is God mean?Recently I spent time after school with a 5-year-old in my extended family. Her homework assignment that day was, “List at least five words that describe you.” After she gave her list I called out to her siblings, “Hey, do you want to do this too? And they did. Then it was my turn. I started my list of words describing myself when one of them added, “Mean—sometimes you are mean.”

Well, that was a new one for me! I’d never been called mean, at least not that I could remember. Selfish? Sure. Insensitive? Sometimes. But mean??? That’s pretty harsh.

“Sometimes you are mean.”

mirror is God meanOvercoming a first impulse to be defensive, I began to investigate: “Tell me about the last time I was mean to you.” I listened without comment or criticism to several minutes of conversation, and the evidence became clear. I was mean anytime I said no to a request, or when I said “Wait and ask your mother; she’ll be home soon” to something the child wanted to do.

That’s a normal response to get upset when we’re told no. We all want life to go our way. So I simply acted as a mirror for the child: “You want me to say yes–not no or wait–when you ask for something. You seem frustrated with me.” There was a momentary silence (I’m inwardly hoping it was an Aha! registering in the child’s awareness) and then we moved on to something else. Just planting a seed.

It got me thinking…. Do some children believe God is mean, too?

Most children (and adults), at one time or another, want God to use God’s power to give us what we want. A child will pray. In the midst of upsetting circumstances, the child might pray with tears, “Don’t let my parents get divorced.” “Please make my cousin get well.”  When the outcome is not what the child asked for, some children can turn away and accuse God of not loving them. Who wants to get close to a God who is mean? Other kids might conclude that there is no God.

Be aware and keep listening.

Encourage kids to tell you how they arrive at their conclusions about us, or about God. Let them speak without criticism or argument. The topic will arise again and I want to be a trusted listener when it does. Don’t you?

Tweetable: Do you sense that your child believes God is mean? Despite their outward compliance with your family’s religious beliefs, something else may be brewing under the surface. Click to Tweet