Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast, we are joined by Amy Baker. Amy is a counselor on staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana, and has been there quite some time serving in the ministry there. She is also an adjunct professor at Faith Seminary, also there in Lafayette. We’re so delighted that Amy is here with us. She’s been counseling for quite some time. Many of you may know her even from some of Faith’s videos of her counseling that many of you have observed. We’re so delighted that she’s with us today to talk on this very important topic of counseling children. So Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Baker: Thanks. I’m happy to be here, Dale.
Dale Johnson: As we think about counseling children, sometimes that’s a scary thought. How in the world are we going to deal with counseling children? Most people find themselves counseling adults, so would you encourage counselors who have only been counseling adults to think about how they can minister and counsel children as well?
Amy Baker: This answer might surprise you since we’re doing a podcast on counseling children, but I would not normally suggest that you counsel children. We want to do everything that we can to help parents with their children. God has entrusted these precious souls to parents and God gives parents preferential status in bringing these children up. He hasn’t given it to the government. He hasn’t given it to the church. He hasn’t given it to biblical counselors. He hasn’t given it to schools. In fact, he has conferred the primary oversight and blessing resulting from having these children to the parents.
As counselors, we want to view it as our first responsibility to equip the parents to carry out this privilege commission from God. The implication of this view is that we first want to meet with the parents not the children. We want to equip them to help their child. Second to that, we want to meet with the parents and the child, and as our least preferred measure, we would want to meet with the child without the parent.
Dale Johnson: It’s interesting that you say that, and I’m so glad to hear you work through that idea that we might have a desire to minister in that way, but keeping in mind the proper authority structure that God has granted from His Word and making sure that we’re working through that authority structure to help this child in the best way that we can. That’s really helpful, Amy, as we think through that process.
If we think about counseling children, many of us as you mention, are quite reluctant to work with children. Part of it is because we’re unfamiliar with children. Maybe it’s been a long time since we’ve had children; or maybe we don’t have children that are that age and we’re unfamiliar with how to address them; maybe there are special techniques with a child at this age or that age and we believe these kinds of special techniques might be important for counseling children. Can you help us think through some of those techniques and how we think through counseling children?
Amy Baker: Sure, because I think there are going to be occasions when a parent may not be willing to be involved in counseling or there’s court-ordered counseling, that we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where children do need the counsel. We need to work with them directly, even though I’ve begun by saying that we want to work with the parents if we can. In those situations, it can be very intimidating. If you’re not routinely counseling children you think, “Wait, I don’t know about play therapy,” or “I don’t know this,” so it can be really intimidating.
But I’d like to just encourage those who are doing biblical counseling that for children, the struggles, the desires, and the hope are no different for children than they are for us who are adults. Children, just like adults, wrestle with really profound thoughts and questions, and while we often think that we need a different approach to counseling—and we certainly do want to tailor our teaching on our interaction to the understanding of the child—it’s my observation that children struggle with the same desires that adults struggle with. They are lured by the same lies that adults fall prey to, and they find hope in the same source adults find hope in: our Lord and Savior. Just like for adults, my endgame for counseling children is this: I want these precious little souls to have a hope in and love for God, which is to stir up a desire in them to know Him and to follow Him with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love others as they already love themselves. No different than what I want for adults.
Dale Johnson: I love that, because when we think about children, sometimes we have different ideas of what their needs are, which the Scriptures describe what it means to be human. What they need is to learn to be wise and how to interact in the world in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord. There’s not a difference in relation to that. Now you said that children just like adults wrestle with these profound thoughts and questions. That’s always really fun to sit and talk to a child and you realize, “Oh man, they asked some really difficult and deep questions.” Can you walk us through an example of what something like that might look like? Some of the profound thoughts that a child might have?
Amy Baker: I would love to do that. Let me tell you about an 11-year-old that I had the privilege of counseling. This sweet girl came to counseling because she had been wickedly abused by somebody in her past. As I worked with her, I was just struck by the profound thoughts and questions that were going on in her soul. Early in our counseling, I asked this dear girl (who I’m going to call Maya) to draw a picture for me of her relationship with God. And the picture that she drew would just make you want to weep.
The picture had four frames in it. In frame number one, she depicted herself kneeling by her bed to pray to God. Then in frame number two, she showed God responding to her prayer by saying her prayers don’t matter. Then in the next frame, she depicted herself searching for answers by reading her Bible, questioning why she couldn’t find answers. And then in her final frame, she drew God responding to her Bible study by asking why He should give her answers.
Now as we discussed that, Maya told me that she didn’t believe God responded to everyone that way—just her. She was convinced that she was different somehow. She didn’t think that she was precious to God, and she had concluded that God doesn’t always mean what He says in the Bible. So knowing this, I concluded that if I were to jump in and just try to immediately direct Maya to passages which show the depth of God’s love for her, that that would probably not be helpful. I was pretty certain that Maya would be convinced that those passages were meant for other people, but they didn’t apply to her.
Dale Johnson: So it’s one thing for us to have a conversation with the child and for us to engage in life with them as we talk about their life and get their understanding of some of these deep and profound thoughts and questions that they have. It’s another thing altogether once we hear those to know what in the world we do with a situation like that. So can you describe, when you hear information like that, how do we walk them through and help them with those things?
Amy Baker: I’ll tell you what I did with Maya. Along with other things, I decided to have Maya look at the Book of Job with me. Now even as I directed her to Job, I was internally asking myself like, “Amy, are you just being an idiot here? Job is not the easiest book of the Bible to digest,” and here I’m asking an 11-year-old girl to study it with me. But we began to look at Job who also suffered and didn’t understand what God was doing. After just looking at Job 1, Maya initially observed that like Job, God was letting Satan in her life, but unlike Job, she was not keeping faith. So already she’s looking at it. She’s seeing herself in that situation and she’s saying, “Yeah, Job did this, but I’m not like Job. I’m not keeping faith.”
She also pointed out that Job got answers and she didn’t. So then we went on to Job chapter 3 where Job begins to question what God is doing. Precious Maya said, “I don’t understand God. God doesn’t care about me.” Job questions what God is doing; he doesn’t understand God. Over the next few sessions, we spent time in Job 9 and 10, looking at the questions Job asked God and some of the statements that Job made about God. We went through Job chapter 9. In Job 9:14-20, Job says, “God won’t answer my questions,” and in verse 21, Job says, “I despise my life.” Verse 22, Job is concluding there’s no difference in how God treats the wicked or the blameless. Verse 23, Job comments, “God mocks the despair of innocent people.” As we continue on in chapter 9 verses 25 through 28, Job makes the conclusion, “Even if I decide I’ll act like I’m happy, God is still going to be against me. As we come down to the end of the chapter in verse 29, since God has decided that I’m guilty, what’s the use of trying to act right anyway? Verses 30 and 31, even if I try to clean myself up, God will just make me dirty again. Verses 32 through 35, Job thinks, “If I could just go to court and get an impartial judge, that judge would tell God I’m good. He should lay off.” Then finally as we begin chapter 10, Job is saying, “I loathe my life.”
I asked Maya where she had similar thoughts and questions, and to my surprise, Maya was able to reframe each one of Job’s responses that we just went through in chapter nine to a similar struggle in her own soul. This is an eleven-year-old, taking those struggles that Job is struggling with and she reframes them to very similar struggles in her own soul. She struggled with all these same things.
Dale Johnson: You have me intrigued as we’ve worked through this, keeping in mind Maya’s situation and how the Lord was able to use some deep struggles and use His Word to minister to her. Describe to us what happened after that.
Amy Baker: Eventually we moved to the end of Job, and God responds to this very godly man. I observed to Maya that God didn’t answer Job’s questions. Instead what God did was reveal Himself to Job. We looked at what happened then when God did reveal Himself to Job. We went to chapter 42 and just looked at some of the beginning verses in that chapter where we see Job’s reply to the Lord. Job says to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things. No plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” And I paraphrased Job’s response for Maya in the following way: God is at work doing things far more wonderful than I can understand or imagine. So I need to trust.
As part of her homework, I asked Maya to write that sentence on a card and just review it a number of times each day. Maya did that and when she came back the next week, she had done an excellent job of thinking about Job’s response. She had made some connections from his response to her life and that had given her some hope. I thought, “Well, I’ll have her keep working on this.” So I assigned it to her again for the next week and Maya said that she intended to write that out again and put it by her bed so she could have two cards, and one of them she’d be able to see all the time when she was in her bedroom.
So you know, that wasn’t the sum of our counseling. It’s not as if everyone should counsel children from the Book of Job—that’s the answer of counseling children. Of course not. We also looked at a number of other things with Maya. We also looked at Christ who was dearly loved by His Father, yet He cried out in agony on the cross, “Why have you forsaken Me?” So this is just a tiny snippet of that process. And even when we did stop meeting, the book wasn’t closed. Maya is just like all the rest of us. She’s a work in progress, but God in His kindness guides us in our walk, and He walks with us holding us by the right hand.
I’m sure Maya is going to face new questions as she gets older just like all of us. We need to keep running to God and crying out to Him. But for eleven-year-old Maya at that point in time as I was meeting with her, for her the struggles, the desires, and the hope were no different than for those of us who are adults. Christ is our light, and that light began to become apparent for Maya from the Book of Job and as God worked in her heart and life just as He does with adults.
Dale Johnson: As you’re talking, thinking of the way the Lord Jesus tells us to approach Him as a child and hearing the testimony of Maya wanting to approach God with deep faith, knowing that the same Spirit that guides us, God’s children, into truth as well and using His Word—it is helpful in that way. As we help children, we always need to remember that the soul of a child wrestles with so many of the same struggles that older souls wrestle with. God’s Word is full of help and hope for them as well. Is that what you’re saying?
Amy Baker: I agree completely, and I want to just encourage those who are counseling adults to not be intimidated by counseling children. It’s not special techniques that are important. It’s God and His Word and our Savior.
Dale Johnson: Amen to that.
Conference Message: An Introduction to Counseling Children by Amy Baker