It’s Halloween night, and I am attempting to get my two boys to eat something green and leafy before we embark upon Get the Candy 2016. The boys nibble at their broccoli like picky rabbits. Charlie pushes his dish away.
“I’m full, Mom. Can we go trick-or-treating now? Can we? Mom? Go? Go now? CAN WE?”
No sort of protein (even hot dogs, the fake protein) can be plied upon my wee ones. And so, dressed as one of the Star Wars guys (not sure which one) and a fuzzy bat, my boys go out into the night.
My children have been instructed that we don’t do spooky or scary at Halloween. I understand that some believers don’t do Halloween at all, and I can understand why. And, honestly, as my boys get older, I am starting to waver on our participation in this holiday. Why do we need a night to remind us about all the creepy things? Life is creepy enough.
I grew up with Halloween. And, as I remember one particular year, it was perfect. At the end of the night, I ate my weight in Reese’s peanut butter cups and jujubes and watched The Love Boat before bed. It was simple. It was safe.
And here I am now, with my sweet children, and it doesn’t seem so safe anymore.
The Sunday night before Halloween, our family was firmly entrenched in another of our fall traditions—watching endless football. I was in the kitchen making another bowl of popcorn. My husband, Brian, had run to the store for more milk, and the boys were where they always are if the television is on—staring at it from about one foot away. I came around the corner and saw them both, silent and transfixed, watching a commercial for a spooky show to be aired Halloween night.
My kids don’t play video games or watch much television. And yes, I know, this statement makes me sound really wonderful. I’m not. I just am too cheap to buy the video games and PBS Kids is free. So, there you are. Also, I just like things simple. So, we play a lot of Yahtzee and we build with endless, tiny Legos, and scary commercials don’t visit us too often. But this time, as I rounded the corner from the kitchen to the family room, I saw their faces and quickly switched off the TV. I was too late. They saw. I looked at them and smiled, thinking that a mom smile might make it all okay.
Both boys smiled back uneasy smiles that did not reach their eyes.
And then I start to work on The List. The List is an ever-growing collection of things from which I want to protect my boys.
“That was scary,” said Charlie. And then he was off, looking for more Legos to scatter on the floor.
Henry, on the other hand, kept standing there, staring. Henry is six, and he stood very still, and he seemed sad. And I felt sad for him.
And then I start to work on The List. The List is an ever-growing collection of things from which I want to protect my boys. As I smile at Henry, I mentally add scary football commercials to The List, right underneath: Music, television, movies. Anything mean. Oh, and politics. And presidents both past and present and probably future. Oh, and bad words and bad ideas and bad thoughts. Also, high-fructose corn syrup and any kind of toy that takes batteries. Okay, so maybe that last one is more about protecting myself.
I want it all expunged. I want Thomas the Train for afternoon television and only happy-Jesus music on repeat at our house. And Halloween should only be about robot costumes and fun-size candies and certainly no evil stuff. I want it all to just go away, all the stuff that I certainly never had to deal with when I was six.
Because, when I was six, there was no boogeyman. Or so I thought. And I felt that way because I was six. I was safe because my mom and dad took on the boogeyman for me. Mom and Dad made him go away, to the best of their ability, and I put my trust in them.
And then I had my own kids. I became convinced that evil was taking over the world and that the boogeyman was moving in down the street. I see him behind every doctor’s appointment, behind every new friend, behind all the endless choices my boys are given. And I know that is exactly what the king boogeyman wants. So, I go to work.
With my temperament, anxiety and fear are often my go-to emotions, dialed up before anger or sadness or even happiness. For example, I feel joy, and then fear comes barging in to stomp the joy out. The arrival of joy implies that joy will eventually depart, after all, and that’s terrifying. It’s a tough thing, to combat an emotion this pervasive, but I have some really good weapons.
I know you think I’m going to start quoting Scripture now. And yes, Scripture is the best weapon there is to combat fear. It says so right in the Bible. And yes, unbelievers say that is circular reasoning, but I know better. I have experienced the power of the Word of God in my life. However, I’m not going to start with Scripture today. I’m going to start with whining.
But let me back up a bit.
I think it’s actually good to see that and to remember it all clearly now. To be reminded that, as idyllic as it seemed, there was some real pain there too, yet here I am today.
As much as I like to think that my childhood was completely safe and untainted, there were some problems. I didn’t realize them so much back then, which is a testament to God’s grace. But I grew up with a father who was in recovery. I grew up with a brother who had addiction and anger issues. I grew up in a home that wasn’t perfect and had its share of anger and fear, and I wasn’t immune. And I think it’s actually good to see that and to remember it all clearly now. To be reminded that, as idyllic as it seemed, there was some real pain there too, yet here I am today.
Here I am today, with my own kids, and knowledge, and yes, Scripture. But sometimes Scripture seems like those gigantic, shiny wrapping bags you can buy at the store. Instead of actually taking the time to try and wrap an awkwardly shaped present, you just slip this bag over it and, voila! Pretty! Scripture-wielding can feel that way. It can feel like putting a pithy “Everything is fine!” stamp on any given moment—and sometimes I get just a little bit annoyed at Scripture for that. I do love Jesus, I promise. I just don’t like to think of Jesus’s Word as a bumper sticker.
So instead, I take my fear and anxiety and do two things:
- I write about them. I spill them all out on the page and get every sort of thought and fear out of my head and onto some paper before the thoughts fester and make me even more fearful. I let the infection out. I don’t just pray these thoughts; I write them because the thoughts and prayers I write feel more like a handing over. I allow myself to whine and wallow, and I just scrawl it all down.
- Then I don’t bother with rereading the whining. I just start reading the Bible instead. I try not to find an individual verse here or there to serve as a vague answer to my problems. I avoid topic indexes, even. I just find my bookmark* and read a couple chapters. And I ask God to take care of the rest.
As believers, there are certainly many other things we can do to combat fear. But I guess I like to keep it simple. I don’t think my brain can handle anything more complicated. Parenting is nutball enough.
If you find yourself fractured by fear—fear for your children, fear for your marriage, yourself, this country of ours (the list can go on and on)—how do you combat it? Because a fear-founded defense will result in a very different outcome than a faith-founded one.