A Means of Coping
Hearing the painful news that your son or daughter is embracing an LGBTQ+ identity can cause any Christian parent to feel profound pain and heartache. I often sit with mothers and fathers who share stories filled with complex relational challenges and heartbreaking circumstances. I have also watched parents resort to all kinds of measures to manage their emotions and pain—from seeking some sense of control by lecturing their children and by turning to sources of comfort to self-medicate or simply trying to distract themselves from thinking deeply about their child altogether. These behaviors are commonly referred to as coping mechanisms. Conscious or unconscious, coping mechanisms are developed to manage painful and uncomfortable emotion. They help us survive traumatic events, endure stressful circumstances, and find some sense of comfort or assurance that everything is okay. I would like to take a closer look at the very common, but often subtle, coping mechanism of denial.
Surprisingly, denial can be healthy in the middle of a surprising or traumatic event, as denial allows you to be removed enough from an overwhelming emotion so that you can function until you have time to process the situation. Take the mom in this story, for example: A middle school teacher checks her email on a lunch break and discovers that her 17-year-old daughter is taking hormone therapy through the family insurance plan. Because the mom can’t afford to allow the weight of this discovery to completely undo her in that moment, she temporarily removes herself from her emotions before getting back to her classroom, knowing she just has to finish her day and make it to the car before breaking down in tears. Or consider parents who are completely taken off guard by their son disclosing to them that he identifies as gay. Rather than exploding from shock and devastation, they exercise self-control and compose themselves when hearing their child’s news, responding in words of love and care, despite how significant of a blow they had just received. In these ways, denial can certainly aid in the moment when the need to control difficult emotions is critical. It can also give a parent time to process his or her child’s issues at a pace that the parent can manage.
Even though denial can play a healthy role in parents’ emotional process, it often lingers much longer than is helpful. Although initial denial alleviates negative feelings and reactions, prolonged denial is detrimental, only making matters worse over time. Consider a few ways hurting parents may persist in denial as a means of coping with their situation:
- Not believing their son or daughter is telling the truth about his or her perceived sexual or gender identity. It can be tempting to minimize what your child feels about herself, perhaps chalking it up to confusion or just going through a phase. Certainly this could be a possibility for some kids, but if your child is truly embracing an LGBTQ+ identity and you continue to dismiss it, then this will only lead you to hurt your child and damage your relationship with them.
- Pretending that their child’s sexuality or gender identity is their own issue to manage and doesn’t really affect the parents. Denial can give a false sense of resolve by reasoning that your child’s issues affect him or her alone and therefore you needn’t be directly involved or impacted. This is commonly the case for fathers who feel that there is no sense talking anymore about the issue if they can’t fix it. This reasoning minimizes the grief your child has caused and keeps you from sharing the painful burden you are carrying, besides keeping your child at a distance.
- Pretending that your child’s sexual or gender identity will resolve itself and will go away in time. Because denial shields you from uncomfortable realities, it also prevents you from engaging in what is really going on in the life of your child: his story, his relationships, his day-to day-reality. If your child lives outside the home or you have a cordial relationship as long as this issue is not brought up or acknowledged, you may be tempted to resist God calling you to engage in loving your child by bringing up her sexual identity; this gives you a false reassurance that things will work out without your direct involvement. This kind of denial hinders a parent from loving his child in a personal and relevant way.
Remaining in denial can feel safe and comforting, but, in the long run, denial will only hinder you from participating in the work that God desires to do in and through you from these hard circumstances.
Embracing Growth and Change
When seeking to cope with uncomfortable and painful circumstances, we must consider how Scripture offers guidance to us in our heartache. Romans 5:2–5 says,
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
This passage invites us to embrace hardship and suffering because of all that God wants to produce through it: endurance, character, and hope, grounded in the love of God! This is certainly not a common go-to coping mechanism, yet walking through suffering in faith is the only coping strategy that is firmly grounded in the love of God and hope of his redeeming purposes.
Prolonged denial is focused on temporal relief and avoiding the responsibility of confronting your unpleasant reality. Although this can alleviate the anxiety and pain in the moment, if prolonged, it results in cutting off access to the means of healing and growth that God is willing and ready to provide.
If you are a Christian parent of a child who embraces an LGBTQ+ identity, take a moment to examine yourself. Where are the places of denial that God may want to address in your heart? Perhaps you need to finally acknowledge your child’s same-sex partner, ask more details about your child’s experiences as he wrestled with his gender identity, or simply talk to a friend or spouse about how you are really feeling this week concerning your child.
If you know a parent who may be in stuck in a place of denial, consider pursuing them out of love. Ask them to talk to you more about how they are feeling. Consider how you can discover what God may desire to do in his or her life from this difficult trial.
May you be comforted with the knowledge that God not only desires to alleviate the burden of your pain and discomfort, but he also wants to use these circumstances to demonstrate his providential care and strength through your life.
In any family, conflicts between parents and their children are to be expected. Especially as a child grows into adulthood, it is only natural for them to develop their own unique beliefs, values, and worldviews that may differ from those of their parents. Although parents can invest all the time and energy in the world into instilling biblical values into their children, they have little control in determining who their children will become. I can still remember the feeling of unease when my dad was preparing to lecture my brothers and me after we had done something foolish. Of course, I already knew everything my dad was going to say, so it registered about as well as Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Little did I know I would be here sitting in my mid-30’s reflecting on how true my dad’s words were in those lectures!)
When a child adopts values and beliefs that go against the teachings of Scripture, Christian parents find this extremely challenging, resulting in tension, arguments, and conflict. Perhaps there isn’t a clearer place this can be seen today than in Christian families with an LGBTQ+-identified child. The child’s worldviews, adopted from the LGBTQ+ community that contrast directly with biblical worldviews, often result in tremendous turmoil among family members.
Let’s consider just a few of the arguments and presuppositions of the LGBTQ+ community that conflict with a biblical worldview.
- “My experience of sexuality and gender is the truth I must follow and the authority by which I come to understand myself,” versus, “God’s Word is the ultimate authority that informs how I understand myself and my experiences, including matters of sexuality and gender.”
- “My sexual or gender identity defines who I am; therefore, it should be celebrated and embraced as good,” versus, “Sexual or gender struggles are a result of my broken condition as a sinner. Although my desires may feel natural and right, they must not be gratified or embraced as good if they contradict the Word of God.”
- “To disagree with my sexual or gender identity is to speak against me as a person and therefore is both unloving and an attack on my psychological wellbeing,” versus, “God’s love accepts me as I am, yet works to conform me to his holy character, so that I might be free from the bonds of sin and alive in righteousness.”
Do any of these conflicting values and beliefs resonate with what you have experienced between you and your child? Perhaps you can identify others that lie underneath the disagreements and tension.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul defines these arguments and opinions that rise against the knowledge of God as spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include false beliefs, thoughts, arguments, and reasoning that stand in opposition to the truth of Scripture. Individuals who embrace them will be bound by them and, in turn, will be unable to see God or themselves rightly. The fruit of this bondage manifests itself in a person’s behavior.
Paul is giving us insight into where the real battlefield is: the spiritual realities at work in your son or daughter’s heart. Your child’s underlying beliefs that stand in opposition to the truth of God’s Word become a stronghold that can be seen in the fruit of their actions and words. Paul’s reminder to the church of Corinth is the same reminder we need today: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Not against flesh and blood
We are often far too shortsighted when it comes to doing battle against the issues we see in our children. Typically, parents try everything in their own power to address the behaviors they see. This might look like wanting to talk sense into their child, giving them articles or books to read, rebuking or disciplining them, and trying to convince them of their error. Although these strategies may have their place, they are often a means of doing battle with ”flesh and blood” and are misguided in addressing the real powers at work. Paul’s words remind you that your aim must be set at doing battle against the spiritual strongholds that undergird your child’s beliefs. It can be helpful to consider where the bulk of your efforts and energy is directed to. Are you waging war according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God against the spiritual strongholds that exist?
Weapons of our warfare
Parents who belong to Christ possess great power to do battle for their children. In fact, according to this passage, you have divine power to do battle against the strongholds that exist in your child! This is true because of the One who is in you, as 1 John 1:4 says: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Because of the victory Christ has over sin and death, you can have confidence that battling for your child is not in vain. But how do you do this?
God gives us divine power through the spiritual weapons available to us in Christ. These weapons, as Paul lays out in Ephesians 6:10–18, consist of the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes fitted with the readiness given by the gospel of peace. When parents suit themselves up with the armor of God and remember to pray on all occasions, they are most prepared to battle effectively for their children. Here are a few closing questions for you to consider as you examine the weapons of your warfare.
- Do you pray truth over your child more than you speak it to them? Speaking truth has had an important place in your role as parent through the years. But if you still are acting as if your own words, or even your persistently repeated biblical words, are the primary weapon that will reach the strongholds, you are mistaken. The more you recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more your prayers to him will outnumber and outweigh your own words to your child.
- Does the truth of Christ guard your heart from despair and hopelessness for your child? Despair and hopelessness are bad fruits that can indicate a reliance on your own strength and effort, which simply cannot win and so can only lead to despair.
- Are you concerned with your own personal growth in righteousness, even as it pertains to how you relate to your wayward child? The true battle of prayer always brings us, ourselves, to transforming relationship with Jesus. As James says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).
- Do your words and actions toward your child reflect the demeanor of one who is controlled by the peace of God? If you are not resting in the power of God alone, it will show in fruit like frustration, anger, manipulation, or a tendency to take over and make things happen the way you want them to.
- How might you grow in discerning when you are waging war according to your flesh? According to the power of the Holy Spirit in you?
May you remember that your struggle with your son or daughter is not against flesh and blood, and that God has given you divine power to combat the spiritual strongholds that grip your child’s heart and mind.
Join Chris and Shalee as they talk about how to help parents whose children self-identify as LGBTQ+. They discuss common struggles and challenges that Christian parents face as they process the initial discovery, hold on to the truth of God’s Word, and walk forward in a loving relationship with their children.
What parents need most when they first discover that their children identify as LGBTQ+: Someone who can listen to parents’ experience of shock, grief, pain, and confusion is what they most need in these initial stages.
Specific challenges that parents now face in their relationships with their children: Parents need support in figuring out how to navigate their relationships with their sons and daughters, love them with integrity before God, and trust the Lord’s sovereign purposes.
Unexpected findings on this journey: Parents can learn how God works to draw parents to himself, making them more like Christ as they persevere through this trial.
Impact on the helper: It is a great privilege to walk with hurting parents, to be trusted with the most sensitive matters, and to witness strong faith and courage in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
Many Christian parents of an LGBTQ+-identified child feel at a loss for what God is up to in their families. One of the most common questions you may find yourself asking again and again is, “God, what are you doing!?” When you contemplate your child’s situation—from the devastation and deep hurt you have felt to the haunting question of your son or daughter’s relationship with the Lord—you will undoubtedly search anywhere and everywhere to discover where God is working.
More often than not, you may feel that these questions are left unanswered, but you can be assured that God is at work, and you can pray for his purposes to prevail. God may use these difficult circumstances to draw your child closer to himself and to bring conviction of the truth deep into your child’s heart, dislodging the false beliefs they have adopted and the negative influences that surround them. The God of Joseph, who used what was meant for evil to bring about good (Genesis 50:20), is the same God in whom you can place your hope and trust as you consider where your child’s journey may lead.
Out of all the ways in which God could possibly work, there is one purpose that you can be sure he is accomplishing through these difficult circumstances. This particular work of God may not be as obvious to you, but rest assured that it is there. This is the purpose that God is actively working on your heart. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).
This familiar passage in Romans may not be the most comforting words at first glance—this is not my “go to” passage for a parent first discovering their child’s chosen identity—but opening your heart to this promise of God is sure to bring clarity and hope as you see God’s tangible work unfold in your life.
The Lord, in his sovereign providence, has placed you on the difficult road on which you find yourself. If you are in the love of God, he is at work using these circumstances to make you more like his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Lord desires to comfort you in your pain, guide you in relating to your child, and soften your child’s heart. But there is more that God desires to do through the suffering and trials you are experiencing; he wants nothing less than to remake you into the image of his Son.
Practically speaking, what might this look like?
Embracing this purpose of God’s refining begins by taking your eyes off of your child and putting them on yourself. The purpose is for you to pause and consider, “Where do I see God at work in me?” More specifically, ask yourself the following questions.
- How do I see God teaching me to trust in him with my whole heart and not lean on my own understanding?
- In which area(s) is God prompting me to relinquish control of my child’s life?
- What does this trial show regarding what my heart truly believes about God and who he claims to be?
- How is God challenging me to stand firm in his Word and its promises?
- How am I handling this differently now compared to when I first discovered that my child was identifying in this way?
- Where else have I seen God work in my heart through this hardship?
Questions like these will help you see evidence of God’s purposes at work in you and challenge you to embrace his sovereign will all the more.
Below are some of the things you may discover and enjoy as you walk in this purpose of God.
- God will show you more clearly your own broken condition and need for him.
- He will teach you how to love messy sinners in the same way he has loved you.
- He will give you the desire for him to be glorified through your family situation above everything else.
- He will open the door for you to comfort other hurting people with the comfort that you have received from God.
God has promised to use your son or daughter’s situation to bring about his good purposes in your life. I encourage you to invite God to work in you, in accordance with his will, that you might more clearly see his sovereign and good plan unfolding as he cares for you.
Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like this move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
To learn more about this topic, consider downloading Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity which is available as a free digital resource. You can also purchase Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom by Tim Geiger. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “What Lies Beneath Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this video.
Understanding your child’s perceived sexual and gender identity is no simple task. Perhaps you have tried to piece together how your child may have come to these conclusions about himself, but you still don’t understand what may have really formed the person he is today.
Although you may never be able to completely answer the how and why questions, you can be sure of one thing that lies beneath your child’s perceived sexual or gender identity: the desires of her heart.
Scripture speaks often about the fruit of our actions coming from what lies in our hearts:
“…from out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:4).
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality…” (Matthew 15:19).
This is a simple yet profound truth that gives great insight into the reasons for why a person comes to do what they do. Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like these move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
As you explore these questions, you will probably discover in your child’s heart some of the most fundamental desires that we all experience: the desire to be loved, the desire for acceptance and affirmation, the desire for freedom from pain and suffering, the desire for comfort or affection.
Perhaps your child longs to be accepted and loved by a particular person or group. Maybe she has always felt unwanted or different from others and desires to be affirmed and feel attractive. Often, going through tough experiences shapes the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If your son or daughter has learned that they can meet an overriding desire through sexual experiences, a romantic relationship, or a unique community, he or she will hold onto it tightly and oppose anything that may threaten the security of keeping it close.
We pursue particular desires because we think we are the authorities on how to bring ourselves joy and contentment. But when we pursue them apart from God, or when we cannot fulfill a particular longing, we begin to live for these desires, doing everything in our power to bring about their fruition. Jeremiah 2:13 paints a vivid picture of Israel’s disobedience in this way.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water..”
This is the inclination of our sinful hearts. We seek to have our needs met outside of God’s provision for life, and we turn to broken cisterns that we think will give us nourishment. Although the things to which we turn for life in the created world are nothing more than leaky cisterns, we revisit them over and over again, believing these wells can satisfy our souls.
Somewhere along the way, your child has come to believe that his sexuality or gender expression is a central means to having his desires met. Becoming aware of his underlying desires will not only help you understand your child better but will also have significant implications for your relationship with him. Let’s consider a number of things you can cultivate as a result of this insight.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Rather than reducing your daughter down to her behavior, you are able to consider how your child’s suffering and pain have uniquely shaped the particular desires that she wants to be met. Knowing your own tendency to turn to your choice broken cisterns can help you see that you are more alike than different from your daughter.
Dealing with tension and even hostility in relationship with a child is so challenging for parents. Understanding the role that desires play will help you make sense of his defensiveness and rejection of your interpretation that his sexual or gender identity is sinful.
Pray More Meaningfully
Rather than simply praying for behavioral change, pray for the desires of your child’s heart to be molded to God’s, knowing that he wants to satisfy your child’s desires with good things. Pray that God would show himself to be living water, faithful to meet your child in her thirsts.
Have Conversations that Move to the Heart
Knowing something about how desires lead to behaviors moves conversations beyond the surface fruit and helps you to discover what is in your child’s heart. Ask why his identity or sexuality means so much to him and how his sexual or gender expression meets his felt needs.
Although this may seem like a daunting task, as you apply these relational measures, your understanding of your child and what God may be after in your child’s life will become a little clearer. You will see that God does not simply desire to redeem your son or daughter’s behavior; he is after the heart. Though you aren’t able to see the whole picture clearly, he is still at work!
You can also watch the video, “Desires Fueling Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this blog.
The following is an abbreviated excerpt from Chapter 7 of our new parents’ curriculum, Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity, which is now available as a free digital download. Here are some thoughts about inviting others to help you in the midst of your struggle and suffering.
When a child “comes out of the closet,” parents often go “into the closet” in response. You may find yourself wanting to hide what has been exposed, seek refuge in isolation, and essentially cut yourself off from those who could help. Many rationalizations make this seem like a valid choice. Some parents hold onto the hope that their child will simply outgrow this phase. Others may be in complete denial, choosing not to believe that it is happening at all. Ignorance seems like bliss. Shame can also drive you into the closet, generating an intense fear of what others will think while simultaneously convincing you that no one else could fully grasp the situation. Some children who share their new sexual identity or gender with a parent are not yet ready to share it with others, so the parent is compelled to remain silent. You may feel entirely alone right now, holding onto a secret you are unwilling to share or are unable to disclose. Telling others that your son or daughter now identifies as gay or transgender makes the situation real, almost like an acceptance of their announcement. Understandably, hiding yourself away may seem like a safer alternative.
What is keeping you from bringing others in to help? Of what are you afraid?
You must share this burden with others. You were not created to cope with situations like this on your own, so community is essential for every parent. God has not only given his Holy Spirit and Scripture to comfort and guide, but he has also placed you within a body of believers who can walk alongside you through your struggles. You need others to reinforce the truth and authority of Scripture in your life. Scripture must be your anchor when you feel abandoned or confused by God’s actions. It is the place that shapes your reality and offers a firm foundation about both God and your situation, and often we need others to remind us of the truth found within its pages. You must bring your situation into the light, for the good of you and your child.
Though scary and fearful, sharing this news with others is vital. Keeping others in the dark about your struggles keeps you from asking for help or unburdening yourself. You will never be able to be real with others, creating an emotional distance that keeps you isolated and alone. You begin to live a lie. For this reason, God intended for his children to live in community, sharing one another’s burdens.
Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Relationships with others are a gift from God that is worth pursuing. We are made to be dependent upon one another. As a parent, you may be at your lowest point right now. You need others to lift you up, to carry you until you are able to stand. This is as God intended. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Ask God to defeat your pride and allow trusted believers to care for you. Finding others who understand your experience or are at least willing to deepen their awareness will provide comfort and relief that cannot be found in isolation. Other parents are going through the same situation as you are, and fellow believers who are willing to walk this path with you are out there, regardless of whether they have a gay or gender-questioning child or not. Other parents who do have similar experiences can provide essential guidance for all of the different stages of this process. Their knowledge becomes your knowledge as you face the unknown future. You also need others to remind you that God has not forsaken you and that his compassion and mercy extend to you in the midst of your struggles.
You need others to hear your story, to listen to your worries, and to help you understand your circumstances from God’s perspective. Community is a gift and cannot be considered optional. Inviting others in to help you process your child’s situation will lead to change within yourself and your relationship with your child.
Harvest USA offers online, short-term support groups for Christian parents of children who identify as LGBTQ+. Consider contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (215) 482-0111 and take this first step towards inviting others into your struggle.
The following is an abbreviated excerpt from Chapter 10 of our new parents’ curriculum, Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity, which is now available as a free digital download. Here are some practical steps you can take to connect with your gay or transgender child and pursue relationship with him or her:
Ask to Hear Their Story
Some of you have heard your child’s story. But if you have never taken the opportunity to sit down with your child and ask them specific questions about their struggles with sexuality or gender, it’s time to remedy this. The purpose is to draw near to them, understand them more deeply, and grow in insight concerning their particular struggles with sexuality and gender.
For many, this might be a scary step because it requires that you only listen. As you ask your child to share, make it clear that you do not intend to comment on what they say or make counterarguments, but that you simply want to better understand them and their experience. This is not a teaching discussion, but a moment to truly hear your child.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- What did it feel like for you growing up?
- When did you first begin to feel differently about your sexuality or gender?
- How did this affect your faith in God?
- Were there words from the church or from me that hurt you?
- What was it like to tell me the news about your new identity?
- What was it like to tell your friends?
- What was it like to keep this a secret?
- How do you feel now that you have brought this out into the open?
If your child lives too far away for this conversation to take place in person, or if your child feels afraid to have this conversation face to face, you can communicate with them through email or letters. If your child fears talking more openly with you, consider whether their fears are realistic and how you could help reduce those fears. In whatever form this conversation takes place, make a point to thank them for trusting you with their openness.
Purposefully Enter into Your Child’s World
Creating a climate of grace involves entering fully into your child’s world. This may not be a comfortable or desirous path for you, but consider how Christ entered our world. God sent his incarnate Son to identify with us, so you too must step into your child’s sphere of life.
Often when we face trials or experience rejection, we react in self-protection and retreat. Maybe you have reached out to your child, and they ignored you, grew cold, or shut you out until you agreed to accept their new identity. Maybe you believe the situation is more than you can handle; you find it easier to keep your distance. Or your child simply lives far away and is not in your daily life, so you tend to forget about initiating contact with them.
Resist the temptation to end your relationship with your child. Do not allow your pain to lead you to sin, either through neglect or with a sinful reaction yourself. You do not have to respond in kind to your child if they reject you.
Consider these practical ways to pursue your child that will show your continued love for them.
- Ask about their friends
- Ask about plans for the weekend
- Ask how school or work is going
- Take time to listen and respond
- Understand anew their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and who they are
- Ask them what they love to do now
- Discuss the latest movie, book, music, or sports game
- Ask what their favorite restaurant is
- Ask where they would like to travel and why
- Participate with them in their interests and activities
- Take them out for dinner, a movie, or shopping
- If they don’t live at home, visit them for fun or send a care package
- Bring them a special delivery of groceries
- Joke with them! Send a funny meme or picture
- Mail a card or letter
- Text, call, or email them
- Set up Skype or FaceTime dates
- Invite them and their friends to your home for an activity or a meal
- Spend time with them and their friends outside of the house
- Get to know their partner
Some of you fear that entering into your child’s world will somehow communicate your approval with their identity. But if you have already clearly stated your position on sexual or gender identity, you can rest assured that your child is fully aware of your beliefs. This engagement in their life is about them, about who they are as your child, and not about embracing the beliefs or ideas they hold. You can simply decline invitations to events or situations with which you feel uncomfortable, but do so prayerfully, and communicate your decision to your child gently.
Finding your way into your child’s world may take some time—there is nothing wrong with that, though you do need to take steps into their personal territory. Start small. Begin with conversations or find activities that you know they love. Engage your son or daughter in topics, events, and activities that you find safe. From there, you can build a strong foundation, and, strengthened by your relationship with God, you will be equipped to take larger steps into their world.
Consider the following questions today: Are you hesitant to reach out to your child? Why or why not? What is one way that you can enter into your child’s world this week?
The following is an abbreviated excerpt from Chapter 9 of our new parents’ curriculum, Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity, which is now available as a free digital download. In this excerpt, we invite you to consider how you can pursue your child and model the love of God through your relationship.
Likely, your relationship with your child looks different than it once did. Tension and distance may exist between the two of you. You may need to rebuild the foundation of trust and honesty with them. As the parent, you must be the one to initiate this reconciliation. View this responsibility as a blessing, as a chance to recreate the relationship in a new and more beautiful way, upon your own relationship with Christ.
As you actively pursue a ministry of reconciliation, one of the first steps is to create a climate of grace in your relationship. Essentially, this means that you communicate to your child through word, action, and deed that your relationship is a safe place for them. Regardless of their new position in life, you will continue to love them and be involved, even if their choices aren’t what you wanted for them. You can be a refuge for them when they need help or when life doesn’t go as they planned.
Below, we list four major components in creating this climate of grace.
Offer the Gift of Relationship
A climate of grace begins with offering the gift of relationship, without the requirement that your son or daughter first repent and turn from their lifestyle. Of course, repentance is required for complete reconciliation, but as God pursued you even while you were a sinner and enemy to him (Romans 5:8), you can extend this grace to your child. Do you find that you are waiting for your child to repent or change their ways before you offer this gift? Just as God does not break his relationship with you in response to every sin, so you can take steps toward your child even in the midst of them choosing a direction you do not support.
This is not to say that the relationship will be defined by all-out acceptance; rather, by relating to them in this way, they do not have to hide their feelings, questions, issues, or actions from you, even though you disagree. One major objective for doing this is for your child to return to you for future conversations, which may lead to more willingness to hear you out.
Model Your Own Need for God’s Grace
A second aspect of this climate of grace is modeling to your son or daughter that you need the same grace and forgiveness from God. You know that, every day, sin and unbelief plague your own heart, which also means that you can express thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and continued relationship with you. This truth gives you a deep humility in how you relate to others, especially to those like your child who choose to live outside of God’s Word. A posture of gratitude is the antidote to becoming the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
On a practical level, this means that you will acknowledge times when you have sinned and done wrong, while bearing in mind that your actions have not produced your child’s sexual struggles. Perhaps you need to ask for their forgiveness. Were there times you responded harshly or insensitively to your child’s chosen identity? Have you spoken words that belittled them? Has your response been one of open anger and disappointment?
As fallen beings, we all sin against our children, so we are called to confess and reconcile with them also. Reconciliation is a blessing in itself, leading toward openness and newness of relationship. It is a way to start over afresh, to make right what was once wrong.
Enter Fully into Your Child’s Life
A third aspect of this climate of grace requires that you willingly enter into your child’s life and interests. This will mean asking questions about his or her friends, partner, LGBTQ+ community, etc. You cannot have a viable relationship with your child apart from taking an interest in what he or she considers important. Again, engaging in this way may bring up fears about you approving of your child’s decision, but consider the ways in which Jesus entered closely into the lives of people who were not followers of God. Read John 4 about the woman at the well. Consider the slanderous description charged against Jesus, that he “ate with sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9:11, 11:19). Recall that he had fellowship with religious authority figures who were against him (Luke 7:36–50). Do you see how Jesus met with, related to, and cared for those who were outcasts and enemies? This enables you to engage with all of your child’s life, even the difficult parts.
Lastly, in order to create a climate of grace with your child, you must acknowledge the reality that this is who they say they are, what they believe about themselves, and how they want to be known. Acknowledging who they want to be is not approving of their new identity. But if you find yourself wanting to deny that they now define themselves as gay or identify as another gender, and you would rather continue focusing on who they were before, you may find that your relationship with your child stalls rather than moves forward. Instead, you can reframe for your child what true acceptance looks like by loving them and accepting, not affirming, their choices while still standing firm in truth. In doing so, you will demonstrate the way in which God accepts them as well.
For a climate of grace to exist between you and your child, you must meet them where they are. Make-believe and denial will further impair your relationship. So while you continue to hope and pray for a change within them, you must also accept that they are now identifying as gay or as another gender.