A note from Barbara Coots, Editor of Single Matters: Nate Stevens, speaker and author of Matched 4 Marriage Meant 4 Life: Solving the Mystery of Relationships, encourages singles across the country to take a fresh, scriptural look at matters of the heart. Based on a segment of Mark 12:30—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength”—Nate’s book examines the 4 aspects of life and relationships: spiritual (heart), intellectual (mind), emotional (soul), and physical (strength). For a romantic relationship to thrive, all 4 aspects must be in healthy balance. A sought-after speaker, Nate has been called “Dr. Phil from Fort Mill,” referring to the small bedroom community south of Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives. He is also a single dad of two—Melissa, a recent college graduate, and Mitchell, a junior in high school. Here, he offers advice to Single Matters readers about parenting, based on the 4 relational aspects.
Barbara Coots: Nate, can you offer some favorite Scriptures that have guided you in your own parenting?
Nate Stevens: Sure. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” And Proverbs 3:5-6 is also a good one: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Training the child and trusting God—they go hand in hand.
BC: What are some differences in parenting young children versus teenagers and young adults?
NS: Before they reach the age of accountability—before they can fully understand and grasp the consequences and rewards of their actions—young children are reactive, and parents at this stage are more protective. It’s pointless to reason with a three-year-old. When children get a sense of who they are and start understanding the consequences of their choices, we parents can start asserting ourselves more and begin to equip our children for life in the 4 aspects.
BC: How do you incorporate the four aspects in parenting?
NS: We look to their spiritual needs. We pray for them, intercede for them and let them know about spiritual warfare—give them a sense of the values we’ve developed over the years. We should not say just “Here’s what I believe,” but also “Here’s the why behind what I believe.” Too often parents get caught up in “because I say so.” As adults, we don’t accept that. Our children are entrusted to us, and we hope they will be a part of the body of Christ. So they need to know the reason behind our faith. There’s a danger about getting apathetic over the spiritual aspect because of the culture we live in. It’s the most important aspect, and it’s important that you teach your children absolute truth and instill a moral compass. If your spiritual framework is weak, your intellectual choices and decisions will be affected.
The spiritual and intellectual dovetail. There are a lot of things in the Bible about your mind. Romans 8 talks about spiritual warfare, which begins in the mind. And 2 Corinthians 10:5 advises us to “… take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). Test your thinking and reasoning against the truth of the Scriptures. Our minds are more than just educational mechanisms; they are involved in how we make choices. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father allowed the son to make a poor choice. He didn’t rush after him or join him at the pigpen. Interestingly, when the son came to his senses—the mind—he realized, “I’ve got to go back where I started from.” When you come back to your senses, you go back to your moral framework.
BC: What about the emotional aspect? As a single father, what challenges have you had?
NS: Going back to the Bible, Scripture tells a lot about God healing the betrayed, rejected and brokenhearted. Jesus met the woman at the well at her points of need in the 4 aspects. After her encounter, she was different, and she ran to tell everyone. Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). If you point people to Jesus and explain what He’s done in your life, He will do some amazing stuff.
In our parenting, we can’t shy away from the emotional piece. Just as the spiritual is the vertical level of relationships, the emotional is the horizontal level. Feelings are the subjective offset to the objective intellect. Use the moral compass of the spiritual aspect to analyze your feelings. Go back to the Scriptures and ask, “Is what I’m feeling valid?” To help guide children through the teenage years, tell them feelings are a normal part of life. But if they think, “Am I unworthy? Am I undeserving?” refer them to Scripture. In highly emotional times, encourage them to be still, get quiet; we can only hear God’s whispers when we are quiet.
Most men have been stereotyped to the old adages taught as boys: “Hold it inside; play through the pain, don’t ever cry.” The two emotional expressions seemingly acceptable for boys are anger and violence. They work well in sports and competitions, but never in relationships. Women say they wish men were more emotionally available. So the challenge is “How can I equip my son to be emotionally available?” My mind is drawn to Jesus. He had charisma that attracted kids to him. He cried. He was angry. He was frustrated with His disciples. He was peaceful. He expressed an entire breadth of healthy emotions. When I speak to men, I tell them that if Jesus demonstrated the emotion, it is okay for us to demonstrate it. I also find two of Christ’s primary emotions—love and compassion—are the complete opposite of the world’s stereotype for men.
BC: What advice can you give about accommodating the physical needs of children, especially human touch?
NS: Naturally, we make sure they are fed and clothed, and their needs are met. But children also have love languages needs; sometimes as parents we overlook that. To some children, physical touch is very important; others may get more affirmation out of spending quality time with you playing a game or swinging in a hammock. When you work at knowing who your children are, you can work better at meeting all their physical needs.
BC: What about parenting adult children? If we’ve made mistakes and they are spiritually wayward, can we use the 4-aspect approach when they look to us for mentoring in adulthood?
NS: It’s never too late to start approaching life from a standpoint of strength instead of vulnerability. From a growth and development perspective, until you know who you are—it has nothing to do with chronological age—you find it hard to figure out how you fit in. You may be clingy, needy and desperate, looking to others for your affirmation instead of finding it in God and yourself first. In my book, I talk about the 4 aspects as they pertain to relationships, but I suggest we first think about how they apply to us as individuals. Once adult children learn their preferences, strengths and weaknesses in each aspect, they will better know who they are. A great place to start is by taking several personal discovery tests including love languages, spiritual gifts, career preferences, personality tests, etc.
BC: Do you have a success story you can share from your own parenting experience?
NS: Parenting is tough—there’s no book of instructions and no guarantees. I poured myself into my children and shared the 4 aspects with them. I taught them to think about why they feel the way they do, how they respond, how they love, who they are and what’s important to them, so when they go off to college they don’t have to figure it out. My daughter became friends with someone in college. She later said, “Dad, he was saying all the right things and pushing all the emotional buttons.” She used her strength in the spiritual and emotional aspects and shared, “You gave me those warning signs, and I eventually saw through the smokescreen.” She was equipped to help avoid what may have involved emotional pain and consequences.
BC: Other than your enlightening book, can you recommend any other resources for parents?
NS: There’s a great book called Soul Healing Love by Beverly and Tom Rodgers. It talks about how all through life there are things and events that create soul wounds in our lives. It raises a valid point: There are things that happened in your life over which you had no control. Those “soul wounds” will affect you, your self worth and your relationships. The book draws attention to how we can approach healing for those wounds.
Nate is a regular contributor to Single Matters and can find more of his articles on faith, relationships and singleness each month.