How to Open Your Child’s Heart to Spiritual Growth: Interview with Melissa Trevathan, M.R.E.

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It is such an honor to have you here on the Minno Life blog. Tell us a bit about why you became a counselor and spiritual leader for young people.

It all started out with an eight-year-old little boy I knew and loved whose parents were going through a divorce. Out of that hurt, he wrote this poem,

“My urge is yet to feel your grip, and see you once again.

And yet I don’t know why my urge is so,

maybe you will know.”

I felt like those words described something so many kids feel and don’t know how to communicate. Every child—every person for that matter—has deep longings inside. Often, people don’t know what to do or where to go with those feelings . . . especially children. The deepest need (or “urge” as that boy described it) that we all have is for a relationship with someone bigger than us. Every child is longing to know that they are loved and that they make a difference. Kids experience that sense of love, belonging, and purpose through their parents, their friends, their mentors, and their family. But I believe that need is only perfectly met in relationship with God. He loves His children so much and there’s nothing we could ever do to lose His love. That’s the foundation that Daystar Counseling Ministries is built on. I can’t imagine ever building a counseling center without His love at the center of everything we do.

What do you see in your work is the greatest challenge facing parents today in leading their kids in faith? Why?

Faith is something that takes time. The thing I hear the most in my office is how busy and tired parents are. Their kids are busy and tired too. We all are. And yet spirituality is something that starts small and grows slowly inside of us. It’s so much easier to try and teach your kids about faith from a distance. But over 30 years of working with kids and families has shown me it’s children experiencing truth for themselves that really makes a difference. Parents don’t need to use too many words or have all the answers to big questions. So the good news is . . . the pressure’s off because you don’t have the power to directly change the heart of your child anyway. All you are called to do is walk beside your kids and give them opportunities to hear, see, taste, feel, and experience God in daily life. I love helping families learn how simple it can be to make faith a part of everyday moments as you’re going along in the busyness of life.

What simple, easy-to-implement advice would you give today’s parents about guiding their kids, specifically on their spiritual journey?

It’s all about experiencing truth like we’ve been talking about. Think of moments in your daily life you can use to offer your kids the opportunity to experience truth. Help your son deal with guilt by writing something he’s done on a rock and throwing it into water. Talk about Micah 7:19 and how God casts all our sins into the depths of the sea. Leave a note of encouragement with a bible verse in your daughter’s backpack when you know it might be a hard day at school. Surprise your kids by waking them up on a beautiful starlit night to go out and look up at the sky. Use that moment to talk about how big God is. Anytime you bring in an element of unpredictability and surprise, it can open up their hearts in a new way.  

What is your favorite method for engaging kids in conversations about God and faith? What gets them and keeps them interested?

I encourage parents to keep these three words in mind: Soften, Shape, and Strengthen. This is the model my dear friend and psychologist, Dan Allender helped me develop many years ago when I started Daystar Counseling Ministries. When a child first walks in for counseling, their hearts are often so hard that they aren’t open to hearing much from us. For this reason, we moved our office into a little yellow house filled with comfy furniture, happy dogs greeting everyone in the lobby, and hot spice tea and popcorn going in the kitchen. This works in our office and it can work in your home as well. Think about how you can create a warm, friendly, disarming atmosphere to help soften your child’s heart. Once there’s a softness there, kids are more open to receiving the truth about God. Share what you’re learning in your own faith, start discussions about truth that means a lot to you, and most importantly, ask them questions. That’s how the shaping happens. And finally, strengthen your kids. What keeps them interested is believing God has a special purpose for them. They start to see that their life can make a difference. Call out what you see growing in your kids. Encourage their purpose. Be a part of a community where they are around other kids who are growing spiritually. When they see peers that care about faith, it awakens their hearts to want more too.  

What would you say is the greatest hindrance keeping today’s kids from growing in their faith?

Parents want their kids to be happy. Kids want to be happy. Of course, we all want that, but the desire for happiness can start to feel like pressure too. Kids begin to believe life should be easy and they should feel great all the time. We forget about John 16:33 when Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble . . . ” You are going to feel sad, angry, and scared at times. Life isn’t going to work the way you thought it would. When we put so much emphasis on being happy, it’s easy for kids to think that something is wrong with them when they feel sad. There’s never been a more important time to let children know that life is going to be hard sometimes. You can say, “It’s okay to feel rejected or lonely or discouraged. Of course, you have all those feelings this side of heaven! Let’s talk about it. I want to listen. Let’s remember why we can ‘have peace’ and ‘take heart’ no matter what we are going through.”

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 MELISSA TREVATHAN, M.R.E. first became a youth director at the age of 16. Since that time, she has been a teacher, retreat leader, head of spiritual life at a private school in Nashville, and is the founder and Executive Director of Daystar Counseling Ministries, which began in 1985. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Melissa has spoken to various churches and schools across the country, taught graduate courses in counseling adolescents and been a guest on television and radio programs throughout the United States and Canada. She is a popular speaker for parents, and kids of all ages. Melissa is the author of eight books, including Raising Girls. She also appears on the Raising Boys and Girls podcast. When Melissa is not listening, speaking or writing, she’s usually on her bike or playing with Blueberry, her Old English Sheeppuppy, somewhere between Nashville and Kentucky Lake. You can follow her on social media at @raisingboysandgirls and find the latest parenting resources at Raising Boys and Girls.