Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When a Little Man Asks A Big Question

A couple nights ago, Husband emerged from Ethan's room after bedtime with a look that was part bemused and part terrified. He told me that he'd pulled his first, "We'll have to ask Mommy in the morning," when Ethan posed two questions to which Husband had no answer.

The questions? "Is G-d a person?" and "Where does G-d live?"

You know, your basic 3.5 year old questions.


This is really not something I was ready for. Sure, we send him to a Jewish preschool, so I know he's heard of G-d and I guess I should have been prepared for the G-d questions given all of that. But I thought that since Ethan's main source of amusement at the moment is picking his nose and playing his guitar using matchbox cars as picks, he wasn't so likely to start asking meaning-of-life type questions just yet.

But ask he did. Husband's putting the question off until morning did buy us some time. Ethan's not asked again, but I hope he does, and I want to be prepared.

I just have to figure out what to say.

How do you explain the concept of G-d to a preschooler? When you aren't all that religious to being with? It's important to me that Ethan grow up with a sense of spirituality and that he feel a connection to Judaism, but G-d? In terms of defining him as a "person"? And where "he lives"?

Oy vey.

I grew up with that image of the wise old wizard who lives in the clouds. That is not at all a Jewish image, or really any religion's true image of G-d--but it was somehow what I came up with in my head. I think a lot of people in my generation had that---G-d as Gandolf. It's really not how I want Ethan to grow up. It begs for disillusionment, which I know he's certain to go through, both in terms of religious belief and just about everything else at one time or another.

My view of G-d, though, is so abstract, and so interwoven with how we feel about the world and how we treat others, I'm not sure I even know how to put it into words for a 3.5 year old. Preschoolers are so literal--how to tell one that G-d lives in him, without freaking him out? How to explain to a 3.5 year old that to me, G-d is not a person, but an energy that guides us to do the right thing and be kind to others?

That is so much more confusing than, "He's a wise old wizard who lives up in the clouds and watches over you."


cicadalady said...

i think being honest is the best way to explain it to him. i've told the girls that people view god differently - and that some don't believe in god at all. i have also told them that no one really knows for sure. then i have talked to them about my own personal beliefs - how i think god is the spiritual form of the goodness, peace and togetherness that exists in our world and how, when you see those in action(someone helping someone else, giving someone a kiss, etc.), that is god in action. you could ask him for other examples too. it's not as concrete as the old man in the sky, but i think it works. i've also told them though that i don't know anything for sure, because that is just how i feel. we all, of course, have different takes on it.

AJU5's Mom said...

I am not looking forward to answering questions like that to a preschooler. I know what I believe, but as you said - preschools don't do well with abstracts. How do you explain what God is when He is not a person but He does exist to someone who is used to being able to see and feel everything? Heaven is a little easier to explain, but it is still not something we can see or even picture that well. Good luck! Hopefully he will forget his questions and give you a little more time to come up with good answers.

Emi said...

I like the suggestions above, I also think that to start the conversation you can ask him what he thinks- just to see where his mind about it is.. It's hard because at school they might be talking about G-d as a person which can be confusing to him...

Emi said...

also are you familiar with the book "Parenting Beyond Belief" I have it on my reading list, but it may offer some suggestions too..

Linsey said...

When I was little, my mom explained that God lives in heaven (in the clouds) with the angels and Gam (my grandmother)... he watches over us.

For a long time I thought that Santa & God were the same person -- or maybe brothers?

I am always a big fan of turning the question around... "Well, who do you think God is? What have you learned about God in school?"

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about the beliefs of Jewish. But doesn't the Bible say that God created man in his own image? So is it really far off to say, yes, he is a person? If you believe what the Bible says, that is.

I think my 4-yr-old thinks of God as a person, but we have never actually talked about it.

I'd be interested to hear what he has learned in school.

craftyisthenewblack said...

"Do YOU think G-d is a person?"

"Where do YOU think he lives?"

That is working for me lately (Tiny P, "Mommy! Why? why? WY? W.H.Y.? Whhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyy?" Mommy, "Why not?") and I'm sticking with it!

Leap Year Dad said...

Although, you could have some fun with this. You could go the Kevin Smith model, with Alanis Morissette as the representation, from Dogma. You could also use the Lorax, as a model.

Or, I like the comment from Linsey and Emi, and turn the question back on him, have him close his eyes, and tell you what he thinks. From that you could have a week's worth of blogs.

Leap Year Dad said...

Sorry, one more thought. While this is a many layered, multi-faceted question and answer you have, remember the scope of your audience. Less is more, and while you might have many descriptions of G-d, he might be happy with "Heaven" at this point in time. Let him help figure how far to peel this onion.

Corinne said...

I've been trying to prepare myself for that sort of thing... but I honestly have no idea where to begin. Let us know how the talk goes :)