Kids say the darndest things about God

Story highlights

  • In a new book, children tell best-selling author how they see God
  • The responses showcase more similarities than differences between children of different religions

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)On the way to school, I told my girls there was something I wanted to ask them. As I prepared to write a story on a delightful new book on how children see God, I realized I never asked my daughters, ages 8 and 9, directly how they view God. How would they describe God? What do they think he/she looks like?

Sure, we have talked a fair amount about religion, especially since I was raised Catholic, but my kids are being raised Jewish. We go to synagogue once or twice a year for the high holidays and my oldest daughter just started Hebrew school, but still, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what my kids specifically thought about God until I asked them.
Their answers blew me away.
    My younger daughter said she thinks God is the moral in stories. Every story she reads usually has a moral, she said, and that's God.
    My older daughter said she thinks God controls everything.
    Hearing what children think about God is like opening up "wonderful little treasure boxes" and seeing what comes out of them, said comedian Monica Parker, author of "OMG! How Children See God."
    Monica Parker, author of "OMG! How Children See God"
    Parker's own upbringing served as the impetus for the book, she said. Her father was a member of the Church of England, her mother was Jewish and from Austria. "So I joke that on the day I was born, I was both ... baptized and matzo-balled on the same day," said Parker, who is also an actor, writer and producer and has a recurring role on SyFy's "Defiance."
    Religion was never discussed in her household, she said. "I used to see children holding the hands of their parents going into various houses of worship and I had this envy. I don't know that I was missing religion, because we didn't have any conversations about it, but what I was missing was a sense of community and a sense of place ... and I knew that I wanted to do better by my children."
    She and her husband, whom she describes as a "lapsed Catholic," decided to celebrate every holiday with their son. "Ritual was a big word for me because I didn't have that and I loved it and so we celebrated everything."
    When her son, Remy, was 7, he asked her, "Who is God?" She told him God is inside everything, from spiders to trees to humans.
    "Then he came the next morning and he said, 'Mom, Dad, I know who's seen God.' And we said, 'Who?' And he said, 'Doctors, when they cut people open.' "
    That literal image stayed with her for years (her son is now 30) until she decided to pursue a book looking at how children in today's world see God. So many kids are coming from multicultural backgrounds, so many are in divorced households, so many are being raised by single parents, she wondered what they were thinking, especially when news coverage of religion often showcases the passionate believers and nonbelievers and rarely people who don't fall into either category.

    'Who is God?'

    Parker started asking children on her street in Toronto, Ontario, and then expanded to her wider network, and eventually traveled from the United Kingdom to Germany to the United States to make sure she had children representing every economic, cultural and religious background.
    Their responses to questions including "Who is God?" "What does God wear?" and "What is God's job?" range from the hilarious to the touching and deeply poignant.
    "God doesn't have a house. He doesn't need one except on Sundays 'cause that's the day he likes to rest," said Ethan, age 8.
    Wrote Kayla, who is 8½, "I wish God could make me famous SOON!"
    "I call God when I need help with things but not my homework, because my mom says I have to do that by myself," said Jackson, 7.
    Said Max, 8, "My father never believed you were real but my mom did, but then she got sick and now he prays to you but my mom doesn't anymore."
    Manny, who's 6, wrote, "My mom talks to God when we need more money."
    Parker said the responses show children "remain openhearted and openminded." They may come from different religions but there was never a sense their thoughts about God set them apart. "I felt as though it were a very open club that we could all join," said Parker, who is also author of the best-seller "Getting Waisted: A Survival Guide to Being Fat in a Society That Loves Thin."
    "I never felt that one child would have ever said, 'My God is better than your God,' unlike the contest that we have going on right now," said Parker, referring to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that we've heard in the U.S. presidential race.

    How to talk to kids about God

    Putting her book together has been a "door opener" for many parents who have children but who never talked with them about God, she said.
    When she approached people asking to interview their kids or give them five to 10 questions that they could pose to their children, she heard from many parents who said, "Oh, I'd love to know that because we've never had the conversation."
    Her advice to parents who haven't talked with their childlren about God and don't know how to begin is to read her book to their children. "It opens a dialogue immediately," she said. "You sit down, you just turn to any page and look what happens. ... It's a great conversation starter because I think that the kids can educate the parents, because no matter what a child asks, you can't ignore a child's questions, or you shouldn't."
    Parker said she was also intrigued to write the book because of how "God" is used over and over in our language, from "Oh my God" to "goddammit" to "God, I'll never do that again." She was also curious about how and why people have fallen away from religion but still think about God on holidays such as Christmas and Kwanza or when the "emergency bell" rings in a family.
    "So what that means is that somewhere on this third or fourth track, for a lot of people, there is a sense of God and I think we're really praying to our higher selves when we do this. In some way, I think we're asking the universe to guide us, to help us."
    As any parent knows, we learn a ton from our children, and their thoughts about God are no different.
    The first page of the book opens with Emerson, age 12, raising questions about whether there really is a God, and the book closes with the words of Uma, age 11, who said, "God lives wherever you imagine. ... To believe in God, you need to imagine. God does anything you can imagine."
    How do the children in your life see God? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Parents on Facebook.