Q. I have a child who just turned six. Lately he has been preoccupied with the concept of talking to God. He is concerned that God doesn't answer him because he can't hear Him. I tried to explain both that hearing God is not the same as hearing a voice, but rather a sense of receiving God's intention, and that at his age he is not expected to be able to hear God. Do you have any recommendations on how I could answer my son the next time he brings it up?
A. Dear Beth,
Before I speak to your explicit question, I'd like to first address a more important issue. It is hard to know from your letter whether you feel your son is obsessing about talking to God. You use the word "preoccupied," implying that you may be concerned with the amount of time/energy he is investing in this activity.
If this is true, you may want to talk with a professional about your concerns. If this is not the case, ignore the above, and I'll go directly to the question you posed.
Judaism teaches, and has always taught, that God listens and hears all, every word uttered to Him. More than that, words directed to God bring, like prayer, great pleasure to Him, and are, literally, the foundation of human existence.
I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but it is essential for you to know that our tradition teaches that the central purpose of creation is for human beings to develop a deep, even intimate, relationship with God.
This is really a longer discussion, for another time, but let it suffice to say here, in two sentences, that this relationship is accomplished in two ways -- through fulfilling God's commandments and through prayer.
Some of the commandments, or mitzvot, can help us establish an overt connection with God -- these include keeping the Sabbath and Kosher laws. Others can help strengthen our bond with Him -- such as when we treat our fellow human beings in a just and compassionate manner by acting like God.
A PERSONAL CONVERSATION
Your son is talking to God, which means he is involved in personal prayer.
There is structured prayer, which is very important, using the same words our people have used for thousands of years, and there is personal prayer, something I cannot overemphasize enough as the root of faith and the cornerstone of the human-Divine relationship.
The ability to talk to God about personal matters is a precious one, a skill that will serve your child well through life.
The ability to talk to God about personal matters is a precious one, a skill that will serve him well through life. It means he is never alone. It means he has God as friend, as loving parent, as intimate partner to whom he can relate through the joys, the hard times, and the every day details of his journey.
All of the above is written in the interest of encouraging you to be careful. Your approach to your son so far clearly demonstrates your commitment to this. My compliments. How wonderful that your little boy sees God as real. Treat this as you would a fragile flower, with gentleness and great care.
TIPS FOR NURTURING FAITH
You can nurture his faith by:
- Showing your joy that he is reaching toward God.
- Validating his feelings that you know it is hard to hold onto that belief if he can't hear God's response.
- Reassuring him that God listens and is interested in every single detail that your son would like to share, and always answers his requests although at times the answer is "no."
God doesn't talk to us directly and we don't know why. Perhaps it's to teach us to look for Him. It's in the looking for Him that we grow.
Please tell your son also, that as he gets older, if he is on the lookout, he'll be able to perceive God's response at times, and may discern God's message through different messengers.
Lastly, express to him in the language of a six-year-old, that closeness with God is a gift and encourage him to never let it go, even when it feels like God isn't there.
If you can communicate these ideas, you will truly be giving your child the gift that keeps on giving.