Can you use the Immanuel approach with children?

The really short answer is “Yes.” For a much more thorough answer, read on.

As described in chapter 7 of the book, widows in Colombia have been using the Immanuel approach to facilitate healing for psychological trauma in their own children, the people that Dr. Wilder trained in Asia have been using the Immanuel approach to facilitate emotional healing for traumatized children (see footnote #12), friends of ours, Rhonda and Danny Calhoun, used the Immanuel approach to facilitate emotional healing for Sarah, a 13 year old girl they were working with, and Sarah used the Immanuel approach to facilitate emotional healing for her 12 year old friend, Claire. Furthermore, we are getting a steady stream of very encouraging stories from many others who are using the Immanuel approach for emotional healing work with children.

For example, when Emme was nine years old several girls in the suburb where her family lived reported men in a car pulling up beside them and offering to give them a ride. Furthermore, in one of these situations one of the men had actually gotten out of the car and chased the girl. Even though she wasn’t personally harmed or threatened, and even though these worrisome events never developed into anything more dangerous, something about these frightening incidents got stuck in Emme’s mind in a way that was traumatic. She became persistently fearful about being “stolen” by strange men, and began having recurrent nightmares in which she was kidnaped, kept in some kind of cage or jail, “and I never saw my family again.” She became fearful of walking in the neighborhood (even with a group of friends), to the point that she insisted on being driven to and from school and to and from her friend’s houses. She even felt unsafe in her own home (delete per Emme’s request/embarrassment): , and would lock all the doors) if her parents stepped out of the house for as little as three to five minutes. On top of everything else, her fears about being kidnaped caused her to begin fearing that she might not truly be a believer: “If I’m not trusting God and experiencing peace, maybe I’m not really a Christian.”

Cognitively, Emme realized that her persistent fears and frightening dreams were abnormal (none of her friends, exposed to the same news about the same incidents, had these fears and dreams). And she hated the way her fearful thoughts and dreams made her feel. But she couldn’t get rid of them. She would experience partial, temporary relief when her parents and others would remind her of the promises in scripture about the Lord being with her, reassure her regarding their presence to protect her, and reassure her about the reality of her safe neighborhood, but she would quickly slip back into fearfulness, with the frightening thoughts about being kidnaped feeling more true than the Bible verses or her parent’s reassurances. And this unhappy state of affairs persisted for several years.

Fortunately, Emme’s grandfather (a close friend of ours, who Emme calls “Grand”) is an experienced Immanuel approach facilitator, and she heard her parents talking about how he would pray with people whenever he was in town. After hearing many stories about how these people experienced healing and freedom as a result of praying with her grandfather, she asked her Mom and Dad if she could be one of the people Grand prayed with the next time he came to visit. So when her grandparents came to visit just before Thanksgiving 2011, Emme was first in line. In the middle of the Immanuel prayer time, Emme began to think about being kidnaped and to feel the familiar fear associated with these thoughts. But then something different happened. As she describes it,

“Always before, I would get so overwhelmed by the fear that I wouldn’t think about anything else. But during the prayer time, for the first time, other thoughts came into my mind while I was thinking about being stolen and feeling the fear. . . . I wasn’t trying at all to find the answer myself – Grand had told me to just listen for what God’s going to say to me – and these thoughts just came into my mind all by themselves. . . . ”

When I asked Emme to describe the subjective quality of these thoughts, she said that they “. . . felt different from my usual thoughts – somehow they just felt different,” and then added, “It’s hard to get words, but somehow I knew the thoughts were from God, and they felt true.”

According to Emme, the Lord started out with the basics, resolving her fears about whether or not she was truly a believer. “God said, ‘You are Mine,’ meaning, ‘You are a Christian.’” And then the Lord reassured her with simple yet powerful truths, such as “Do not be afraid, for I am your god,” and, “I will always be with you. Even if your Mom and Dad aren’t with you, and you feel alone, you’re not really alone. I will always be with you.” Finally, God explained to her that “. . . when we go through hard times, and bad things happen, God knows we’re gonna get through it with His help. He’s not going to let anything happen to me that I can’t handle.” “And then He said, ‘Do not fear. I will help you get through it – whatever happens.’”

One of the most important points is that these thoughts from the Lord felt true. Furthermore, follow-up reveals that they have continued to feel true, and that they had power to bring deep and lasting change. When her Mom, Dad, and others reminded her of Bible verses and reassured her regarding the safety of her neighborhood, she would begin to struggle with doubts regarding the verses and reassurances within minutes to hours, and the frightening thoughts about being kidnaped, the associated fearful emotions, and the haunting nightmares would all return in full measure within days. In contrast, it has now been more than two months since her Immanuel prayer time with her grandfather, and she has remained completely free from doubts, frightening thoughts, fearful emotions, and scary dreams. Now the truth consistently feels true. When I was talking to Emme on the phone a couple weeks ago, she spontaneously commented, “It’s silly to be so scared. I live in a safe neighborhood, I’m with my friends, my parents are close by, the Lord is always with me – why should I be afraid of being kidnaped?” These realities now feel so true, and her old fears now feel so unreasonable, that she almost seems to forget that for several years her frightening thoughts about being kidnaped felt more true than verses from the Bible or reassurances from her parents. At the end of our conversation, she popped out with, “I’m for sure more joyful, more happy, now that I’m not scared all the time.” [2]

In addition to these encouraging testimonies, we are now also getting stories from parents who are incorporating the Immanuel approach into day-to-day family life. For example, Dr. Ian M., a friend of ours and psychologist in Winnipeg, Canada, has been teaching his children about the Immanuel approach for life. He has talked to them about the truth that Jesus (Immanuel) is always with us, he has taught them how to perceive the Lord’s presence and establish an interactive connection, he has taught them that they can turn to Jesus and engage with Him as a living person when they encounter difficulties in life, and they have discovered that the Lord can and does respond to them – in their hearts/to their spirits. With this foundation in place, he can easily use the Immanuel approach as part of day to day parenting interactions.

For example, he was at the stove one evening, frying hamburger for dinner, when his four year old daughter, Selah, came into the kitchen and informed him that she needed a drink of juice. When he told her that he would be glad to get her a drink, but that she would have to wait a few minutes until he was done with the hamburger, she responded with, “No, I need a drink of juice right now!” And when he repeated that she would have to wait a few minutes, she began to escalate into tantrum mode, with crying, tears, and increasingly intense demands of “I need a drink now! I need juice right now! I need juice now, now, Now, NOW!”

At this point Ian knelt down in front of his daughter, face to face, eyes to eyes, and said, in a gentle, soft voice, “Honey, would you be willing to ask Jesus what He wants to say to you?” Immediately her crying stopped, and Selah held up her hand towards Ian and said, “okay dad, be quiet.” Not in a harsh way, but more with an intended meaning along the lines of “It’s Jesus’ turn to talk now. Please be quiet so I can hear Him.” She paused, completely still and quiet for maybe ten seconds, and then said, “Jesus said that I need to be patient and I need to wait.” When Ian asked, “Okay, so what are you going to do?” She respond promptly with, “I’m gonna do what Jesus asked me to do, dad – I’m gonna be patient and wait.”

Selah then just stood beside Ian, smiling, watching, and waiting quietly and patiently for him to finish frying the hamburger. It seemed to Ian that Selah continued to perceive Jesus’ lingering presence and feel connected to him as she was waiting, and she seemed quite pleased that she now had what she needed to be able to wait. Quite impressive, really, when you consider that she had to wait five to ten minutes before he was able to get her the juice, and this is a very long time for a four year old who was demanding immediate action only moments earlier.

As of November 2011, the summary from all the information we have gathered is that even very young children can embrace the Immanuel approach to life, [3] and when they do this it provides an ideal foundation for routine parent-child interactions (and any other aspects of day-to-day life). Our cumulative information to date also indicates that the Immanuel approach for emotional healing is particularly safe and effective when working with children to resolve psychological trauma. Special safety and effectiveness for emotional healing work makes sense, since helping the child establish an interactive connection with the Lord at the beginning of the session, coaching her to focus on Jesus and keep going back to Jesus throughout the session, and having the initial positive connection as a safe place she can go back to if she gets stuck, would all be expected to contribute to making the Immanuel approach especially gentle and safe. For these reasons, we strongly encourage using the Immanuel approach when working with children. We especially encourage using the Immanuel approach, with generous initial time “just” being with Jesus, if the child has had negative experiences with any other emotional healing tools.

We are hoping to eventually present a much more thorough discussion of using the Immanuel approach with children. In the mean time, see the essay, “The Immanuel Approach/Theophostic-based Emotional Healing with Children,” for what we have available at this time.

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