“Mamas? Who is God?”
Our almost-five-year-old daughter and oldest child asked my partner and me this question at dinner the other night. We looked at each other and in less than a second’s time were on the same page. We have been together long enough to trust the other’s response to questions like these, questions that make you wonder where they came from; and we are united in our parenting efforts to allow the other to make something up if we don’t have the answer, discussing it later when the kids are in bed.
“Where did you hear about God?” I asked her.
“Well, Laura said God made all the people, and I told her that a sperm and an egg make people.”
We were both impressed and terrified that Eva and her preschool friends were talking about such big topics. We were proud of Eva for stating the facts of what she knew.
Since she was three we have been talking to our daughter about the biology of where she came from, the sperm donor who contributed to that equation, and the enormous amount of love that was involved in making the decision to have her and her brothers.
She doesn’t know anything about church or religion or God. That is on us. I am spiritual, but I do not abide by one religion. I think some elements of organized religions are really good ways to hold people accountable, give them strength, faith, and community.
But I don’t feel like religion is something missing from my life. I find these things in other places. My partner is Jewish; as a family we celebrate her childhood traditions during Hanukkah, but that is the extent of her Judaism. Church is not a part of our lives, so it is not a part of our children’s lives.
“You are right; a sperm and egg make a baby. But some people believe God made the sperm and egg to do that.” I wasn’t in the mood to get into the whole making of Adam and then taking his rib to make Eve story.
“Well who is God? Where does he live?”
Apparently we were still talking about it. “Some people believe God is a higher being that helps people make good decisions. They pray to him for help, to wish for things, and to ask him to make people feel better. Some people believe he lives in heaven, but his spirit can also live in your heart.”
With a look of fear and disgust, Eva said, “God doesn’t live in my heart!”
“Not the actual God, just his spirit. Like how Santa and the Christmas spirit lives in your heart so you can do good things for other people. In fact, we celebrate Christmas because God’s son, Jesus, was born on Christmas Eve.”
“God had a son?!”
“Yup, his mom’s name was Mary, and his dad was…well, Mary was married to Joseph, but technically God is his dad…let’s skip the Immaculate Conception part of the story. His mom was Mary and Jesus grew up to be a teacher.”
Then my Jewish partner decided to chime in, “He was a carpenter too!”
I shot her a look that let her know I was really thankful for her help.
“Some people believe that his teachings are a religion that we should all believe in to get to heaven. And by believing in that religion, you believe God made all the people.”
I kind of felt like I was making stuff up at this point, just to keep it simple. But when I mentioned heaven a cord of understanding pulled at her, then a bit of sadness.
She was persistent, “But I want to go to heaven! I want to see Bailey! And, I believe that sperm and egg make people, not God. What do you believe in?”
Bailey was our first dog who died when she was a year old. He was such a big part of our little family and even though I don’t think she does, she says she remembers him. She also tells us that she misses him. At one point we told her he went to heaven, and he is busy keeping an eye on us and playing with other doggie friends who have died.
That was as far as it went. And in hindsight was probably a creepy thing to say to a child who takes things literally.
My partner and I explained that you can believe in both God and science. A sperm and egg are always needed to make a baby, but how the very first sperm and egg got on Earth is the ultimate debate. In that moment I was not ready to explain evolution vs. creationism to an almost five-year-old.
Not with twin two-year-old boys throwing their food at each other. If there is a God, he must have a sick sense of humor to have created these tiny humans with so much defiance.
“I believe if you are a good person, you can get to heaven after death to see all of the people and animals you love.” I tried to reassure this suddenly aging child that her world of innocence and security is still intact. The look of distraught on her face told me I seemed to be digging a hole of despair.
“But sometimes I am bad, maybe God won’t let me into heaven.”
Christ. “You are never bad. Sometimes you make bad choices, but we work together to help you make good choices. God sees that. Besides you have to do really, really, really bad stuff to not get into heaven.”
She seemed okay with this. Finally. Because I was close to letting out my cynical side of religion, specifically Christianity; I have seen heinous sins ignored by churches and congregations because the offenders decided Sunday morning was the right time to ask Christ into their hearts. They were saved; all was forgiven. I sat next to people willing to let go of all accountability if it meant not dealing with unemployment, addiction, or mental and physical health.
I felt the discrimination of being a gay teenager in a building packed with people who thought homosexuality provided a first class ticket to hell.
I realize these flaws in religion are not necessarily in religion itself. People believe what they want and need to believe to get through each day. Information is skewed and used to justify all kinds of ignorance. The problem is that millions and millions of people buy into this harmful ideology to scare and discriminate.
Dinner plates were removed from the table and our evening routine continued, but I couldn’t help wonder if I had answered her correctly. I respect it, but religion is not important to me. However, it might be to her someday.
I am very aware that I am shaping her opinions with my own, yet more than anything I hope I am raising her and my boys to have the confidence to find their own beliefs in life.
Mamas? Who is God?
I don’t really know, kid. But I want you to know you should explore any topic that strikes your interest. And I will do my best to provide you with answers without stifling your curiosity or understanding.