Your worst nightmare has happened. Your child has come out to you. Whether that was 48 hours ago or 4 years ago, but your heart aches with the same intensity it did on day one, when they said the words you prayed you’d never hear, “Mom and Dad, I’m gay/lesbian/bi/queer/trans…” Perhaps it wasn’t even that clear and it went something like, “I’m in love with my best friend (same gender),” or “I’m struggling with a same-sex attraction,” or “I’ve always felt I was in the wrong body.” They didn’t say “the word,” but you knew they meant. I know you’re sad, I know you feel as if your world has fallen apart, that you feel you will lose everything if anyone finds out. I know that you are afraid your child will go to hell. I know you want to be faithful to God and do what Jesus would want you to do in this scenario. I know as a parent there are millions of times we wish there was a manual on what to do with our kids. The unknown answers of parenting are terrifying. Terrifying. It is easy to feel the fear and question of, “what if I get this wrong?!” I often think about it in terms that I practice as a therapist, “Do no harm.” Maybe as parents, it should be, “do the least amount of harm.” None of us are perfect and we will hurt our kids even though, with everything in us, we don’t want to. May this be our call, to do the least amount of harm possible.
Now your child has come out, the stakes feel even higher. And they truly are higher. How you have behaved and treated your child since they came out to you may be the most important time you have spent with them. This is more important than every single other moment in their life up until now. It’s important because it will determine much of how they feel, what believe about God and themselves, the world around them and of course you. When they came out to you, you may have said some variation on any of the following.
- I love you, but I hate your sin
- I’d rather you say you were pregnant
- You feel dead to me
- I’m praying for God to change you
- You are against God
- The Bible clearly says homosexuality is a sin
- You’ll go to hell
- My beliefs around this will never change
- Why have you rejected God?
- You are just giving into sin
- You are only doing the thing that feels good
- You can change
- You have been blinded by Satan, or
- This is all about lust.
Dear parent, if any of these statements crossed your lips, you have grieved God, offended the love your child believed you had for them, and are majorly missing the mark on how God would want you to love your child in this. Even though you may have felt pure hearted in your reaction, you messed up. As a therapist I can tell you; you are marring your child’s soul, turning them away from you, turning them away from God or any kind of belief in God.- ashes instead of beauty, like a dark mockery of Isaiah 61:3.. In the place of love and acceptance, instead of holiness and righteousness there are stacks of self-hatred, confusion, isolation and shame because of your treatment of your child. .
The most common phrases I hear, though, is that parents justified their reaction by saying they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Just so you know, “love the sinner, but hate the sin” isn’t even in the Bible. It’s a reference from Augustine and is translated, “with love for mankind and hatred of sins.” Today, the saying is popular because Gandhi wrote about it. I know when you say this phrase you feel as if you’re quoting God directly, but instead you are quoting a Hindu. You may have felt at the time that you were loving your child by saying that, but instead you were showing your own arrogance by thinking you could do something impossible – as though it were possible to divide, picking and choosing parts of someone to love and support. In fact, in context, the whole reason both Augustine and Gandhi said that phrase in the first place was to show its failings, how impossible it is to separate love of the person from who they are.
You may think your child has entered into some kind of drug induced, sex haze, lust gaze, sin entrenched bubble and that someday if you pray enough, or push them enough, or put boundaries around your relationship with them enough, that they will let go of their “chosen” sinful way of being.
Please. Please. Please listen to me on this. Listen to me, as a professional who deals with children like yours every day: THIS PLAN WILL NOT WORK. Not now. Not ever. NOT EVER. You are completely missing your child’s heart by showing this kind of hatred and religious intolerance. You are single-handedly destroying a lifetime of love. You are undermining what God intends to do in your relationship with your child. Do you know that they have tried to “get rid” of this thing for years? Do you know that they’ve contemplated killing themselves because they fear your rejection and know their sexual orientation, or gender identity is not changing? Do you know they’ve engaged in self harm; cutting their sweet arms and legs, making themselves throw up on a daily basis and wish they’d never been born? I do. I know these things because it tumbles out, all of the fear and anger you have sown in them. All of the mistrust for God you have shown towards them. This is not because of their “sin” it’s because of your distance and disapproval are incredibly painful for your child. YOU ARE HARMING THEM. The sweet beauty that God gave you, you are tearing their world into pieces.
If you continue down this path, I guarantee it will end up in one of three camps.
- Your child will distance themselves far, far away from you and do the hard work of rebuilding their internal worlds and external community. They will find new family to love them and will try and find happiness and wholeness while enduring through the loss of you.
- They will succumb to the deep cuts and pain you’ve thrown their way through your “love” and they will take their own life. They will put a rope around their neck and jump, they will put a gun against their temple and pull the trigger, they will take every pill they can get their hands on, they will crash their car into the wall at 80 miles-an-hour, or any other combination of termination. Their precious sweet life will be cut short, forever.
- Or the third thing that will happen is that they will do the thing you wish them to do. Your pressure paid off. It will feel as if your prayers have finally been answered. You will think God prevailed because your daughter is now marrying a man instead of the woman she lived with for the last 3 years, your child who said they were trans starts wearing “appropriate” clothes again, or your son starts playing sports like guys are supposed to do. It is a lie. Your child has felt the hopelessness of knowing you will never love them as they are and so they’ve done their best to push the real them deep down inside. They are living a lie. They have not changed, they’ve only done their best to shut down and kill their internal world. You might not be able to tell, but they will be deeply depressed, isolated and lost for the remainder of their lives.
Oh parent, oh mom and dad, how I wish you could directly hear God speak to you in the most tangible, visceral way in this matter. I wish you could see your child’s heart in this. They have suffered for so long. They have cried more tears than you can imagine, more than you will ever know. They have prayed longer, deeper and more earnestly than you could have ever attempted. If you could see their true heart for God, how they want to be loved, you would be the most proud parent on the planet. They’ve already read all the books on both sides of this argument. They’ve already tried to change. They’ve already seen that therapist you think will make your kid “better”. They’ve already done everything and cried out to God to either change them or take their life. But guess what – God has not answered their prayer because it’s not what God wants.
You have misunderstood God and Jesus’ heart in this. In fact you wanna know what Jesus said about homosexuality?
Not a freakin word.
What Jesus did address were the sexual minorities of his day; eunuchs. In Matthew 19: 12, Jesus said, “He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Jesus calls us to take care of those who are the least of these (your LGBTQ child) and above all, love your neighbor, period. And what is love? “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).
Dear parent, with everything that is in me and with all that I am, with prayers I’ve cried to God in hopes you can hear this, open your heart, mind and life to your child. Tell them you love them and then do the work of showing them. Be willing to be judged by your community, be willing to lose friends and be willing to open your beliefs to the power of love. Ask to be invited into your child’s life and show support without boundaries.
May it be so.