We had a great time with pumpkins at The Village on Friday night, and it has started me wondering just why I like the pumpkin part of Halloween so much. I don't really like the gooshy stuff inside the pumpkin, but I really enjoyed carving and decorating pumpkins together. Maybe it's just the creative side of me, but as I walked around on Friday and saw all the different ways children and adults were decorating their pumpkins, I started to wonder if maybe Halloween pumpkins as well as Halloween costumes are just one more way that we try on new identities or personas for a little while.
Kind of like a test drive, I've always thought that the fun part of dressing up for Halloween as a kid is trying on a different character for a short time. What would it be like to be Superman and have super strength and x-ray vision? Would I like being a princess and wearing big, sparkly dresses and fancy shoes - using my fancy manners, too? Maybe I would like to be a silly clown or a video game character, a doctor or a police officer or an ice cream cone. Children put a lot of thought into their costume choice, and they enjoy becoming the character as much as wearing the outfit. It's as if, for one night, they can imagine what it would be like to be someone else. Do they like it? Do the shoes fit or do they hurt? Do they enjoy scaring people with their fangs or making people smile with their silly antics? Each dress-up opportunity helps kids learn who they want to be and who they don't.
As a teenager, one of the things I loved most about church was that I was loved and accepted there for who I was in any given moment. In a turbulent time of social learning and growing, who I was could change from day to day. I remember "trying on" different personalities or attitudes from sullen and withdrawn to peppy and silly. While the atmosphere at school felt judgmental and often scary for this personality experimentation, the folks at church loved me however I showed up. Even better, they let me know in subtle ways which personality traits they liked better and which ones I should pack up or toss out. Through trial and error, my church community helped me figure out who was the best me then, and still gives me the feedback and affirmation I need to continue to grow into the best me I can be now.
As I enjoyed the pumpkin fun on Friday, I realized that by having Halloween activities at church, we are encouraging the kind of affirmation and feedback that helps our children and teens grow into the people God created them to be. We ooh and ahh over their costumes. We laugh at their silly faces and get scared by their monster sounds. For a little while, they can test out behaviors and attitudes and see how they play in a group of people who love them. Do they like scaring people? Maybe. But after a while, the adults get tired of the antics and gently guide kids to different behaviors, affirming that while they are loved always, they are liked better when they use words instead of grunts to communicate. All of this feedback is essential for our kids' development, and in community, it is lovingly given by a variety of people, gently shaping our kids into making behavior and attitude and personality choices that reflect the love of God in their lives.
Growing up in a community of faithful love means that we have access to this feedback and affirmation throughout the year - not just at Halloween. But the fun traditions of this silly holiday give us a chance to really push the limits of learning about ourselves as we go a little further in our experimentation and dress up. Even just carving a pumpkin together, though, gives us a chance to try things out and see how the people around us respond. As a preschooler tells a middle schooler how to carve his pumpkin, both are learning what will be gladly accepted and what might be too silly or unsafe or unreal to last much longer than Halloween. Each is learning from the other, and that's exactly why our intergenerational events and relationships are important to everyone in our community of faith. As our pumpkin decorating shows, we are each delightfully unique - and our church family will love us as we discover more fully our uniqueness as children of God.
Have a fun and safe Halloween. See you at church!