By the time the Halloween sun peeked it’s head above the horizon, I started to realize that this holiday is not for the faint of heart, especially when you’ve got a 9 year old boy in the house. Our weekend had already been full of fun that started with a costume parade at school on Friday afternoon and ended with another costume parade on Sunday. In between were visits to a Halloween carnival, petting zoo, party, haunted house and of course, the obligatory candy…lots and lots of candy. So much candy in fact that I’ve hidden several bags around the house. Yes, when yesterday dawned, I was pretty sure everyone in my house was Halloween’d out.
How wrong I was! I realized just how wrong when I got a call about two-thirty in the afternoon asking if I could take Paris out for some Trick-or-Treating. I tried to think of a good excuse but apparently wasn’t quick enough and so, for the fourth time this weekend, out came the Vampire costume. After wolfing down some dinner, we grabbed a bag and ran out the door.
We live in one of the more affluent neighborhoods and as such, people love to drop off their kids to hit up all the big houses by the ocean. To be honest, I’ve always thought that most of my neighbors do what we typically do…turn off their porch lights and retreat to the back rooms hoping against hope no light peeks out of the windows. I have wondered in years past if this was what people felt like during the blackouts of World Wars I and II.
As we joined the maddening crowd of kids hopped up on Jujubes, Tootsie Pops and a host of other sweets sure to induce sugar hangovers the next morning, I was amazed at just how many kids had made their way to my little neighborhood. I think I was even more amazed at how many neighbors were waiting for them with open arms and lots and lots of candy.
One of our neighbors hired fire dancers to dance in his front yard, while just down the street another had filled up an old claw tooth tub with red water and green apples and had kids bobbing for them (Paris begged, I said no…who knows what was in that water…right?!). As we toured the neighborhood, waving at neighbors we know and ones we didn’t, I began to think about how much trick-or-treating is like our view of God. Just like at Halloween, we get all dressed up in our best costumes and parade up to God with a little fear and trepidation. We timidly squeak out the Christian’s version of trick-or-treat, asking God for a little blessing…if it’s His will of course. Then we wait, not quite sure how He will respond. Will our costume be acceptable? Will our attitude be acceptable? Our knees tremble with fear seeming quite sure that if we’ve made the slightest misstep somewhere, God will answer our request with a trick or worse, He’ll jump out from behind a bush on the front porch with a giant bat and whack us over the head.
For me, this image of God as this ogre that was to be feared was developed from infancy and came from those who claimed to love Him. God was only pleased with you if you followed a whole litany of rules right down to the length of the sleeves on your shirt. He was ready to chew you up and spit you out at the slightest provocation. And so, only the best costumes were ever allowed with the perfect hair and perfect make-up (well not really because apparently God didn’t like make-up either) and the corset tied up so tight that it was only a matter of time before we exploded or passed out. All this was done in some vain attempt to get God’s attention in hopes that we’d be received with treats and not a trick.
As we walked through the neighborhood on an incredibly warm Southern California evening, I thought again about this skewed image of God that I somehow managed to become indoctrinated with. This God that I was always striving to please, kept moving the bar just as I reached it once again leaving me feeling tricked, like I’d been handed a flaming bag of poo. As we walked and I thought about all of this, a passage from the book of Matthew began to rumble through the back of my brain, swelling and expanding until I could hardly contain myself.
This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? (Matthew 7:8-10 – The Message)
As I’m learning about this whole parenting this, this passage has taken on new meaning. When Paris says he’s hungry, I don’t hand him a plate of dog food or worse yet a snake. No way! I try like the dickens to make sure that his needs are met, and not just his needs, his wants as well. This image of God that I spent so long laboring under has finally shifted for me. I no longer am worried about getting tricked by God! Why should I be? He’s promised that He will take better care of me than I’ve been taken care of by my parents, and I’ve had great parents. He’s gone so far as to ask us to come to Him with all our many and heavy burdens and He will take them and in their place, He will give us rest! For those who wish to sell this God that has me so worried about minutia and guilts me into some perfect cookie cutter mold, my response is that I no longer play trick-or-treat with God! God is light and in Him is no darkness at all! (I John 1:5) And that, my friends, is every bit as tangible as the huge bag of candy we brought home last night!