20 Aug 2020
Galatians 6:2 instructs Christians to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Bear someone else’s burdens?! How are we supposed to do that when our own hearts are buckling under the weight of our own problems? Even if we did try, how are we supposed to do that? What does it look like?
Paul uses the phrase “bear one another’s burdens” in his letters to the churches in Galatia and Ephesus (see Ephesians 4:11–5:14). These letters are not filled with suggestions; rather, they are commands for believers to “grow up in Christ.” When we are ensnared in sin, Galatians 6:1–10 beautifully explains how we come alongside each other by pursuing with love, seeking restoration with gentleness and humility, and compassionately carrying the weight of pain, shame, and struggle. In addition to Christ as the ultimate bearer of our burdens, God provides fellow Christians to share life’s weight. God never intended that our spiritual journey be limited to living on our own islands; instead, he gave us the body of Christ. But what does it look like to bear one another’s burdens in real life?
Our Harvest USA Women’s Ministry team calls those who bear our burdens “journey companions.” Journey companions are people you invite to intentionally help you grow in your relationship with the Lord. Some people might call this an accountability partner, but we prefer the term journey companion because, honestly, many Christians have taken the concept of accountability and formed misleading, unhelpful practices that, in the end, haven’t worked!
The journey companion relationship is more than a set list of accountability questions regarding particular sin struggles that only require “yes “or ”no” answers. We have found that for true burden-bearing relationships to work most effectively, there needs to be a relationship. This means that people come together for the purpose of transparent life-sharing about sin struggles and make commitments to grow in Christ through prayer and applying God’s Word. Simply put, journey companions agree to know who we really are and to encourage us through listening, speaking the truth in love when we fail, and faithfully praying for us.
The problem is that many of us have not experienced this type of life-on-life, burden-bearing relationship. If this is you, don’t be discouraged! You can find guidance for these relationships by seeking God in prayer and in Scripture.
Here are four ways we can bear one another’s burdens:
Provide encouragement for the painful and often difficult race of faith. II Corinthians 1:3 calls God “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.” Those verses don’t say some of our afflictions, but rather all. With God, “all” means “all.” In our heartaches and struggles, God lavishes us with his direct and personal comfort. Verse 4 says that God comforts us so that we might be able to comfort others with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. This is one of the most beautiful “pay it forward” blessings we can be a part of. May we be gentle, humble, compassionate conduits of God’s comfort to others.
Exhort one another to seriously battle sin without growing weary. Ephesians 4:12, 16, and 29 mention building one another up. Often, we take “building up” in Ephesians 4:29 to simply mean lifting up or encouraging someone. However, if we compare these three verses in chapter 4, we see that Paul has in mind all that is involved in building up the body “into” Christ—in other words, helping each other know and love Christ more and love each other more in him. Journey-companion relationships will involve real-life conversations that are specific to the struggles we experience, so ”challenge” should include speaking truth that is specifically shaped by that. The goal of our truth-speaking to each other is not merely to curb an undesirable behavior, or even to prevent sin. It is nothing less than deeper relationship with Christ and all that that entails, especially love.
Establish intentional and regular meeting times with life-sharing as your primary focus. Hebrews 10:24–25 soberly reminds readers that the day of Christ’s return is drawing near, and one of the things the author emphasizes is to “not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” Persevering in faith is a community effort, and encouraging one another to persevere requires consistently being together.
Notice any movement of the Spirit and celebrate spiritual growth together. This is often an element absent from these accountability relationships. We tend to focus so much on our sin or what we need to do to be a better Christian that we miss the beauty of seeing God’s hand at work. To be celebrated is to be seen by another. Don’t neglect to celebrate victories, new responses to temptation, surpassing peace, God’s provision of physical needs, or changed thought patterns. Basically, be on the lookout for any movement of the Spirit in someone’s life and name it! As we are called to weep with those who weep, may we also joyfully rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).
To some, the idea of seeking out a burden-bearing journey companion may prompt excitement, hope, and inspiration; others may feel fearful, anxious, and ashamed. We are all most likely in different places in our willingness to actively engage in these types of relationships. You know what? That’s okay! These relationships take time, but as we grow, we can seek to bear one another’s burdens by being present, offering Bible-based counsel, following up on struggles, listening intently, and celebrating any movement of the Holy Spirit that happens in our lives, one step at a time.
This blog post is taken from our upcoming Harvest USA Women’s Ministry discipleship workbook, which will be released in December 2020.
You can also watch the video, “Finding Faithful Journey Companions,” 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 email@example.com or calling (215) 482-0111 and take this first step towards inviting others into your struggle.
23 Jul 2020
Let’s meet this issue head on: Sexual abuse is possible within marriage. Wherever physically or emotionally coercive behavior infects a married couple’s sexual relationship, it is abusive. Any such behavior needs to be confronted with a call to repentance.
Some will contend, “But doesn’t the Bible say that a husband has authority over his wife’s body? Doesn’t that give him the right to sex on demand and in the way he prescribes?” 1 Corinthians 7:4 does say, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” Husbands sometimes invoke this passage to defend themselves or to complain against their wives. Do they have a legitimate point? Most of us instinctively say “no,” but how do we defend that? Here are three ways to explain that this passage does not justify sex on demand, even in marriage.
The issue in this passage is not “sex on demand” but “forced celibacy.”
It is important to note the question that this passage answers. Paul begins, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” Whether this is a Corinthian statement or his own, Paul begins this discussion by acknowledging that there is some moral value to voluntary celibacy. But Paul then proceeds to argue not only for marriage as a check against immorality but also to warn against “depriving one another” in marriage. Apparently, the matter to which Paul is responding involved valuing celibacy to such an extent that not only were men being encouraged to refrain from marrying, but even those who were married were encouraged to eschew sex altogether. In other words, the presenting issue is husbands thinking swearing off sex with their wives would be a spiritual virtue. They thought they would win religious points by giving up sex in their marriages.
So this is not a question of “sex on demand” but a question of “forced celibacy.” This is about a husband unilaterally deciding that there will be no sex in “his” marriage—and thinking that in doing so he increases his righteousness. Paul corrects this by pointing out that this is a violation of the wife’s rights. Consigning a woman to a sexless marriage was a serious sin, with implications much bigger than deprivation of pleasure; it would condemn her to barrenness (see the story of Onan and Tamar in Genesis 38:6–10 for an example of what God thinks about this). 1 Corinthians 7:11 provides evidence that some likely carried this celibacy virtue to the next logical extent: Divorcing one’s wife would be best—perhaps with the “kind” motive of freeing her to have children with some less righteous bloke. But that is not Paul’s solution. Rather, he explains that sex in marriage is a duty and a right; forced celibacy is wrong.
However, saying, “You should not force celibacy on your spouse,” is not the same as, “You must give sex to your spouse on demand.” Many times, circumstances or differences in mood or desire result in one spouse saying, “Not now, dear.” Such circumstances are not what this passage is talking about; they do not even come close to approaching the forced celibacy suggested here. It is incorrect to use this passage to deny someone the right to say, “No.”
Responding to a one-sided question from the man’s argument, Paul’s answer is pointedly mutual.
I find it ironic that the presenting issue in this passage involves men supposing it virtuous to deprive their wives of sex, while it is more common nowadays to hear men invoking this passage to complain of being deprived by their wives. Yet in either of these scenarios, part of the man’s problem is that he thinks it’s all about him. Paul corrects this by taking a statement speaking one-sidedly from the man’s perspective and answering it in a pointedly mutual way. Unlike other passages in which Paul gives differing instructions, different roles, or different authority to the husband and the wife, here, in the context of sex, he takes pains to emphasize perfect equality and mutuality. Beginning in the second half of verse 2, Paul gives a series of parallel statements, alternating speaking the exact same words to husbands and to wives. In fact, he carefully makes sure that even the order of address does not favor one over the other: In verse 3, the husband is addressed first, and then in verse 4, the wife is addressed first. In verse 5, they are addressed as a couple: “Do not deprive each other….”
This mutuality makes clear that Paul is commanding not an attitude insisting on rights, but rather of giving rights. He is calling on married couples to give of themselves for the good of the other, instead of seeking to get their “needs” met. As Dave White summarizes, “God gave us 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 because spouses need to be taught that selflessness must govern the marriage bed, and serving each other is the path to deep joy and fulfillment.”¹ This mutuality also creates a logical problem for the would-be abusive husband: If he would demand sex from her, claiming his authority over her body, won’t he need to use his own body to do it? But according to the passage, he doesn’t have authority over his own body; rather, she does. The mutuality of the authority makes all coercion and demand logically impossible.
This passage is best understood in the light of other commands of Scripture.
This passage’s call to mutual, selfless service is consistent with the rule of love expressed throughout the Bible, so it is right to group these verses with passages such as Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”—and Ephesians 5:25—“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A husband who knows and submits to his Bible will never use 1 Corinthians 7 to control or manipulate his wife.
¹God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019) 97.
09 Jul 2020
Our childhood experiences impact how we all think, desire, believe, and act as adults. But is there any value in reflecting upon those past experiences for the sake of repentance and transformation in the present? Believe it or not, this is a highly debated question among counselors, ministers, and anyone seeking to help those who are struggling in life.
At Harvest USA, we believe that understanding where we’ve come from, what has influenced and shaped us, and how to apply the gospel to those experiences is absolutely vital. Here are two ways that a growing understanding of the shaping influences in your life can help you battle sin and temptation today.
Healing Is an Aspect of Repentance
In Sexual Sanity for Men, Dave White writes, “You are not merely the sum total of all the individual decisions you make. The aspects of life outside your control are extremely significant and impact you as an individual.”¹
Repentance involves choosing to turn from sin to God. Notice this: We don’t repent of our sufferings; we repent of our sin. In order to effectively turn from our sin, we are helped by understanding why we sin. One major motivation behind sin is an autonomous desire to deal with suffering on own terms. A son whose parents neglect him and show him no comfort easily finds himself turning to masturbation for self-soothing, a pleasurable alternative to crying himself to sleep. A girl who is rejected by her peers and degraded by her father behaves with increasing promiscuity to find validation and worth. A young boy who is sexually abused by an older man is thrown into a world of fear, confusion, shame, and even awakened desire, which he has no ability to process; further, his family culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” keeps him from sharing with anyone about this traumatic experience.
So many men and women who struggle with sexual sin see Jesus only as their judge. They are all too aware that he sees their sin, but they have no concept of him seeing their suffering, especially suffering that happened decades ago, though it continues to deeply impact their lives today. Jesus came to be their Healer, Warrior, Advocate, and Comforter. Once people begin to experience Jesus as one who is for them, who has not forgotten their wounds, who came to heal them, he becomes a refuge for them in times of temptation and guilt. Most sexual strugglers have been hiding not just their sin from Jesus, but their suffering and shame as well.
God designed us to be fundamentally relational, as well as vulnerable to external influences. This is not a result of Adam’s fall into sin. Children are meant to be shaped by their parents, family, and larger covenant community, which should all be saturated with his Word. We are so moldable as children because God wants Scripture to inform our hearts, minds, and desires, both as it is formally taught and as it is lived out in everyday interactions and relationships. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Though God intended for us to flourish, man’s fall into sin has made our vulnerability to external influences a heavy liability. We all grow up in a world and culture that rebels against God and his Word. From very young ages, boys and girls are bombarded with unbiblical messages about what is desirable, what it means to be successful, what is means to be a man or a woman. Throughout our lives, we breathe in these messages every day so that none of us are immune to their shaping influence. So many of the men to whom I minister have never given thought to the fact that their beliefs and desires were, on certain levels, taught to them.
But this actually is the beginning of some very good news because, if our beliefs and desires are moldable, we have the opportunity to have them refashioned after God’s own heart. While decades of belief and wrong desire are not easily reformed, our hope for transformation rests in the reality that our union with Christ guarantees this kind of change—albeit with slow, gradual steps—as we daily abide in Christ and his Word.
A Word of Caution
As with every shaping influence in our lives, both good and bad, none of these external influences are ultimately determinative. A child may grow up in a godly, strong, safe, Christian environment and still choose to live a life of rebellion against God. Conversely, a child who grows up in a toxic, painful, ungodly environment is not without hope for gospel transformation that leads to a life of increasing sanctification.
This means that we can’t blame our sin on external circumstances. The Bible always locates sin in our hearts. God will not excuse our sin because of our circumstances. But neither does God discount our circumstances. He takes into account every nuance of our lives, from the biggest moments of trauma to the smallest offense imaginable. He remembers them, cares for us in them, and ultimately uses them to serve our worship of Jesus. Jesus came as a suffering servant: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). A greater understanding of the way we’ve suffered leads us to a greater understanding of the love of Jesus, the One who willingly bore our shame, suffering, sin, and guilt, to reconcile us to God.
¹ David White, Sexual Sanity for Men (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012), 51.
You can also watch the video, “You Are Always Being Influenced,” which corresponds to this blog.
09 Jul 2020
It’s not enough to simply think about desires and beliefs in a vacuum. Our context and our circumstances strongly shape what our hearts believe and desire.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our minibooks, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger and Raising Sexually Health Kids by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Your Childhood Experience Matters,” which corresponds to this video.
11 Jun 2020
All pleasure was meant to point us to Jesus, the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Betcha Can’t Eat Just One: Redirecting Desire, which corresponds to this video.
11 Jun 2020
Have you ever taken the Lay’s potato chip challenge and tried to eat just one? It’s not easy! Or consider the Pringles slogan: “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Even though we know there are healthier options, those chips taste so good that we want to keep eating more.
On a more serious note, though, we often find it hard to refrain from unhealthy, non-food indulgences as well. Why? Our sinful hearts easily turn pleasurable experiences into idol worship. We encounter something good, and then we often treat that thing as ultimately fulfilling. Have you ever been given a good gift, like sex within marriage, only to use it wrongly, such as a source of pleasure only for yourself and not for your spouse? We usually don’t view pleasure as a good gift from God to be received with thanksgiving. Instead, we see it as a need or a right. The idol then has the chance to persuade your heart to continue feasting, to keep coming back for more pleasure.
Whenever you believe that life is truly found in a certain pleasure, you will continue to experience a gravitational pull in its direction. You will be torn between fighting sin and believing you can’t live without it.
But God wants us to understand life and pleasure in a very different way. Pleasure in itself is not bad. It’s a natural response to anything good that comes from God. C.S. Lewis shows us how pleasure goes awry in his book, The Screwtape Letters. Speaking from the standpoint of one demon to another, he writes, “All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent to its Maker, and least pleasurable.¹”
Pleasure in its truest essence always finds its source in God. Sexual pleasure is not the problem. The problem resides in the receptor of pleasure, our hearts. As Lewis points out, our problem is that we indulge in sexual pleasure in forbidden times, ways, and degrees. We do this because we believe sexual pleasure will bring us life, justifying in our hearts our willingness to disobey God’s commands.
So what can you do to seek deeper transformation and experience pleasure as God intended? Here are three suggestions.
Cultivate a Heart of Thankfulness
Sinful pleasure has a dreadful way of killing our enjoyment of life. We become desensitized to so many good gifts while simultaneously becoming ultra-sensitized to one specific pleasure that controls our affections, time, and energy. Start re-sensitizing yourself to simple, good pleasures in life by thanking God for the food you eat, the bed you sleep in, the relationships in your life, and so on. Of course, all of these temporal pleasures from our benevolent Father pale in comparison to the pleasure found in our union with Christ.
Pursue Pleasure as an Act of Worship
God created you for worship. And while there are clearly-defined, formal ways in which God requires his people to worship him, he created you to bring him praise and glory in unique ways as well. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, an Olympic gold medalist, said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” For Eric, running was an act of worship. Running brought him incredible joy and fulfillment. But he also refused to let running be his source of life. As the movie shows, when the pleasure of running was offered in a way that stirred Eric’s conscience, he refrained.
How has God made you to feel his pleasure? In what unique ways has he called you into worshipful activities? Whether it is painting, reading, playing sports, parenting, or cooking, acknowledge your Creator and Redeemer in those moments. The more you live before God with your pleasure, the greater power you will have to resist turning that pleasure into an idol.
Fasting as a Way of Realignment
What are those things in your life that aren’t sinful in and of themselves, but that you use in degrees that are sinful? These are things that take too much of your time, attention, and affection, showing that your heart is out of alignment. Are you over-exercising, over-eating, scrolling social media with a jealous heart, or interrupting others in conversation to make sure your own opinion is voiced? Just as a car needs a realignment if it’s veering to one side, so too our hearts need realignment. Fasting is one powerful and purposeful way to give up those activities that you know sinfully pull on your heart. I would recommend at least a week-long fast. The degree of pain and struggle you go through to give that up is indicative of the life you were deriving from it. Allow your fast to be a time of repentance and also a time of true pleasure and life, which can only come from the Life-giver.
Idols lie to us that we are foregoing enjoyment when we forsake them. But nothing could be further from the truth. Idols take your heart’s capacity to enjoy infinite pleasures at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11) and shrivel it up, so that you can only enjoy the confined, ever-shrinking space of creature-worship. Believe instead that your heavenly Father will give you “fullness of joy” in his presence.
¹C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), 44.
You can also watch the video, How Does Jesus Meet Us in Our Desires?, which corresponds to this blog.
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.
The following is an abbreviated excerpt from Chapter 1 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 points to consider as you observe your son or daughter’s behavior and wonder how to pray for them:
As the originator of our actions and the driver of our behaviors, the heart is the essence of a person, the volitional core of who we are. Examining the heart will help explain why you—and your child—do what you do.
Looking Deeper Than Behavior
Any parent with a gay or transgender child is strongly tempted to focus solely on their child’s behaviors. It’s alarming to hear the new ways in which your child talks about sexuality and gender with their friends, or to see how they’ve changed their dress and speech. Your desire to pluck this bad fruit off the tree and cause it to disappear makes sense, but this is tantamount to changing only outward actions and speech—which never actually gets to the heart. It’s like trying to fix an apple tree by removing the bad apples and tying up good ones in their place. While it is not amiss to address your child’s wrong behaviors, to never move beyond them is superficial and incomplete.
Look at your own sin patterns. Have you been able to just stop doing what you know is not right? Or do you have sin struggles that you continue to commit over and over? While God’s grace can instantaneously cease sinful actions and change hearts, God usually works within us over time, giving gradual freedom from temptations and desires as he sanctifies us. Most likely, certain sin struggles may be with you—and your child—for the rest of your lives. Experiencing and recognizing this process within yourself will give you compassion and understanding when looking at your child.
Scripture tells us that God cares deeply about what resides within our hearts. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (ESV).
Knowing that, ultimately, the heart needs transformation can free you from focusing on and reacting to your child’s behaviors. It’s their hearts, not their behaviors that ultimately need to change. Unless their hearts are redeemed, sinful behaviors will simply be hidden or morph into other wrong actions.
When you see your child behave in an ungodly way, look deeper into why they are choosing that, instead of focusing on the outward action. Contemplate what they are trusting in. What do they value? What is their functional savior, the thing that they believe will give them life and happiness? You may not be able to answer these questions now, but considering them is a great start to knowing your child on a deeper level.
Pray for Heart Change
Psalm 51:10 reads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” David pleaded with God to transform his heart because he knew that God desires to sanctify all of his children. Since God alone can change and cleanse hearts, your job is to pray for your own heart as you pray for your son or daughter’s heart.
Pray for true change within your child, and remember that you are praying for more than behavioral change; pray for the redemption of your child’s entire soul. God has a plan and purpose for your son or daughter, so pray that God would conform your will to his.
Your child needs your prayers, and you have the privilege of praying for them to follow and obey God. If your child is not a believer or has rejected God, pray for their salvation. Pray that they would first be brought to a personal relationship with Christ. Knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior is the first step in turning from living outside of his design.
If your child declares that they are a believer and you see evidence of this in their lives, you can pray for the fruit of the Spirit to grow within them. Pray for more than just changed behavior; pray that the Spirit would transform their heart for following Christ and obeying him in all things. As Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Identify Good Fruit Within Your Child
As a result of the Fall, our lives are characterized by bad fruit and wrong behavior—yet God, in his mercy, allows sinners to practice good behavior, including your son or daughter. Your child is more than their bad fruit, or, more pointedly, they are more than their sexuality and gender.
Disproportionately focusing on bad fruit will harm your relationship and hinder you from loving your child well. You cannot have a loving conversation with them when all you see are their flaws, giving the sense that they are a problem needing to be fixed instead of the son or daughter you love. Strive to see them as a child of God who is still loved by their Creator—much like yourself.
Despite poor choices that may be hard to endure, your son or daughter certainly has good fruit that cannot be overlooked. Identifying good behaviors, attitudes, words, and actions is important for your child’s maturity and your relationship, so share with your child what you have observed to encourage them, strengthen them, and fortify your relationship with them.
True change is not found in simply altering one’s behavior. Rather, true change begins within, in our hearts. Every one of us needs God’s loving initiative to effect this kind of change.