Introducing your child to the concept and the reality of God – Part VII: Be matter-of-fact
We have been exploring in great detail in this space over the past several weeks the topic of how to introduce your child to the concept and reality of God. That series continues with Part VII, here.
The main question is, of course, how to do it. How can we best introduce our child to the idea and the existence of God? The answer begins with a willingness to assume and accept that your child may be far more attuned to Larger Realities than you might think. Therefore, talking about God in matter-of-fact ways will feed right into child’s already-present inner knowing.
True, your offspring may not know the words to describe that which they sense must exist and must be true, but they will readily and easily accept the notion that Something Larger is “out there” if they see their parents readily and easily accepting it—just as, in the area of sexuality, they will readily and easily accept the differences and the wonders of their bodies if they observe that their parents readily and easily accept these differences and the wonders.
We have touched on this matter-of-factness about God before, encouraging casual and off-handed mention of “God” in everyday conversation around the children. One easy and natural way to do this might be through the age-old tradition of “saying grace” before meals. If this happens from the time a child is old enough to hear, the child will have encountered the notion of “God” long before they ask for a fuller explanation, making that fuller explanation much easier for the child to absorb.
Is it okay to personify God?
One of the questions I am most often asked by parents is: “Is it okay to allow our children in the early stages of understanding God to think of God as a ‘person’, even if we, ourselves, don’t really think that this is what God is?”
My answer is always yes. A small child will may find it difficult to grasp oblique or inexplicit concepts such as “Essence” or “Energy.” If offering thanks at meals to The Essence seems challenging for your 3-year-old, allowing the child to personify God is perfectly okay. Indeed, as an adult I personify God all the time.
The dialogue in Conversations with God taught me that “God” is The Essence and The Prime Energy of Life Itself; the Source of all Love, all Wisdom, all Power, all Intelligence, and, indeed, everything in the Universe. This Essence can form and shape itself into any appearance or embodiment It desires, and has done so—including the form and shape of a wonderful, kind, gentle, caring, compassionate, understanding, unconditionally loving and incomparably wise woman or man.
I encourage people, in fact, to use the terms Mother/Father God and Father/Mother God interchangeably and as often as possible when referring to The Divine. This helps to remove the traditional male gender identification that so many children often attach to the idea of God in the early stages of their lives.
Here is a possible Grace that might work in your home:
Dear Mother/Father God…We thank you for the food we are about to eat, for the love that we feel at this table, and for all the wonderful gifts of life that we share. And thank you, too, for the good days and wonderful times that are still to come for the rest of our lives. We promise to share all good things with all those whose lives we touch. Amen.
I love this little prayer because it introduces the concept of Sharing as well as the idea of God to the mind of the child.
Nightly prayers and morning prayers are another sweet way to place the concept and the reality of God before your little ones. Here is a wonderful, short nightly prayer for children…
Dear Father/Mother God…Thank you for this day, and everything that happened. Even the ‘bad stuff.’ Because I know that all of it helps me to be a nice person, and that’s what I love to be! See you tomorrow…your friend…Neale.
And here is a morning prayer I’ve been saying myself for many years.
Dear Mother/Father God…Thank you for another day, and another chance to be the very best Me I can be!
Invite children’s own CWG
If the “prayer” idea doesn’t feel that it would work for you, you can encourage your children to have their own conversations with God, and to develop a positive attitude about life in the process, by inviting them to talk to God for one minute every night about The Things I Liked Best About Today.
Here’s one way that could look…
PARENT (just before bedtime): Let’s play the One Minute Game!
PARENT: Okay, we have one minute to think of what we liked best of all the things that happened today, and tell God about it. If we can think of at least two things between us, I think God will be very happy. I’ll go first…
“Hey, Mother/Father God…the thing I liked best about today was…the really neat time I had with all my kids and with Mommy, playing that game after we had dinner! I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for all the good stuff! You’re neat, God!” (Or…“that I didn’t have to put away all the groceries by myself, because my little sweetie helped me!”) (Or…”How nice my little sweetheart Madelyn was when she didn’t make a fuss at Daddy when nap time came…”) (Or…”Making a super dinner for everybody that they really liked, because they told me so. It feels so good to do stuff that makes other people happy! Thanks, God!”)
You can’t even begin to imagine the many messages you can send to a 3, 4, or 5-year-old with a nightly tradition such as this—without seeming to “preach” to the child at all. They’re just listening to Mommy or Daddy talk to God!
In addition to setting up a positive attitude, this creates the habit of your children having their own conversations with God on a regular basis. That habit will extend into adulthood, I promise you. Especially if, later, when your child grows older…of if the child has had an especially rough day…you can model for her or him how to talk to God about that, too…
Well, God, things didn’t go so well today, as I’m sure you know. So thanks for giving me the help to get through it—and thanks for making everything better…which I know is what is going to happen! I’m glad you’re hear, Father/Mother God. I’m really glad you’re here!
I think nothing could be more important than the time you spend with your child in this way. (Something could be equally important, but nothing could be more important.) And why? Because, if you will suffer me making the same point repeatedly, what your children come to understand about God and how they experience God through you will stick with them all the days of their life.
Childhood imagination and childlike faith
Do not discourage childhood imaginings. That is one of the biggest pieces of advice I offer to parents. Most parents would not discourage this anyway, but I try to make the point with them that they are on the right track in not doing so.
I have been told by a number of people that I have a child-like faith in God. (An important note here: child-like and child-ish are not the same thing.) I suppose I do. And I am glad of it. I have a childlike faith in all of Life, in fact, not just in God. I have faith that life is on my side. I have faith that I can do anything I set my mind to. I have faith that things will always be okay with me, and that all things work out for my highest good in the end. I have faith that God loves me completely, without condition, reservation, or limitation, and that I am never alone, or outside the embrace of God. I have faith that I will be Home with God when this physical life ends.
Maybe I am imagining all of these things. Maybe I need to (as some of those who have observed me have said since I was a child) “grow up” and “face facts” and get my “head out of the clouds and feet on the ground.” But I believe that my childlike faith has served me. It has given me strength when things did not seem to be going my way. It has brought me comfort in times of loss, optimism when I might have been tempted to feel hopeless, and enthusiasm for tomorrow even if my “today” made it look as if my future might not ever be bright again. In short, it has kept me in a positive frame of mind the majority of the time.
More often than not I look for the solution when others see problems. More often than not I see molehills where others make mountains. More often than not I go for the gold when others are willing to settle for the bronze—or no medal at all in the Olympics of life—not because I need or want to be a “winner,” but because I hold quite naturally the idea that we are all intended to be winners, that life was made for us to be happy, and that all we have to do to get to that place is understand who we are and why we are here…and, of course, that God and Life are on our side.
For more on this I strongly urge you to read—or if you have already done so, to re-read—Happier Than God.
I could, in fact, be imagining all these things. But if I am, I must say that my imagination seems to be a very effective mechanism, a wonderful tool used in the fashioning of life. And here is my point; here is the reason I am bringing this all up now:
My parents encouraged me to use my imagination as a child. And they did not discourage me when my imagination ran wild. Rather, they simply coached me to notice when my imagination served me (that is, made me happier or gave me confidence) and when it disserved me (that is, made me scared or tentative or sad or took my confidence away).
If they saw that I was imagining something that made me scared or tentative (“There’s a monster under the bed!”) (“I’ll never get the part in the school play, so why bother even trying out!”), they would gently demonstrate to me that what I was imagining was (A) not helping matters any, and (B) probably not true anyway, if I just explored it.
If they saw that I was imagining something that made me happy or confident (“I’m Superman!”) (“I’m going to try out for the play and I bet I get the part!”), they would gently smile and demonstrate that they loved all ideas that made me feel better about myself—whether I was imagining all the good stuff, or talking about actual reality.
In this way, the line between Good Imagining and Good Reality began to blur, and as I reached 10 or 11 I began making a connection between the two. By the time I’d hit 16 I had a reputation in our family: “Neale has all the luck! He always seems to get what he wants.”
What I am saying here is that I think there is a direct connection between positive thinking and positive outcomes. And I am very clear that the way my parents worked with my imagination, and the way they encouraged it when my imaginings were positive, even if unrealistic, made that connection real for me. (“You know, son,” my father once said to me, smiling, “in a lot of ways you are Superman.”)
If you don’t take away a child’s dreams, you guarantee that he’ll keep dreaming. And what does all this have to do with introducing your child to the concept and the reality of God? Well, imagination is the tool of God. Dreams are the stuff of God. Great visions for tomorrow create excitement today—and nothing makes a dream more exciting than knowing that God is on our side to help make them come true. And this is what my Mother always encouraged me to feel.
“If that’s what’s best for you, God will help you make it happen. And if it’s not what best for you, God will bring you something better,” is what I would say to children from the time they are old enough to understand that idea (which might be a lot younger than you think).
“Thank you, God, for this or something better” is, by the way, another wonderful prayer to share with children (and adults, for that matter).
Stories and books are terrific tools, too, of course
I know this is obvious, but just as a reminder….Story Time provides another wonderful opportunity to introduce your children to God. Some parents merge Story Time with Bed Time, so that children will look forward to, rather than revolt against, bedtime. Others like to create Story Time in the afternoon, or after dinner in the evening.
It used to be difficult to find children’s books in which, if God is mentioned, the story and “the moral of the story” didn’t emerge from a Traditional Idea About God. This is perfectly okay, of course, if what you hold, and what you wish to share with your children, are those traditional ideas. If, on the other hand, your ideas about God lean more toward what might be termed New Thought concepts (such as the concepts in the Conversations with God texts), it was not always easy to find children’s books that reflected those values.
I am happy to say that these days it has become a bit easier. The CWG4Kids program has been gathering resources now for quite a while, and I think you’ll be impressed with the number of children’s stories that are out there—as well as short audio programs on CD, and even some animations on DVD.
For instane, there is a wonderful animation that a professional film company made of the CWG children’s book, The Little Soul and the Sun, as well as an audio enactment of the story with original songs that kids love. The second book in the Little Soul series, titled The Little Soul and the Earth, offers another resource straight out of the Conversations with God cosmology, as does the very special Christmas story Santa’s God, in which a little girl asks Santa the most important question of all time: Who is the real God? Who does Santa pray to?
The answer that Santa gives is exactly what you would want your children to hear if you, yourself, have embraced the message in CWG, yet it is placed before children in a way that is neither “preach-y” nor “teach-y,” but is presented in language and through an example that all children can easily understand.
And there are other wonderful children’s books and resources out there as well—and that’s what the CWG4Kids program is all about. It is about helping parents to introduce their children to the concept and the reality of God in a way that aligns with how they would like their children to start out on their own search for inner truth.