Monday, June 21, 2010

The uncomfortable talk

I think "God" may be my "Sex": when it comes to the uncomfortable talk.

I don't believe in God. I own a certain optimistic predisposition that hopes for an ultimate goodness to which we all belong. It's a sentimental quality that I'm growing fond of in myself. Intellectually, I know that I am simply ill-equipped to understand, one way or the other, purpose or chaos or something else (certainly something else?). Yet, this centre in me, this glowing, growing ember, loves to hope.

Lately, I've been questioning the "religious upbringing" part of parenting. I'd never questioned it before. We don't believe in God, so we don't talk about God. Why would we? Sometimes my husband and I will engage in conversation around "what if's" about certain theories of life. The children see this as boring adult drone and quickly start acting up. It's not talking about God.

I worry, though. I recognize that my own religious upbringing was, on the whole, more of an impediment to understanding God than a help. Still, from the time I can remember, I had a close, personal relationship with God. I prayed. A lot. All the time. I felt loved by God when I did not feel loved by my mother after my sisters were born.

I believed that I could influence God - not control him, but influence him and maybe get him on side with me on some important things. I once badgered God for three weeks, non-stop, through classes, through meals, as a constant background process, to make it so I won the walkman at the school draw. When they called my name, I was not surprised. God understood that access to music offered an escape from my noisy family and a path to explore new music. God knew it was important, because I'd let him know, over and over in case he didn't hear.

When I lost my religion, my very concept of God collapsed. There is nothing. Nothing matters. How stupid had I been? Could I really have bought all that shit? Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Jesus? Maybe I need to START smoking something!

So, nothing matters. It's all on me. Just make my way and survive this place, have some fun, make enough money to enjoy things...now I get it. Fuck you, God! I'm not talking to you anymore. YOU DON'T EXIST! You were a childish fantasy.

I hate you. How can you not exist? You tricked me! They tricked me! How can I trust anyone? Ever? 

(I miss you. No I don't.)

Yes, I do.

I wish there was some way that I could wrap my head around this world that would let me believe, not just "have faith," that there is a purpose to all of this. So I explore that, I give myself permission to have some space to try out my imagination on scenarios of hope. I do so with no expectation, intention, nor (ironically), hope of finding one set of ideas that I can stick with. I just take it in, add it to the soup, smell it and even taste it once in awhile, to see what else might make it better. I will never understand, and the part of me that's not okay with that is calming down.

I believe the core of me that prayed was powerful because I felt connected and tethered in the world, even though I was praying to myself all along. When I rejected an external God, the part of me that understood what was going on was severed - I didn't trust it anymore. I didn't believe in LOVE, and allowed myself only love. Nothing mattered but my immediate present.

As I find my way back to hope, overcoming my intellectual scoffing with the humble truth that I simply cannot know anything for certain, that core in me is the strength from which I draw. It's like putting on a comfortable glove, praying to myself, to the air that touches my skin, to the water and food that nourish my body. I can't live there, but I can experience that sometimes.

So...what do I tell my three and four-year-old?

When I say nothing, I make God taboo. I leave them floundering. They will not build a close personal relationship with God on our watch. I don't want to be a prison guard, keeping that ridiculous notion of God out. But I do feel that way. I've been so afraid of religion corrupting their minds. I haven't thought enough about how to simplify my own thinking to share it, because it's still pretty new to me and I'm not convinced it can be effectively simplified. I'm just starting to explore these ideas with my husband - he needs to be on board for any notions of "God Talk," doesn't he?

I have no code to teach, like my parents did. How do I give my preschool kids permission to build a close, personal relationship with their own spirits, while not giving the impression that there is an omnipotent or separate being of higher authority? What words best explain to a four-year old the paradox of accepting that we can't know and letting that be the key knowledge? What few words convey how trust can let you down, and yet remain absolutely necessary? How do I explain about loving our violent, selfish nature because love manages anger, when they are having trouble understanding not to hit?

Every day, I try to live these ideas, and every day I fall down and learn out loud. They watch, they see. But I don't share the context. I don't talk about the framework. In other families, they are saying grace, or going to church on Sundays, or praying before bed, because in those families, they believe in God. I don't choose those expressions for my devotion to loving life, and I haven't really replaced them.

I am, semi-consciously, trying to spare my children the grief and pain of losing God. In doing so, am I robbing them of the confidence of trusting that there is purpose to the world's cycles and they are an integral piece? Am I robbing them of the capacity to build hope around a dream, an imaginary wish, however improbable?

Sex I can do. God...not so much. 


  1. I think this must be very difficult, and I wish I had some wise words of counsel for you. I suppose I don't really; I do have a profound faith in God, and so I come from the other end of the spectrum. I am sure though, that as you grapple through this with your husband, the love you have for your children will help guide you through these questions. Children have an innate desire to believe in things not seen. Whether it's something as complex as a God or as simple as an imaginary friend. I'm not quite sure it is necessarily a bad thing. Faith in an Other (whatever it might be), I believe, helps them learn to believe in a Self -- something else just as complex and intangible: self-worth, self-respect, self-identity.

    In short, I don't have an answer to this. And that's probably okay, too. There are some things, as you know, we never have answers to. We have to learn to find comfort in seeking them.

  2. This is a wonderful post. My own faith journey, which coincidentally (or not, depending on your pov) I've starting a post about, came from a desire to give some direction to my child. What a learned (huge over-simplification) is that religion is not for me, but faith is. I feverently believe the spirit is within. To Christians this will mean things like Luke 17:21, Galatians 2:20, etc. To Budhhists, like my best friend, it will mean something similar. But to me, the bottom line, and you alluded to this, it's IN YOU! I so wish we would all quite trying, and just be. You are doing the right thing by just sharing what you feel comfortable with with your kids. Keep living out loud and the rest will come. :)

  3. Oh, once again, you are me, I am you. I also do not believe, and I struggled with these issues when my son was a child. My parents could not, and still don't, accept my feelings, and one of the biggest fights I ever had with them was about the fact that I would not get him baptized.
    There are no answers to these questions, I think you either can and do believe, or you can't and then don't. I always told him it was up to him, that I would take him to church if he wanted to go, that it was a decision I wanted him to make for himself (when he was old enough to understand, of course.)
    But I did wonder if it was the right thing to do. And I still don't have the answer to that, though he is grown. My two step-kids were raised in a very religious house, went to Catholic schools. If I compare them to my son on that level, I see no difference between them.
    You made me think of a line from a Courtney Love song, "I don't really miss God, but I sure miss Santa Claus."
    I think that in time you just need to be honest with your children and do what you think is best for them, and it will be just fine.

  4. Great thoughts. I'm not sure what to comment -- your words are very powerful and create thought and discomfort and comfort all at once.
    Thank you, as always, for your honestly and your intelligence and your words.

  5. Your post, The Uncomfortable Talk, has some real gems MrsWhich that I shall treasure!! I'll leave it for the other readers to find their own jewels! However, allow me to share the gist of what I see here. First of all, thankyou for this piece of writing! In addition to what I have to say here, I feel I could easily write a whole post, on my own blog, in response to it. Who knows, maybe I will?

    I really enjoyed reading this post! Why? Not because I have any particular slant on the subject of "God" or religion or any particular belief for that matter; but rather because, in my way of seeing, this was a very spiritual piece of writing! Spiritual in that it reflects a baring of an open heart not burdened by the confines of social flags. How refreshing!! I say this in its most sincere form too! Just for the record, I do not subscribe to any particular faith or belief, but I do experience the power of "something" benevolent flowing through me most moments of my life. And that is good enough for me!

    All to often, I feel one is spoon-fed an ideal of what god is by our society and of what is expected of us to assimilate on this subject to become socially ...approved! Such a waste! Yet, even this serves a purpose I suppose? Still, there is a voice that speaks through the mediocrity of social approval. With a simple truth that doesn't look to see who is following, nor feels the need for apologies, its truth cannot be denied when heard. It is the voice of the "now" that rings beautifully when heard, complete with all of its hurts and happy!! And yet, the simplicity of the now rarely lends itself to an "understanding' of something akin to the divine. For that would entail thinking; and often, thinking takes energy which can leave us feeling depleted after...substantial thinking.

    What I find interesting is what happens when one just doesn't want to think about it anymore?! In a rare moments of where a mental apparatus has lost its guard, there comes the voice of the now that just says whatever comes out! It takes a fair mount of courage to utter such words let alone write them down for others to read! Some would even say...uncomfortable! But within these rare moments, where words of now are found, comes the sweet music of things profound! And even in its smallest measure, these words can say so much more than anything that can be...thought about! What I also find interesting is that I never feel depleted afterwards either!

    Thanks again MrsWhich, simply beautiful! ☼

  6. Very moving post. To add my two cents: I moved in the opposite direction. I did not believe and now I do. When you wrote of your, "certain optimistic predisposition that hopes for an ultimate goodness to which we all belong," I realized: That is what God is to me.

    I write about God a lot - in fact, right now Im writing a book about making personal relationship with God - or the Divine - whatever people want to call it.

    But ultimately, to me - God is this "ultimate goodness to which we all belong."

    Thanks for writing this. Raises many questions and Im gonna keep coming back to review them.


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