Discussing the G-word (answering questions about God when you’re not sure yourself)

If you’re a UU who gets an itchy feeling when you hear the word God, you’re not alone. There are plenty of reasons we might avoid the subject, but our kids will hear the word without our help. It doesn’t matter if you abandoned the notion of God long ago, you’ve got a solid relationship with your Goddess, or you’ve gotten comfortable with just not knowing. I’m all but 100% certain that your kids are going to have questions about God anyway. UU minister, Reverend Robin Bartlett says, “I have a responsibility to say something about god because someone else on the playground, or at a friend’s house, or at a summer camp will fill the vacuum I’ve left if I say nothing at all… I need to counter the message that God picks and chooses, that some souls are saved, but not all souls.”

Let’s explore some ways we might authentically fill that vacuum.

Half an Answer is Better Than an Answer and a Half

When we’re caught off guard, uncomfortable, or overly passionate about a topic — all feelings we might have when our kids ask about the G-word — it’s easy to give too much of an answer, and even start to answer questions that weren’t actually asked.

Sound familiar?

With younger, elementary-aged children, asking more questions before offering answers can help you discern what’s really being asked. Our own baggage can cause us to read too much into the question & give an answer that is too big for our child. Take a breath so you can listen & discern first.

If we give too big an answer, our children are likely to tune out before they get the answer they were looking for. If we’re regulars at giving too much of an answer, they might even develop a habit of not asking.

Remember this: Half an answer is better than an answer and a half!

While this is true for all aged audiences, it’s especially true when talking with our children. By keeping our answers short, we give our children time to digest what they’ve heard & ourselves time to consider what more we wish to say. When we leave our kids with a valid answer, but still wanting more, we make space for the conversation to circle back around a few more times, and these big conversations with no easy answers are at their best when we plant the seed, give it time to grow, and return to tend it regularly.

We’ve got a lifetime for this talk. No need to overdo it on our first go.

Other Ways of Saying God

Very often, “god” is just a quick way to say “something bigger than ourselves that inspires awe.”

If your younger kiddo asked about God, it’s probably best to stick with that word for now and just try not to make it weird.

If you have older kids, though, who are capable of more flexible and nuanced thinking, it can be useful to come up with a list of longhand terms for God that feel less loaded. Then, when you encounter religious wisdom with god talk together, you can evaluate it with more clarity by substituting your longhand terminology to see if it’s wisdom that resonates with you.

Here’s a short list to get you started.

God is:

the Big Mystery Love with a capitol L

the Unknowable Power the Really Real

the Inner Calling the Governing Laws of the Universe

Anne Lamott & Howard

Next month, we’ll be adding prayer to our toolkit. As a bridge from here to there, I offer the words of the brilliant and ever-salty Anne Lamott:

You may in fact be wondering what I even mean when I use the word “prayer.” It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding. Let’s say it is communication from one’s heart to God. Or if that is too triggering or ludicrous a concept for you, to the Good, the force that is beyond our comprehension but that in our pain or supplication or relief we don’t need to define or have proof of or any established contact with. Let’s say it is what the Greeks called the Really Real, what lies within us, beyond the scrim of our values, positions, convictions, and wounds. Or let’s say it is a cry from deep within to Life or Love, with capital L’s. Nothing could matter less than what we call this force. I know some ironic believers who call God Howard, as in “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name.”… Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let’s just say prayer is communication from our hearts to the great mystery, or Goodness, or Howard; to the animating energy of love we are sometimes bold enough to believe in; to something unimaginably big, and not us. We could call this force Not Me, and Not Preachers Onstage with a Choir of 800. Or for convenience we could just say ‘God.’

Homework for Caregivers

If you can, practice speaking out loud what you would say if your child asked, “What is God?” or “Do you believe in God?” Notice how it goes, and whether it reflects your truest answer. If they’ve already asked and you feel like it could have gone WAY better, don’t fret. It’ll circle back around. And when it does, you’ll have a little practice, and hopefully a little community of support.

Speaking of support…

Ask a friend if they’ve had the god talk with their kids and would be willing to share how it went. If they’re still a part of your life, ask your parents or caregivers about how old you were when you first got curious about God and how they felt. Have their feelings about god shifted over time? If they could go back, would they teach you the same? The more we talk about these topics with our people, the less weighty they start to feel, and then we can approach these conversations with our usual calm.

And, as always, if you want to pop in and discuss the big G or anything else, my door is always open!