Deborah Mitchell’s recent essay on CNN iReport explaining why she believes her kids are better off without God certainly hit a nerve. It received over 730,000 views and 9,166 comments. Her article got me thinking about why I vehemently disagree with her. Raising my children with an awareness of God is the most precious gift I can possibly give to them.
Here are my seven top reasons why I am raising my children with God.
1. God makes us moral. I'll never forget sitting in one of my first freshman seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, and remaining on the sidelines for a while as the class argued about the adultery romanticized in Anna Karenina. I was shocked by how many of my classmates commiserated with the corrupt character, Prince Stiva.
I finally mustered up the courage and said that I thought that the affair was wrong. The person across from me responded: "You can say that it's not something you would do, but you can't say that it's wrong. It's totally subjective whether it's wrong or right."
Silence filled the small, carpeted room. I held my breath for a moment before replying: "I believe that there is an objective truth. And what this character did was absolutely, unequivocally wrong."
My reply was clearly not popular although I saw a few people around the room considering it. But it was the first time that I was deeply grateful for my Jewish education, and for the clear moral compass that God gives me in my life. Without God, goodness itself becomes subjective. God is the Infinite source that transcends time, from which goodness receives its absolute, unchangeable quality. I want God in my children's lives so that they will also know that there is an absolute right and wrong way to speak, to conduct relationships and to live.
2. God gives us hope. Believing in God makes us more optimistic. God gives us hope for the future. I teach my children not only that God can make tomorrow better but that any moment He can turn a hard today around for the good. God makes everything suddenly possible because there is nothing beyond His power. I tell my children that once God is in the picture they can accomplish anything. God gives us hope that we can fix the brokenness in the world. He teaches us to pray for peace and unity and kindness. And I speak to my children about how important it truly is to never lose this hope in themselves and in the future. God wants our optimism; He tells us not only to reach for the stars but to believe that today we can hold some of their light.
3. God comforts us. My grandfather used to tell us when we were little: "Don't rely on other people. The only One who you can always trust, who will never break a promise or disappear is God." I used to hate when he said that because it sounded so depressing. But it was true. Human beings are finite. They sometimes fall short of their promises even when they want to follow through. They die without our consent. They are sometimes too stuck in their own feelings to offer solace to others.
But God never breaks a promise. He never disappears without warning. He listens to us when no one else can hear what we are saying. He holds us when no one else can possibly understand the depth of our grief. He is here when we are celebrating and He is here when we are broken. He is never too busy or too distracted. And He longs to hear from us.
From the time that my children were very little, I have taught them to speak to God about everything in their lives. They know that praying doesn't mean that God will always say yes to their requests. But speaking to God comforts them the way it comforts me. Knowing that I have a Father who cares about every aspect of my life and will always be by my side is the purest, strongest shelter that I know. I want my children to know that Someone will hold them when they are far from home. I want them to know that even when they feel like no one understands them, Someone always does.
4. God teaches us gratitude. One of the most beautiful prayers is the first one that Jews say when they wake up each day: "I offer thanks before You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your belief in me is great." I love to sing with my children this version of it too: "Thank You Hashem for my neshamah (soul) and for giving me another day." God teaches us to feel grateful as soon as we open our eyes and acknowledge Him as the Source of life itself. And throughout the day, my children learn to say thank You as they make blessings before they eat and after they eat. They say morning prayers that speak of the beauty of the world and the gratitude that we have for each aspect of Creation.
During bedtime, one of our favorite rituals is thinking of three things we are grateful for that happened during the day. I'll never forget when my son said one night when he was four years old: Thank You God for my home.
5. God teaches us greatness. I tell my children the story of Abraham who was born into a house of idols and had the courage to find God on his own. I speak about how Moses led an entire nation out of Egypt even though he had a speech impediment and thought that he didn't have the personality to be a leader. And I tell them the story of King David who was teased and isolated from his brothers. He not only became a king, but he also learned to transform his pain into poetry by writing the beautiful Psalms. God gives us these examples of our ancestors' struggles to teach us that we, too, can achieve greatness, despite whatever obstacles we may encounter in our own lives.
6. God gives us perspective. Our Sages teach us that this world is like a womb. It can be dark and narrow. We are dependent and vulnerable in so many ways. And it’s the only world we know. But one day we will be "born" into a different reality, and parts of our lives that did not make sense will suddenly become clear.
God gives us perspective in our lives. He helps us step back and accept that sometimes we won't have answers in this world. But we know that this reality is only a speck of time; it is a corridor to a world where there are no questions. I teach my children that death doesn't mean an end; it indicates a transition just like a baby being born into this world. I teach my children that the life we see in front of us is just the beginning of God's infinite world.
7. God teaches us responsibility. I teach my children that God created each of them with a special mission that only they can fulfill. We talk about how we can use each of our strengths and talents to make this world a better place. God gave us each incredible potential, and He expects us to fulfill it. We are not permitted to just sit back and give up.
But most importantly, I raise my children with God because it's true. He is present – in my home, in my heart, and in the light of my children's eyes. He is here, raising my children with me.