This piece was also featured as a nationally syndicated column with GateHouse Media. Here it is in The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida.
“It’s just a coat hanger, Susan,” my mother would sigh, pointing at the flimsy wire triangle.
But I knew better.
It was not JUST a coat hanger. Together with the other hangers, it formed the lair of the evil skeleton who lurked in my closet.
By day, his cave looked all too innocent with Garanimals and Sesame Street fashions hanging peacefully side by side. But by night, the clothes mysteriously faded away, and the wiry hangers morphed into the bony fingers of my enemy. Every cell in my body urged me to jump up, slam the closet door, pull the covers back over my head, and pray that the skeletal specter would disappear.
One night, after months of trying to convince me that there was no skeleton in the closet, my mother concocted a new plan. When she came to tuck me in, and my eyes fixed on the closet, she said something that changed my entire view. “Susan, why don’t you just invite the skeleton to come out and play? Who knows, he may be fun.”
What a brilliant move: concede the existence of scary things, and invite them out to play. Apparently, my mom was not first to think of this approach, as the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best take it out and teach it to dance.”
Today, even though I’ve stopped using wire hangers and Garanimals, I still use that same twist of perspective because the skeletons we fear as adults are at least as big and scary as the ones from our childhood.
Some of us worry about the skeleton of money who rattles his bones every time we hear rumors of layoffs, read about impending recessions, or see towering stacks of bills piling up on our kitchen table. Others tremble at the health skeleton who sends shivers down our spine when we discover yet another person who has been diagnosed with cancer. There is the skeleton of shame which hides in the closet of many a heart, constantly threatening to lurch out. And then, there are the ugly skeletons of hatred, prejudice, and racism.
The effect of those skeletons on us as adults is exactly the same as it was when we were kids. We feel an overwhelming urge to slam the closet door, pull the covers over our heads, and pray that the bony specter goes away.
This reminds me of a skeleton joke:
Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?
He didn’t have the guts.
Okay, I know, I know. Groan. But here’s the point: the only way we can get past the paralyzing fear of the skeletons lurking in our hearts is to have the guts to invite them into the light. It is then that the problems fade, change, even transform, and our fears start to subside.
The prophet Ezekiel understood this same struggle when he stood in the valley of lifeless dry bones (Ezekiel 37), but he found the guts to face the bones through the word of God. In that moment of faith, those scary dead bones began to come together, to stand up, and to play and dance in their newfound life.
What’s the biggest, baddest skeleton in your closet right now?
What would happen if you found the courage to hold it up to the light?
We all have our scary skeletons. But nothing in our dark closets is stronger than the holy promise made to us of a second chance and a new life. If we can find the guts to invite those bony fears out, then we can be sure that God will make them dance.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. The author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines, Susan is a nationally known speaker on the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.