Helping the hurting on Hallowe’en

In a few short days, a significant proportion of the western world will be celebrating Hallowe’en. Some will set their sights on gathering with friends, dressing up and consuming a considerable quantity of sugar. Others will indulge in the horror-fest laid on by many a media outlet this week. Most will pass through the day with a heart set on fun, a complete disinterest in any spiritual realities and, a few days into November, will be barely thinking of anything that took place on October 31st.

Within the British church, people’s views on Hallowe’en are diverse. Some join in the parties and decorate their homes. Some sink to their knees – pleading for a nation which either thinks too much or too little about the powers of hell. Others grasp the opportunity to put on events that point to the light of Christ in this dark world. Still others view Hallowe’en largely as an irrelevance, other than maybe being another indicator that media trumps the Messiah in most people’s hearts.

But there are a few in our churches for whom Hallowe’en has a distinctly different feel. For those who have been involved in Satanism or other occult practices – either by choice or through coercion – Hallowe’en can be a desperately difficult day. From mild irritation that the media treats their experiences so lightly – through to significant temptation to re-engage with the practices they once held dear – right over to suffering severe flashbacks triggered by film trailers reminding them of the horrors they have endured, Hallowe’en can be a day when some of our brothers and sisters feel the pain of the “kingdom of this world” running very deep.

Sadly, however, there often aren’t many opportunities to discuss an occult past. Whilst many of us will have heard good and faithful sermons on Jesus’ authority over evil (you can’t get far through the Gospel of Mark without stumbling on a narrative that speaks of that!) the reality that people in our churches have come to Christ after hard experiences worshipping the one who he came to defeat is a fact that rarely comes to light.

So, as we approach Hallowe’en this year, let me pose a few questions for you to consider in your church:

Are you aware of people in your congregation who might be struggling?
Have a trawl through your memory – maybe there’s someone who’s said something in passing; or someone whose testimony shows there’s been a seeking of Satan in the past or maybe a friend finds talks on Jesus’ triumph over evil particularly moving – just three of the many indicators that the end of October might hold some complexity for them. If yes, make a note to drop them a text. It doesn’t need to be anything complex – it doesn’t even need to mention the word Hallowe’en – just a few words asking how they are and if there’s anything you could be praying. If no-one springs to mind, maybe raise awareness, simply verbalising that some people find the day hard could be helpful to someone close.

Are you actively praying for those impacted by past occult involvement?
We all know what it is to have past experiences that impact us in the here and now. Whether that’s the horrors of abuse or simply a cutting comment that has stuck, we all limp because of the suffering of years gone by. We all get tempted to go back to our old ways sometimes too: whether that’s an alcoholic turning back to drink or a grumbler going back to their negative words, even behaviours we dislike intensely in ourselves can sometimes feel more familiar than living for Christ. Those who have been involved in Satanic practices may have turned away but old friends may invite them to return, thoughts may wander back to how things were – prayer can help people persevere in Christ, help people have the strength to keep following the one who has set them free.

Are you equipping yourself to think about these topics well?
Good, biblical books are not on the market in abundance but David Powlison’s, Safe and Sound is a short and accessible read. With its strong contention that Satan is real, active but utterly defeated, it’s a useful guide to responding well. And there’s also the FIEC Primer: This world with devils filled. Or you could simply spend some time digging deep into Colossians 1-2 – what glorious reminders there of the powers defeated at the cross.

Are you open to conversation about someone’s Satanic past?
There’s no need to assume that everyone who has been impacted will want to talk – sometimes the past can be left just there, in the past – but some might value a listening ear. They’ll want to be sure of a calm response though: no shock, no condemnation, no fear. Anything that has been repented of is done. Anyone who has come to Christ is a new creation, the old has gone. Jesus’ work on the cross is sufficient to bring forgiveness, hope and help whatever someone’s past. So, we can all listen with compassion and point to Christ with confidence – encouraging expression, lament, comfort, commitment, perseverance in whatever measure our believing friends need.

There may, of course, be some in our churches who need more sustained help to work through what they’ve experienced. There may well be a need for more formal counselling for those who have been wounded deeply. But all of us can encourage a friend who finds Hallowe’en hard because of their past – and we can do so confident, as Paul said to the early Christians in Rome:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:20)