It seems almost inevitable. Short of cutting the cord on all TV streaming services and other media, which I’m often tempted to do, it’s nearly impossible to prevent my children from seeing something I wish they could unsee. Particularly at this time of year, frightening things seem to constantly make their way into my kids’ line of vision.
What kid isn’t afraid of ghosts? What kid doesn’t eye the open door of their closet and the whispering wind disturbing their bedroom curtain at night and call out for a parent? Scary things creep up on all of us, at least in our minds, and spiral real fears and anxieties to the surface.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of!” we call out impatiently, flipping the hallway light on. “Now, go to sleep.”
This is my impulse, but is this the best way out of throat closing fear over the unknown and unseen creatures of our children’s imaginations?
The Bible champions the message that we should not be afraid, and yet on the other side of every one of those admonitions is a child of God, cowering in fear.
The Bible’s Spooky Stories
There are real, actual otherworldly things to be afraid of in the world, and the Bible isn’t shy about sharing those stories. The apostles thought that the resurrected Jesus was a ghost. Saul contacted a medium to summon the spirit of Samuel… and it worked! Jesus demanded a legion of demons leave a man and enter a herd of pigs.
The spirit world is mysterious and strange, and the fact that so much of our Scripture deals with the otherworldly, it can be difficult to quell the fears our children have about the existence of ghosts, evil spirits, demons, and other dark figures that mosey across our television screens, knock on our doors at Halloween, and haunt our dreams.
Whether or not you believe in real, actual ghosts is kind of beside the point. We can all agree that darkness exists in our world, no matter what form it takes.
The ultimate answer to our fears—real or imagined—is what overcomes the darkness. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 NIV).
Light shines in the darkness (So leave the nightlight on, will ya? It’s a small glimmer of the presence of God for your littles.).
When Jesus was preparing the apostles for his earthly departure, he promised them that he would be gone for just a little while, and then God the Father would send his Holy Spirit to them.
Another spirit? Oi. What are we to do with all of this otherworldliness?!
Evil Spirit vs. The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious third member of the holy trinity with God the Father and God the Son. It has “Spirit” in its name, after all. Whatever dark powers and principalities we face in this world—manifested in corruption and injustice, conjured in horror films and haunted houses, or spinning wide-eyed and wild in actual demonic forms—the Holy Spirit is the force of good, the power of love, the essence of light that dwells within the body of believers.
When our children shudder under their covers and cry out in the night about their fears, it is the Holy Spirit we should welcome into that dark space.
The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, or Advocate, God With Us. The Holy Spirit is the Jesus-in-your-heart part of God, the Spirit of God that permeates our fears and brings a peace that passes all understanding. It’s the way God abides with us when we beg God to be near. It’s the way God listens when we ask God to hear us. It’s the way God seems to connect believers in bizarre “coincidences,” holy incidents, where just the right person shows up at just the right time to remind them they’re loved, they’re worthy, they’re held.
In response to our children’s fears, let’s remind them Who is always with them. Let’s pray with them and ask God to calm our hearts, to be with us, to protect us, and to help us sleep. Let’s help them think about what is worthy, good, true, praiseworthy, and lovely.
Let’s fill their hearts with so much love that no darkness can abide.
In the End, Love Wins
Dark things are in our world. Jesus promised us that we would have trouble. “But take heart! I have overcome the world,” he declared (John 16:33). One of the many gifts of the gospel is this: the frightening and spooky things we encounter in our world are no match for the love of God. God has overcome! God’s goodness and truth and love have overcome—then, now, and soon.
Even as we face darkness, God is near, comforting us. Beyond this current moment, God is the great conqueror and restorer, who according to the Book of Revelation will make everything right and new again. This is another promise we can give to our children; even when we’re facing dark fears, we have hope that God will ultimately dash away those fears and restore peace.
Step into Mystery
As challenging and upsetting as it can be when our kids are exposed to content we would rather not have them watch, it is also an opportunity for us to redirect our children (and ourselves) to our mysterious and awesome God, who is larger than the cosmos and as close as the air we breathe.
It may be tempting to dash away a child’s fears, saying, “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” but is there such a thing as a Holy Ghost? What certainty can we offer regarding the spiritual world and its power?
Why not instead invite our children into the wonder and mystery of God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, ever-present in the Holy Spirit? Wonder and mystery keep our hearts open. Wonder and mystery bend our knees in humility to the Lord of the Universe and the Lord of our hearts. Wonder and mystery call us to trust in something beyond ourselves, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
And don’t be afraid.