Family Liturgies

God Looks on the Heart

Halloween is still several days away, but in many homes, the excitement and preparation has been going on for several weeks. In our family, the kids are planning their costumes, imagining ever-more-intricate ones. I love their creativity, and want them to have fun and feel great about their costumes, but some of the logistics of their imaginations require me to ratchet back their expectations. I am not a seamstress with an abundance of free time. As of this writing, we are settling on a zombie, Gaia (aka Mother Earth) and Luke Skywalker.

Truth be told, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. Some Christians have a suspicion toward Halloween because of its supposed relationship to the occult. That’s not my issue; in fact, All Hallow’s Eve is connected to All Saints Day, an explicitly Christian celebration adapted from the Celts.
No, I don’t love how over-the-top Halloween has become. The trend is away from homemade, improvised costumes and toward “authenticity.” My aspiring Luke Skywalker is angling for a “real” costume, not one of Daddy’s white shirts with a wraparound belt and makeshift lightsaber.
Halloween is a huge and growing industry, and it shows in my neighborhood. Every year we see more and more houses with extreme decorations—elaborate graveyards, spooky lighting, fog machines, even a full-fledged haunted house right on the front lawn. That’s their choice, of course, and my children love trick-or-treating at these homes… but they make even a moderate amount of decorating look positively Scrooge-like in comparison! (They also draw the bulk of the trick-or-treaters, leaving the rest of us to frantically give away six Snickers at a time as the crowd starts to thin.)
And the candy… oh, the candy. I’m not anti-sweets–we are an everything-in-moderation crowd–but we can’t possibly consume all of the sugar that comes into our home. And yet my daughters recently informed me that their trick-or-treat buckets are too small for the task. They want to use pillowcases instead.
The bottom line, though, is that my kids adore Halloween. And their enthusiasm rubs off on me every time. (They even convinced us to have a Halloween party last year, which I enjoyed in spite of myself.)
As you assemble costumes, carve pumpkins and pick out candy to distribute to trick-or-treaters, there are many ways to talk about Halloween through the lens of faith. You might give thanks for the hospitality of neighbors who freely give out candy and smiles to children. Halloween also provides a great opportunity to talk about fear and what frightens us, and to reinforce the good news that God is our refuge and strength.
Here’s another approach you might take:
Memory Verse: “Mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Prayer: God, you love us just as we are–when we’re having fun and when we’re feeling sad. You know what’s in our hearts and care for us always. Thank you, Amen.
Scripture Reflection:
When my children were little, I remember the delight they felt when they put on their costumes for the first time. It can be freeing and fun to disappear into a completely different identity! Our Halloween pictures show that the kids start to take on the personas of their characters. A witch strikes a scary pose. Word Girl puts her hands on her hips triumphantly. And Thomas the Tank Engine shuffles around the house saying “Peep peep.”
Dressing as someone else can also be an intense experience for young or sensitive kids. And seeing siblings, parents and friends dressed as someone else can be confusing for little ones. That’s part of the fun and value of Halloween—separating what’s real from what’s not.
The memory verse refers to the anointing of David as king. Samuel sees a man, Eliab, whom he’s convinced is the chosen one. God instructs him to look again, to see past his height and good looks.
The story has connections way beyond Halloween costumes, as our culture remains so image-based and celebrity-obsessed. Tweens and teens might consider issues of body image and fashion in connection with this passage.
  • What’s your favorite part of dressing up? What makes for a good costume?
  • Do you find yourself wishing you could be the person or character of your costume? Why or why not?
  • For children who dress up in a scary costume: what’s the appeal of doing so?
  • In what way does our culture judge people based on their appearance? Can you think of a time you misjudged someone based on how they looked?

Spiritual Practice:

One of the messages of the scripture passage is that God cares more about who we are than how we look. And God calls us to be people who care for others. Halloween is a wonderful time for children to have fun and receive from their neighbors. But it can also be a time to reinforce generosity. Many churches invite their children to tithe their Halloween candy in order to teach stewardship. And some dentists will collect Halloween candy in exchange for non-sugary treats—candy is sent to American military personnel stationed overseas. See if one of your local dentists participates.

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