I’ve never been much for Halloween. When I was young, the most memorable one we had was the year that we got over a foot of snow, and school was canceled the next day. That was quite possibly the best Halloween for this guy until a few years ago. You see my wife has enjoyed Halloween like it was Christmas since she was a child. Her mom used to make costumes, by hand, for the entire family, and it was quite the production around their house. So in keeping with tradition, upon the arrival of my son six years ago, Emily started making costumes for the kids, and has even threatened to make one for me. So far, I have kept her at bay.
It really is a special tradition, and one I can get behind. She is creative, making everything herself, and allowing Zeke to pick what he and his sister want to dress up as. So far he has picked pretty well I think; a pear, pizza, a marching band drummer, a pickle and pickle jar, a toothbrush & toothpaste, and this year cheese and a cheese grater. I think one of the main reasons I am ok with it is, the older he gets, the more his “inner Steffen” (sarcasm and wit) is showing. His choice of cheese related object this year might seem innocent as we live in Wisconsin, but that wouldn’t be the real story. The real story, is that his little sister Esther is allergic to dairy, and Zeke thought it would be so “funny” if she went as cheese and he went as the grater… I love him so much. Daddy’s so proud, son.
So with all that said, I appreciate the fun and excitement around the Halloween holiday, and I even understand the idea of playing dress up – but if I’m being honest, I think that’s where Halloween lost me.
I have always been a person who values authenticity and transparency. Emily says I am an “over-sharer.” I just think of it as not hiding anything from anyone. It’s a way of life that has cost me things from time to time, has made me the butt of quite a few jokes, and definitely keeps me humble – but it has also helped me gain he respect of many people I otherwise wouldn’t have, connect with people from much different walks of life, and made me a more approachable pastor. So for better or for worse, it’s who I’ve chosen to be.
It always troubles me when people feel the need to put out a persona or some sort of image about themselves that isn’t true to who they are on the inside. Trust me, I understand not wanting people to know all the ways you’ve screwed up or all wanting to keep your insecurities to yourself. There are ALL SORTS of things about me that are scary to let out. My struggles with a broken family as a child. The fact that my marriage isn’t perfect. My struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress over the last 10 years of my life. All of these things are, at the very least warts, and more honestly some gaping wounds, and it might be fair of me to want to cover them up with some fancy clothes or a costume of some sort. To make myself appear more perfect or put together.
But I truly believe that there is SO much danger in that. Pretending to be someone else, is hard work. You have to remember all the stuff you’ve put out there for the world to consume (some might even call them lies), and make sure that you’re keeping your stories straight. Not only that, but when the proverbial poop actually does hit the fan, it gets all over, and life gets very messy. Cleaning all that up before letting anyone else come over or come in to your life, is also a heck of a lot of work. Plus, once you “clean it up,” you have to store it somewhere, and so you’re shuffling people around your “house” trying to keep them away from the closet door they can’t open up, or the stench that’s creeping out the cracks on the bottom and the sides. All of this, just for the sake of making people believe that the “dressed up” you is the real you. Not worth it if you ask me.
Unfortunately, religious people and perhaps Christians especially have been some of the most “dressed up” people around. For whatever reason, we think we have an image to portray or that we’re doing all Christianity a favor if we keep people under the impression that people of faith have all their junk together. Either that, or we think that if we reveal the places where we struggle or are weak, that our opponents will jump all over us and eat us alive. Even back in the days when Jesus walked the earth, religious leaders were doing their best to let people think they were all buttoned up, all the time – and would balk at the idea that anyone who was “from God” would be seen with, much less associate with someone who’s life was more rags and reality. They were SHOCKED and APPALLED when Jesus, who by the way wore a tunic and dirty sandals, chose to hunker down with those who were, just what they appeared to be – sinners. It’s sad but true, that despite having been around the stories of scripture, some for their entire lives, many of us still choose to be more like the religious leaders than our relational Savior.
Over the course of my 18+ years of professional ministry, I have seen a truth exposed and a philosophy developed when it comes to how to most effectively reach people with the Gospel message of Jesus. The truth is this – people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. The philosophy that follows then is this; the easiest way to show people that you care, is to let them in, to every area of your life. Be honest with them about who you are, where you’ve been, the mistakes you’ve made, and the issues you’re facing. When they understand that you’ve been or are in the same positions they might currently be, suddenly you’re a lot easier to be open and honest with – and that leads to more effective results. It’s simple, and yes, it’s also scary – but oh so worth it.
So tonight, please, dress up as much as you want. Put on the costume and waltz around pretending to be your favorite superhero or historical figure or if you’re like my kids, household utensil, and collect all the candy you can. But tomorrow, and every day until next Halloween, take off the mask, don’t play “dress up” or “pretend” – and instead – just be you. I think you’ll find you look much better that way.