What’s A God?

by Lori Dwyer on February 11, 2013 · 7 comments

The discussions I have with my son amaze me. I wonder– was I ever this serious, this inquisitive? I doubt it. Or if I were, then I don’t remember it.

Or maybe I was, and my parents were never as determined to explore and explain things so completely. Why would they have been, when I never had the massive scope of stuff to deal with that my own children do?

Talking with my son stretches my mind some days to the point where I feel thoroughly stupid and have to resort to Google to satisfy his queries. My basic knowledge of how clouds form and burst and revert to low–lying fog is not nearly enough to sustain the curiosity of this child who wants more detail, who wants things to make more sense, and now, please.

“Why is that house so small?” Says the Chop one day, just a week or so before he starts Big School, as we’re cruising home, through the outskirts of the TinyTrainTown.

“It’s not a house, baby. It’s a church. And it’s small, I guess, because it only needed to be small– there weren’t a lot of people who used it.”

I see him thinking over this, tossing the concept back and forward is his mind like salad. “Poppy goes to church. But Nonna doesn’t. And neither do we.”

“That’s right”.

Another few beats of silence, and some missing link in his understanding occurs to him, a void of knowledge that has to be filled– they say young children learn more in seven years than we do in the rest of our lives.

“What’s a church?”


“Ummm. Well. It’s a nice place. It’s a place where people go to talk to God, I guess.”

There’s no way to explain the concept of church, really, without mentioning God. As unfortunate as that may be. Truly, exploring concepts like this– discussing what makes the world go round– it’s one of my favorite parts of being a parent. I love the feeling of attempting to look at the world through my children’s eyes, of straightening out ideas and constructs in order to make them more accessible. Some days it feels like taking to the complicated adult world with a veritable rolling pin of common sense, applying pressure until it becomes soft and malalble and spread out so mys on can see it properly.

Then I take cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes, press out hundreds of shapes, and attempt to bake away the cruelty of human nature, remove the worst of what’s there. In order to present my kids with a plate of perfectly cooked, but sensibly undecorated, shapes and constructs that are rich with the taste and texture of life.

Other days, its all just a massive pain in the arse. Never mind needing to consult Google to answer everything the child needs to know– some days I feel as though I am freaking Google. Some days, my creativity can’t keep up with his, my knowledge is no match for his burning desire to understand the world.

Evidently, it wasn’t one of those days. Otherwise I never would have bought up such a complicated concept as ‘God’ in the first place.

“Well”, I say, and think to myself– start at the beginning. That’s always a good place to start. (Or so Mary Poppins tells us. But I do think she may have the innate tendency to embellish the truth, sometimes). “Some people– like your Poppy, I guess– they believe that God is…”

And there I pause, temporarily lost for words. How do you describe what God is supposed to be? Especially if you’re not sure you believe in any kind of God yourself? And when you don’t want to lay blame on God for all the things that happen in the world, because maybe that would put all that zen–like understanding of death that you’ve attempted to instill in your son at risk? Or would it be better to give him a God, an entity who is responsible for how life rolls out, so he has someone to blame when he needs to, someone to be angry at for losing his father when he was so young and loved him so completely?

“… they believe that God is a very powerful thing. A something– not really a person, because God is much much bigger. He lives…” and again I pause, unsure of what to say. God lives in Heaven, of course, that’s what I was taught when I was a child. But for my children– my daughter, especially– their Daddy lives in Heaven. And Heaven is, of course, a very real place. How could it not be, when a very real person lives there?

And therein lies the oxymoron, the catch 22 of the situation. If there Daddy lives in Heaven, and he’s real, but I’m not necessarily sure God is real, how can I tell them in clear conscious that the two exist in the same place?

“… He lives just above Heaven I think. And some people believe that he watches overs everything and everyone.”

The Chop is frowning at me in the rear view mirror, not completely satisfied with this explanation yet. We’re only four kilometers from the TinyTrainHouse, and I know from past experience that this discussion will be forgotten, lost on far more important things like SkyLanders and harassing his sister, the moment the car’s wheels turn into our driveway. There’s a certain anxiety in me, a desperation, to complete this conversation before we get there. It feels important. How could it not be important, in the truth of things, when I’m essentially broaching the subject of religion with my son for the first time ever, when, ironically, he already understands the concept of Heaven in a way most five year olds never will?

“So that’s why some people go to church…” I state, feeling lame, the way I sometimes do when confronted with the burning speculation of a five year old member of the inquisition, “it’s a place to talk to God.”

“But how does God hear them?”

“Ah. Well, like I said, some people believe that God is watching everything. That he can see and hear everything. So he can definitely hear them, all the time. But going to Church means they can concentrate on what they would like to tell him.”

“So. That’s what some people believe. Poppy believes that. Nonna is… not sure. And Mummy…” I shake my head. “I’m not sure either, little man. Everyone gets to make up their own mind.”

“Do I get to make up my own mind?”

“Of course you do. We’re very lucky– we get to choose what we want to believe in.”

There’s another one of those contemplative silences that doesn’t really feel like a silence at all– it always seems as though I can hear my little man’s brain ticking over, his neurological gastronomy churning as he digests some new concept to the best of his ability.

“I don’t believe”, states my son, with all the confidence and conviction that I like to believe a safe and secure child radiates with. “Because a God can’t be watching over us. That’s a bit silly.”

I wait, in wonderment, anticipating the logic he is about to bestow on me– children always roll that dough of reason flatter than we do; my son teaches me more than I teach him.

“Our Daddy’s watching over us. He’s the one who does that.”

I can’t argue with that kind of logic, really.

The wheels turn into our driveway and the Chop’s bouncing around already, talking a mile a minute, previous conversation forgotten.

Which is good. Because I’m really not sure what else to say.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

spagsy February 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Nice play Chop. I like how you responded too. For some reason the daughter of a mate of mine started asking questions about church and religion, and when I spoke to her mum about what she wanted me to say she told me that she was the one who had told Jessica (her daughter) to call and ask me! Although we (my mate and I) are both Catholic I find religion a deeply personal thing and something that she needed to hear about from her parents so I stuck with a conversation sort of like the below:

1) a church is where people talk to God. You know how people go to the gym to work out – same kind of thing. You don’t HAVE to go to church to talk to God just like you don’t have to go the gym to do an exercise class, but some people do because it helps them to concentrate really hard, it’s pretty quiet when everyone is there praying together.
2)Some people believe in God and others don’t. The people who do have different names for God. Just like people have different names for each other. And it’s OK. God is like the air to those people – they don’t need to be able to see the air in order to know it’s there. The important thing to know is that no matter what people believe that we treat each other with love and respect.

That Chop’s a good egg…with Easter coming around soon do you think he will bring it up again?


Griff February 11, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Well, I bet that was interesting. The Chop is pretty switched on Lori. Truly a very deep soul that boy. You’re lucky to have a soul like him with you. I don’t believe in a god (each to their own though) and I reckon you did well. And Chop? I’m kinda in awe at his wisdom :)


Woah Molly! February 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Wow, what a concept to try and wrap your little noggin around at such a young age. I’d be terrible at such a discussion – I’m such a passionate atheist that it would be so hard to try and explain it in a way that was not biased and allowed them to make their own decisions. Dogma works both ways!

I think you did an excellent job.

Me? I was too dinosaur mad as a little kid to work around any organized religion. Kept getting thrown out of scripture class for ‘asking too many questions’.

Glad to see chop’s got an inquisitive mind!


Kylie Purdie February 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Never an easy question and I think you answered it beautifully. I believe in something, my husband in nothing. Our almost 11 year old days he doesn’t believe either. A decision he came to after asking many, many questions.


Dorothy @ Singular Insanity February 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Reminds me of a blog post I have in my drafts somewhere about a very similar conversation with my boys. I was surprised by how much they knew and how much it aligned with my own understanding of god. It’s a conversation we all have at some stage, don’t we?


Fiona February 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm


Big questions hey?

Nice answers. Especially trying to fit dad in with it all

ps nice layout!! xx


Sapphyre February 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm

It’s a hard one. I’m a Catholic, up until recently was a Sunday churchgoer my whole life. My 8yo has hardly gone to church, and now tells me she doesn’t believe in God so why should she have to go to after school catechism classes.

Sigh. I’m trying to share my religion with her, but as she’s seen very little of it, she’s not interested. My 13.5yo son believes, but then he was in a Catholic school for his first year of school (transferred for Grade 1 to the state school due to bullying, which can happen at almost any school). And I used to take him to church with me. Yeah, we sat in the foyer (eventually he was diagnosed with ADHD lol), but we were there. Me developing anxiety & depression and having a very need unwell hubby didn’t help. I’m all better now but have not fitted church back into my life yet.

Ah the joys of parenting, eh?


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