Note: I have chosen to use quotations around the word “God” in this post to make it clear that I am referring to “God” as a conceptual worshipped figurehead, regardless of religious affiliation. Please, no offense intended!
I consider myself more spiritual than religious, but I recently attended a talk called “The Future of God” that really piqued my interest. Most of the discussion centred on the spiritual journey within, which is more my speed, but one woman’s comment totally grabbed my attention. Who knew it would translate into some solid parenting tips we can all use! As the figureheads in our children’s lives, we can embody “God” for them, and provide a peaceful resting place for their torment that they are incapable of carrying by themselves.
She said one beneficial aspect of having an external “God” figure, is that when we’re completely overcome with our realities, we can find immense relief and support in being able to speak to “God” and feel that we can lay our burdens down on bigger shoulders than our own.
What a sweet and comforting thought. “God” as an altar for our burdens.
It really hit home the next day when my son was going through yet another challenging toddler moment. Whether it was a power struggle or his lack of language to express his big emotions, he was completely overwhelmed, frustrated, and upset.
Normally I would be so quick to swing into Mama mode, soothing by any means necessary. And rightly so, no one dares to leave a wailing child, right? Society has trained us all so well. We soothe, pacify, hug, kiss, shush, console. And then once the wailing is contained, we distract with songs, stories, toys, books, and God forbid – phones! 😉
But imagine it’s you there wailing. You’re not in any physical pain, just overwhelmed with life, grappling with big existential questions about the universe. You’re completely at the end of your psychological rope so you look up and say “I give in God. I need help! Please, whoever you are, wherever you are, help me!” And God replies, “Shhh, quiet down! Here, just play this game on my phone for a minute. You’ll be fine. OK? You’re FINE.”
Woah. Suddenly what was meant to be a loving consolation becomes a totally belittling emotional shutdown.
So back to my son and his toddler wail. I observed for a minute and then decided this time I’m going to hold my tongue and my usual supplications. I knew he was in no physical pain. It was a mental and emotional struggle he faced. We sat together and he cried and cried and cried. I touched his shoulder gently, but not too much. I gave him lots of space. He wailed some more, until eventually it petered out. And then he smiled.
I didn’t try to explain it. I simply held space for him until it was done. Eventually he collected himself and we went about our day.
So if “God is the altar”, then maybe this hippy mama can learn something from organized religion after all. Let the altar of Mama be a sacred place where my child can lay his burdens down, without judgement, without fear, and even without shushing. Let him come and wail in a quiet and calm space until his well is empty. Let him collect himself and realize on his own that so much in the world is unknown with no easy answers. Oddly enough, there’s comfort in that. And maybe one day he will build his own altar of Papa for his own children to cry on until their tears run dry.