How do I explain God to my children when I’m not even sure who/what exactly He is myself?
The word “God” has always been around my children, though only sprinkled about, not liberally poured. They’ve heard prayers occasionally, I took them to Mainly Music in their preschool years (music sessions in which some of the songs are Christian) and I’ve told Jake simple versions of the Christmas story each December. For a while, it seemed that trying to explain God in detail could be more confusing than helpful to their young minds. Especially since my own definition of God is pretty vague.
Then, one night as I was tucking him in, Jake asked, “Who is God?” I had been thinking of initiating this conversation myself as I was feeling he was ready, but he’d beaten me to it. It felt important to give a good answer – this could be a defining moment in his spiritual development and I wanted my explanation to be positive & helpful for him. I wanted to tell the truth but I didn’t know exactly what it was.
I did not want Jake envisioning the rather scary bearded man I had as a child. I felt by explaining God as a being was more understandable for Jack than the loving, organising energy/force I think of. But I also wanted to differentiate Him from humans. And using the name “God” seemed most practical for when he is listening to or having conversation with others.
So, the Who is God? conversation started when Jake asked how the air we breathe is made. I knew I was opening up a big discussion when I replied that I didn’t know exactly, God made it. Then, of course, he asked who God was. I was rather haphazardly & inadequately explaining that God made the world and that He is alive but has no body when Jake said, “maybe she’s a spirip”. I said “Do you mean spirit?” and asked where he’d heard that word, but he didn’t know. Then he said “maybe God is electricity because you can’t see it”. What insight! (“God must be helping me out here”, I thought.) Then we were able to talk about how you can’t see God or electricity but you can see what they do. This electrical analogy might be one I can refer back to every now and then. I don’t know that our talk clarified much for Jake – “How does God make things with no hands?!” he asked – but it has got him thinking and opened him up to the idea of God.
Since discussing who God is, I have started talking about Him more in daily life. In our home, we had not been saying grace aloud at mealtimes partly because my boys had no idea who we were talking to. But, now, Jake likes to say grace for the family. When he’s silly about it (as 5-year-olds often are), it’s an opportunity to discuss grace as a way of expressing thanks to God and that it needs to be said with respect & gratitude. At night, we each share one thing that we’re grateful for before saying ‘goodnight’ and have done so since Jake was 3. Now I have told him about how I say “Thank you” to God for 5 things before going to sleep each night.
So my role now is to share my own experiences of God, according to my boys’ readiness. I have experienced a number of “coincidences” recently which I regard as divine planning but the significance of them would be lost on 5-year-old Jack. I can, though, share with him prayers I’ve said, inspirations I’ve experienced and gifts I’ve received. By sharing, I hope to familiarise Jake & Thomas with the nature of God and it will expand my own awareness. When they get older and are not thinking so much in the black-and-white terms that younger children do, I intend to talk about my unformed definition of God and the ability to have faith regardless of how clear God is in our rational minds. I also hope that we will explore together other people’s concepts of God. As I discuss my experiences more and we inquire together, Jake & Thomas might want to start to discussing their own experiences. I look forward to those conversations.
On retrospect, I may have been a bit too cautious about introducing God. Perhaps I should’ve been more open with Jake from the start, saying grace and using “God” in conversation as I am starting to now. Just as I don’t completely understand God but still want to be led by Him, Jake may not have understood but could still have taken something from what was happening and being discussed around him. It will naturally be more of an immersion than an unfolding for Thomas (2 years old) since I’m already talking with Jake and he’ll be privy to our conversations etc. It will be interesting to look back and see if either approach seems better. I held off with Jake because I wasn’t sure enough of my own definition to be able to explain God. When I accepted that I may never be able to define Him, I realised this was no reason to wait. It’s also important to me that my boys grow up feeling that my approach to spirituality has been shared with them but not forced on them and that seems a hard balance to strike which can stop me from being so open about things of a spiritual nature at times.
Eckhart Tolle calls words “pointers” and reminds us that they are not the truth itself. As I’ve been writing, it has occurred to me that it is Jake and Thomas’ personal experience of God that really counts. I have pointed to the idea of God but I don’t have to define Him for them (what a relief!). They will do it for themselves.
Much love to you and your little souls,
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.