“What is desirable in a man is his kindness.” -Proverbs 19:22
We handed out candy on Halloween but the treat we got, came in the words and friendliness of one young junior high girl who was trick or treating…alone.
We are not usually home on Halloween, not because we hide out in the dark like some episode of the Walking Dead, avoiding the roaming walkers in a spirit of anxiety, skittishness and self-righteousness. We don’t disappear to some ‘alternative’ to excuse ourselves or camouflage our conflicted evangelicalism. A branch of the church that traditionally pushes neighborliness, hospitality and outreach, except on the one night of the year when all our neighbors drop all reservations to visit and welcome one another to their homes!
We were home on Halloween for the first time in…I can’t remember, because our church has hosted a Candy Carnival almost every year since we planted Jacob’s Well in 2006. It’s always been one of the most fun and family friendly places to be on Halloween. But this year due to a number of neighborhood relational and logistical changes and challenges, we decided to take the year off.
Here’s what we told our congregation:
“Please take the time to be present for your own neighborhoods in welcome and witness. Be the home that every child makes sure to stop by and every parent gets to know. Make use of every opportunity to be a light of friendliness, generosity and lightheartedness. This is one time of the year that it is perfectly acceptable and expected to go door to door or welcome one another to our homes.”
As someone who has had to help plan, push and be present at our yearly Candy Carnival and after a very full summer and fall of personal and professional work, I was looking forward to a chance to experience Halloween from the front door of my new home.
I had no idea how many kids would descend on the houses around this part of the South Hill, so I had no point of reference in preparing for the candy give away. Since we have always hosted events or been away from our home on Halloween, we haven’t really accumulated halloween house decorations to create much presence or sense of invitation to the trick or treaters, so in some way this night, felt a bit new, awkward and undiscovered.
So even though, I had put hardly any effort into being present other than lots of candy, I still was excited to see what was going to happen on this side of the holiday. Lots of families with kids and some teens all made the evening festive with costumes, cuteness and of course lot’s of candy. It felt good being a house of welcome and being able to provide a little joy to smiling faces who were so proud of their costumes and candy hauls. Lot’s of giggles, goodies and goodness squeezed between terrorist attacks on the news and ‘Don’t worship the devil’s day’ articles on the web.
But it was one knock towards the end of the evening that would mean the most to me and yet left me feeling so unprepared mentally, emotionally and relationally.
A young girl, probably 13-14 came trick or treating, she was alone and smiling. I handed her some candy and was about to send her off with a simple Happy Halloween, when she asked me a question. She had heard Oakley, my daughter and soninlaws dog, barking when she had rung the doorbell.
She asked me about our dog and what type he was. Then she busted into a little story telling about her dogs, the death of one of them, the scar on her hand from an overly friendly canine chewer and so on. I was slightly surprised by her sudden interest in sharing her little world. LeeElla joined me at the door as we chatted. There were a couple awkward pauses, where honestly, I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. But as I was spinning a bit in my old youth pastor heart and brain, half tempted to invite her into the non-existent youth party that wasn’t happening there, I realized that this moment was it and then she turned and with some kind farewells, she was off to another home.
As we shut the door, we both turned to each other with the same observations, she was trick or treating…alone. A young teenage girl, with no flock of girls in tow like the others that evening. Just a chatty, slightly awkward girl wanting a moment of conversation with some strangers. It was as if she felt that on this night, talking to anyone was ok and maybe even wanted.
As we went back to the couch, my heart ached as I thought of how many kids are starving for kindness, inclusion and connection. I was tenderized on the inside and reminded why being present and accessible is so important these days and how kindness matters.
So often us Christians overlay a grid of outreach over our goals to be witnesses and that can devolve into high pressured presence, odd and ill-fitting goal expectations and awkward context assumptions. It can be painfully one-sided, something we do to others or set up others for, in hopes that they will yield to our friendly fronts and accept what we are sharing or doing. There’s the slight lingering odor of agenda that can taint endeavors that us well meaning do-gooders engage in for the sake of ministry, mission or marketing.
As I was handing out candy, I didn’t have any agenda than being kind and welcoming and in that posture, I discovered it seemed to be a key to making a young girl comfortable enough to talk to a bunch of gray haired, sweatpants wearing, uncostumed, almost 50 year olds with smiles and a bowl of diabetes inducing sugar bombs.
Paul warned Timothy that in the last days there would be difficult times, in part because people would be “cruel” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). This world is showing off it’s cruelty these days, in ways, I never imagined as a young man or new parent, but now as a grandparent, I see that kindness is a key to living lives of meaningful presence, witness and safety in the days ahead.
It is a gift to host big events for hundred of kids and families in underprivileged neighborhoods but it’s also just as important to be an open and welcoming door to your street, especially for some young girl who has a few stories to tell and questions to ask.