Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.This year, my husband and I hosted our fourth annual Halloween party at a local park. We arrange a scavenger hunt for the kids, who then snack on their candy and play in the typically cold weather. It’s a tradition I look forward to every fall because of the way it brings our various friendship groups together. At some point, one of the parents will ask how we know each of the families in attendance. There are families from both of the churches we’ve attended, friends from work, friends from our elder daughter’s soccer team. Some of the kids we’ve known since they were born. Others we’ve met only recently. All of them play an important role in our continually evolving sense of community. Traditions, in our families and our faith, are not intended to shackle us to the past. They show us where we’ve come from, though they can’t show us where we’re going.That evolution of community is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. For the first time in my adult life, I’m unlikely to relocate in just a few years. Throughout childhood, there are changing grades and activities that introduce kids to new groups (or at least, usually rearrangements of the same groups), and children themselves change so much that relationships between them often shift. College and graduate school brought new opportunities to meet great people who would ultimately scatter across the country and around the world. But at this point, my husband and I aren’t planning on going anywhere. We stay in the same place, but things still change.
For one thing, our family’s relationships are no longer based solely on me and my husband. There are four of us, each with distinct personalities and desires. It’s one thing to take an infant to a play date that’s really for maternal companionship (and survival). Our family has grown, and our friends’ families have grown, and greater numbers are harder to sustain; there are just more personalities, more engagements, and more desires with more people. It’s like the difference between one person choosing what movie to watch and negotiating with three other people to find a movie that everyone can agree on (but often no one really wants to see). We make compromises, and we take turns. And hopefully our communities evolve to keep up with the way that we as individuals and as families evolve.Sometimes, though, I feel stuck on a kind of island in-between. Things aren’t the way they were, but I don’t know where I’m headed either. As my relationships, and my family’s relationships, change, I see both the need for community and the danger of relying on it too much. It’s that fraught Christian sense of being in the world but not of it. I love my family and friends, but we are all changing all the time. I respect that as often good and healthy and necessary, but for stability, I look to the God who doesn’t change. Even there, my relationship with God does change. It feels stagnant at times, distant at times, and I keep trying to circle back to the One who sustains me. He always receives me. It’s like an embrace that reminds me, don’t stay away too long.
Our Halloween party is something like a circling back, too. It’s a way of letting these far-flung folks know we love them. We don’t want them to stay away too long. It’s a way of inviting newer friends into our community, of initiating a tradition. I don’t know how long any of these will last. If I look through the images over the years, I see how much my kids have changed and how the group in attendance slowly shifts. But I know I don’t need to know where everything is going to appreciate where I’ve been and to feel OK about the uncertainty of the present. At some point, my kids will be too old for this event, and that will be sort of bittersweet. Who knows what the next tradition will be though?
Traditions, in our families and our faith, are not intended to shackle us to the past. They show us where we’ve come from, though they can’t show us where we’re going. They can serve as a kind of circling back, reminding us of our roots even if we’ve blossomed in some other, unexpected place. Friendships change. Families change. Traditions change. What more appropriate setting to think about these truths than Halloween, at the height of autumn, itself the season of change? Yet as one of my favorite hymns reminds me, “Change and decay in all around I see; / O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” There is, in every season of change, an everlasting, eternal, unchanging God upon whom I can fix my eyes.
Image by valiunic at Pixabay.