How does one explain God to a three year old, who still can't separate "today," "tomorrow," and "yesterday," or other abstract concepts? tried a few approaches: "God is something we can't see but can feel...so much bigger than all of us." I then received the question, "Is God a rabbi?" I tried again: "God is like love." Then I said, "God is in our good choices." And then I realized I should exit gracefully: "Let's sing the Shema."
I've spent the nights since then reflecting upon what I know as a rabbi about teaching God and what I now as a parent realize about teaching my children about God and faith.
When teaching our children about God, the first step as parents is to know what God is to each of us. Everything I said to my daughter about God was true. I do believe that God is present but invisible, felt strongly in the relationships we have, expressed in the choices we make. I feel God's presence as gratitude, the overwhelming feeling of blessing as I look at my children and so many areas of my life. If we as parents don't have a clear sense of some basic truths for us with regard to faith, we will not be able to approach this from a place of confidence or authenticity.
The next step is to model that knowing. In the moment my daughter asked me about God, I naively thought that I could give one answer that would make perfect sense. She's three, though, and her understanding of faith is more closely tied to her understanding of the parent-child relationship. She can't understand God the way I do....but she can understand that I have faith in God. She can understand that we pray. She can understand that we believe in something greater than ourselves. More powerful than any conversation is what she watches me and others do.
Those little eyes and ears notice everything! There is a lot of pressure to make sure that what she sees and hears are positive messages. Yet, I would like to think that all of us strive to acheive the best within us, doing our part to bring goodness to this world. So, perhaps this is just another blessing children can bring to our lives--they can be the mirror that reflects who we are and inspires us to be better.