of which side prevails in the end.
After all, darkness is simply the absence of light.
And light always wins.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”