Lydia, my four-year-old, had been looking forward to Halloween of this year since Halloween of last year. She’d talked about Trick-Or-Treating for months. She'd gotten her costume as a birthday present in August. With all the anticipation, I assumed that she had a basic grasp of the holiday. I didn't really explain how any of the traditions worked because…well, to be honest, I just kind of assumed that all American children knew through cultural osmosis how Halloween works.
Anticipation was building at Pruitt’s Halloween birthday party as the children ate their pizza rolls and played the games we adults insisted they would enjoy more than roaming the neighborhood begging for handouts. (In reality, we were killing time waiting for the neighbors to get home from work and turn on their porch lights.) Finally the children lined up at the door and we prepared to leave. Safety first, we handed each child a couple glow-in-the-dark bracelets and our entourage left with more adult chaperones than kids.
Then we made a curious discovery. Lydia, it seemed, didn't really understand how Trick-Or-Treating worked. She seemed to know how it was supposed to end—sitting on the living room floor emptying a pumpkin full of candy—but wasn't quite clear how she got there.
At the first house after taking her candy, Lydia randomly told the lady at the door that she didn't want her bracelet any more and handed it over to the woman. At the second house, when the gentleman offered the children candy, Lydia reached into her pink pumpkin bucket and pulled out the candy she’d just been given. She handed it over to the man there.
By the third house, it had become apparent that Lydia thought she had to trade something for the candy she was being given.
Polite, yes. Necessary, no.
I generally try to stay away from over-spiritualizing the events in my personal life, which is why you can find zero books by me at the local Christian book store. But in this case, the lesson was undeniable.
Lydia, like ever so many of us, had no understanding of grace. Trick-or-Treating may have started as a way to extort treats from helpless homeowners with threats of tricks should they fail to comply, but in our suburbs and neighborhoods, the locals look forward to the lavish giving of candy and trinkets. It's as though Christmas is just two months too far away and the best they can do is dress their Santa side in orange and black and wait for kids to come to them.
The people in the neighborhood are rich with chocolate. They have bags and bags of it that they're just giddy to get rid of. All the kids have to do is show up and take it. Lydia's little candy is both unneeded and unwanted. Silly, right?
But we do this, too, don't we?
God has bags and bags of holiness (metaphorically) and we hand him our smashed and mangled righteousness buried in the bottom of our hearts—more often in the form of a list of the bad things we managed to avoid doing than any actual good we did—and try to trade it in for atonement. What’s he going to do with that?
Of course, the difference in my daughter’s experience and my own is that by the end of the first block, Lydia had learned her lesson and was on board with the whole Free Candy thing. In the meantime, I've been a Christian for three decades and I'm still trying to earn God’s approval. Why do I still think that the good things I do are a fair trade for his grace? Why do I still judge my sisters for their empty hands when they approach Heaven and ring God’s doorbell? Why don't I follow their lead?