With pumpkins, ghosts, and ghouls out in abundance, it can only mean that Halloween is once more upon us. This time of year, good scares are not difficult to find with haunted houses opening their doors, networks running scary movies, and the occasional friend or colleague jumping out of a concealed location. Indeed, Halloween is the season to get scared. The scares themselves come in a wide spectrum of styles ranging from the quick and reliable jumpscare to carefully arranged and artfully crafted ambiance which draws us into another world. With all these frights at our fingertips, it is worth our while to examine and think on them. Is there more to be gleaned from them than a quick thrill? I would like to propose that there is, in fact, more substance amid the boos than first meets the eye.
Getting scared introduces an element of humility into our lives. In our culture today, we take ourselves very seriously. I think this stems in no small part from the pride and self-aggrandizement that permeates our lives. We are regularly told that we “deserve it” or are shown images of what is considered to be an idealized person or life. These are the measures we then compare ourselves to and doggedly pursue. It is no wonder that we are so tightly wound when we are constantly fretting over meeting these goals. So often, it becomes a matter of self-justification in which we tell ourselves that at least we are better than so-and-so or we attempt to take refuge in convincing ourselves and others that we are the smartest person in the room. Our spiritual lives are subject to the same rat races as we attempt to have the “right” worship experience or be the most “spiritual” person in the room. Even our fun has become a matter of utmost seriousness as we use the metrics of social media to evaluate and draw satisfaction from our recreational activities.
When we allow ourselves to get scared, we are in effect dropping all of these pretenses. There is no image to keep up when we are breathlessly awaiting what is going to jump out at us from behind the next door. We are very simply there, in the moment. Put differently, getting spooked gives us a chance and (if we need it) an excuse to be authentic. We are so focused on living up to what we think we need to be that sometimes we forget to be who we are. The image we try to become is essentially a stylized perfection with all the depth and character of a G.I. Joe action figure or Barbie doll. These plastic façades cannot afford to show the slightest imperfection or weakness because to do so would destroy their illusion. To get scared (beyond a carefully scripted instance) is such an imperfection. Getting a good fright helps to keep us honest by reminding us of the frailty and fakeness of these societal masks. Our Halloween scares give us a touchstone with humility and reality. We are imperfect and that is ok. We can be healthy and imperfect because we have a perfect God who works with us, walks with us, and loves us in the midst of those imperfections. Rather than shunning or whitewashing these imperfections, He engages us through them in order to heal and shape us. Clinging to our false self-image turns our back on this vital part of our relationship with God which expands far beyond a single month of the year.
Sharing the fright with others adds yet another dimension. As stated before, when we get scared we drop our pretenses, and, along with them, the barriers that they set up. In an ironic twist, the images we project to others in order to better fit in end up making us further divided from them. The reason for this is that these projected images are nothing more than a ruse and for a ruse to work, people must not know that it is a ruse. Therefore, we must keep everyone at arm’s length to ensure that they do not accidently get a peek behind the curtain. In the end, we make sure that our false self fits perfectly with the others on the surface while our true self remains trapped and drowning in isolation below. Sharing a scare offers a unique experience in that we drop our acts and let our real selves come to the surface for air. It brings us into a degree of vulnerability that we may not dare touch in other contexts. While this mutual vulnerability may not, itself, bring us closer, it serves at the very least as a starting point. As our true self pops through the façade-covered surface, we get to see other heads bobbing up and down and realize that perhaps we aren’t so alone in our situation after all.
While I do not wish to set the frights and fun of Halloween on a pedestal, I hope that I have cast them in a new light that serves as food for thought as we go about our lives this season. More importantly, I hope that this brief discourse has shown some of the benefits of not taking ourselves too seriously. When we learn to relax and let go of our carefully crafted false self, we can have a more authentic, open, and healthy relationship with God. As an extension of our healthy relationship with God, our ability to relate to others also improves. So as Halloween comes around again, let us step back from our pretenses, spend some time with our friends and loved ones, and draw nearer to God.