I’m not excited for Halloween. This has nothing to do with the sizzling annual debate: What’s wrong with kids dressing up in cute costumes and begging for candy? Everything’s wrong with a day that glorifies witches and ghosts and dark magic! Sincere Christ-followers sincerely hold both points of view, so I defer to the Apostle Paul when he mediated a similar debate two millennia ago: Was it okay for believers to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols if they only worshiped God? Paul says,
“It’s true we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” ~ 1 Cor. 8:8-9
All that to say, the attitude behind our actions is what matters most.
Now back to me and Halloween. I’ve fallen on both sides of the Halloween debate at different points in my walk with the Lord, and that’s not the point of this post. The point is how I’m guarding my heart this year.
Like most Americans, I take the holiday for granted. Ghoulish decorations and bargains on jumbo candy appear in grocery stores each time October rolls around, just as predictably as Christmas deals will outshine Thanksgiving in November. That’s just how it goes.
I was not a skittish child, so neighborhood Halloween decorations didn’t scare me past kindergarten, or first grade at the latest. “They’re only make believe, just like Christmas decorations,” I vaguely remember an adult telling me. This made perfect sense. After that, the only question in my child’s brain was whether or not I’d be allowed to Trick or Treat.
Last year I was twenty-eight years old. That’s a bit old for Trick or Treating and Ivan and I don’t have any kids. Typically we don’t think much about Halloween until the day itself – and that’s only because many of Ivan’s students dress up for school. But last year was different. On October 15th, 2021, I was admitted to a locked-door mental health facility and placed on a fourteen day, involuntary psychiatric hold. Wonder of wonders, the placed was decked out in Halloween decorations.
To this day I’m not sure what kind of sense it made to have large posters of witches, ghosts, black cats and slit-eyed pumpkins leering down at us from the walls and ceiling. (Okay, so maybe the cats weren’t that bad.) Locking a group of people in a room with these dark images – especially when many of those people had “dissociated from reality” – seemed like the opposite of helping them get better.
I had been admitted to the facility because I was hearing evil voices and seeing violent visions telling me to hurt myself and other people. The doctors there diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, a type of schizophrenia.
My first clue that something was off about my psychosis was when the Halloween decorations started talking to me. As I’ve pointed out, this did seem like an accident waiting to happen, especially since psychotic people may believe they’re receiving messages from an outside source. But what unnerved me about my own experience was that these decorations told me they were the same voices in my head who’d been ordering me to harm myself and others. I was confused: if those voices had just been in my head, how could they leave and go somewhere else?
The decorations eventually stopped talking to me and I was released, but with unanswered questions. Was my experience entirely schizophrenic? Or was the content and context of what was happening to me a sign of something darker?
Halloween 2021 passed without further incident, although I would be hospitalized three additional times in the next three months. We found a new equilibrium around April, which we credited to God’s healing and medicine – but mostly medicine.
This August everything changed again. Or more correctly, resumed.
All the evil visions and voices and compulsions to obey them reappeared out of nowhere. I hadn’t altered a thing about my life; I woke up at the same time, got dressed, read my Bible, wrote, cleaned the house, you name it. I did everything the way I’d always done. But the voices were back, and far more terrifying than before. They told me God wouldn’t hear my prayers, that He couldn’t save me from them, that I had to obey their commands because I wasn’t His child anymore. Suddenly talking Halloween decorations looked like a walk in the park.
This was not one of those trials that passed in a day, or a week, or a month. The medication we’d been so cavalier with earlier in the year turned out to be a tool God could choose to use if He wanted, but not a guarantee. I had to face the fact that the voices I was hearing were in direct rebellion against God. I was not like my old roommate in the mental health facility who thought dinosaurs still existed, or the trans person across the hall convinced the CIA was out to get us. No, mine were intelligent, specific voices intent on separating me from God and commanding me to sin.
All I could do at that point was pray, fill my mind with Scripture, and ask others to pray for me. This was a battle I had no idea how to fight, but I knew I couldn’t fight it alone. By God’s grace the voices went away again at the beginning of October. I fully believe God heard everyone’s prayers and freed me from whatever darkness was at war within me, but I do want to add here that I never stopped taking my original medication and am not giving medical advice.
As joyful and thankful as most of this October has been, I confess I’ve looked the other way or scurried past all those Halloween decorations this year. I know they can’t hurt me, that whatever was talking to me last year has no power to cause real harm. I know that I’m a child of the Lord, that He always hears my prayers, and will always come to my rescue.
I remind myself over and over again of Paul’s words in Romans 14:5:
“In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”
Technically, he’s addressing the question of when to worship, but the point is the same. Calendar days are just calendar days to God.
I’m no more likely to be harmed this Monday than any other day this week. There’s no reason I should creep around the house, wondering if the voices will “come back.” I have no more reason to worry about my status before God than on any other day. Christ’s blood is always enough! The lesson for me this Halloween is not to be enslaved to bad memories from the past or fear of the future, but to cling to what is true right here in the present. I know I’ve quoted this passage from Psalm 139 before, but it encapsulates my heart very well this weekend.
“I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night –
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.”