I have to confess—Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. Oh, we did the whole costumes, trick-or-treating, candy thing when my children were small. In fact, I put together some pretty good costumes, if I do say so myself. One year I spray-painted a bed sheet silver and made it into a Hershey’s Kiss costume for my oldest daughter. Then there were the years when my youngest daughter was into “T”-themed costumes. The first year she wanted to be a table complete with a table cloth and place settings. The next year it was a television. My favorite part of that costume was the “tail,” an electrical cord coming out of the cardboard box-turned-television that she wore. The third year she was a telephone which we made out of a couple of sheets of pink poster board. And although it wasn’t my idea, my son made a great bag lady. That and the cat costume I made out of faux fur are still in the dress up box. But once the kids were out of the house, we became Halloween grinches. When the bewitching hour arrived, we would turn out the porch light and head to a movie. However, when grandchildren appeared on the scene, Halloween magic reappeared in our lives. Funny what having grandkids does to you.
Last year was our granddaughter Siri’s first real experience with trick-or-treating. (She had the name long before Apple appropriated it.) She was not quite two at the time and at first didn’t really understand what her older sisters were so excited about. In fact, she really hated wearing the absolutely adorable pig costume (it even had a curly tail) that Grandma Eileen bought for her.
After our traditional dinner of chili, cornbread, witches brew (root beer with dry ice), and apple crisp, six of us ventured out into the streets for the annual quest—three trick-or-treaters aged 2, 4, and 6, Dad, and the doting Grandma and Grandpa. Mom was eight months pregnant so she stayed home to pass out candy to trick or treaters. While her sisters ran to the first door, we had to really coax Siri to climb the porch steps with them. Porch steps can be rather daunting when you have short, little two-year-old legs. We showed her how to put her pumpkin bucket out so the neighbor could put some candy in it, and then we coached her to say thank you. The second house went a little more smoothly, with less input from the peanut gallery.
About the time we set off for the third house, however, the light went on. Hey, this was cool. Run to the house, climb the porch stairs, knock on the door (too short to ring the doorbell), say “Trick or treat,” put out your pumpkin bucket, get candy, say “Thank you,” and do it again. It didn’t matter what kinds of scary things were sitting between her and the door, she was both fearless and relentless. She was still on a roll when her older sisters started complaining of being tired and wanting to go home. Once we finally got her home, the pumpkin bucket immediately went upside down in the middle of the front room floor, and the feast began. Needless to say, the whole evening had become a smashing success in her book.
As I reflected on this experience, I realized there was a lesson for me regarding my relationship to God; in particular, there’s a pattern here for approaching God in prayer to petition for His blessings. Weird, I know, but that is how my brain works. But don’t get me wrong, I would never trivialize my interaction with God by characterizing prayer as a form of heavenly trick or treating. However, I have learned something about myself that I need to work on.
The first step in the pattern is for us to take action—we have to go to the door. If I’m feeling unworthy or unloved, the steps up to the porch can be a tough climb. Sometimes I face the “monster” of believing that I don’t need God’s help. Whatever the obstacle, to be successful I must humble myself and trust in His promise that He listens and answers our sincere pleadings. Next, I have to knock; His is not an automatic door that opens when you do nothing but approach. Besides, that’s the promise: “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Once I knock, then it is essential that I ask, again part of Christ’s instruction to his followers: “Ask and it shall be given you.”
It is the fourth step that I have trouble with. When Siri put out her bucket for candy, she did so in complete faith that she would receive. While I know that God always answers prayers, my problem is that I usually assume that the answer will be “No.” It’s as if I stand on the porch and hide my bucket behind my back because I don’t believe God will give me the things I ask for, even if they are good things like petitions for courage, strength, patience, and wisdom to live life well. I have to really fight the habit of believing that He will give liberally to everyone else but me. (See James 1:5) I’m a very visual person, so this picture I have in my mind of me standing on the porch with my pumpkin bucket hidden behind my back has really struck me. It is a metaphor I can use to help me overcome my lack of trust in this area. I really have to work on believing that I will receive.
Step five is to be grateful for whatever I am given, even if it is a toothbrush or dental floss instead of candy. This is a lesson I have learned well over the past 3 ½ years. When my dad fell and suffered his brain injury, our prayers were, of course, that he would be healed. I had absolute faith that God could heal him if it were His will. But Dad wasn’t healed, and that was a blessing. That may sound a little strange so let me explain.
About 18 months into his recovery, Dad stopped making progress. In fact, he started to regress, and nothing the brain doctor did seemed to help. Finally, the doctor decided we should have Dad evaluated by the dementia specialists to see what they thought. As we spoke with the dementia doctor, we began to realize that Dad had been showing signs of deteriorating cognitive function as long four or five years before the brain injury. What we realized then was that even if Dad hadn’t had the brain injury, he would still have had the declining cognitive functioning we were seeing. What the brain injury did was to prevent Dad from knowing what was happening to him. And that was a tremendous blessing, because “losing his mind” was my Dad’s worst nightmare come true. I can think of a number of scenarios that would have been torturous if Dad had known his ability to function, especially his capacity to work, was slipping away. Eventually, given his history with depression, I think it would have been entirely possible that in a moment of despair he might have tried to harm himself. So although Dad’s descent into cognitive darkness was sudden, it was actually much easier than a slow, agonizing struggle would have been.
There is one last aspect to this pattern, and that is to keep coming back to God. Daily. Hourly if you need to. He stands by the door waiting to answer and bless His children with that which He knows will benefit them. That is what He lives for. That is what gives meaning to His being. That is what brings Him joy.
Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_21349637_kids-celebrating-halloween.html’>gow27 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>