The parents sitting before me had tears streaming down both their faces. Their 22-year-old daughter was now married to another woman. These Christian parents experienced understandable grief and heartache.
“It’s not just the pain over our daughter that’s so difficult—it’s the fact that grandparents and many of our friends have embraced it all. They all see us as the problem; we’re what’s wrong in the whole situation.” Though they believed that God’s Word was their guiding principle, they feared that they, too, might cave under the mounting pressure.
This couples’ fear is not unusual when facing these kinds of challenges. Siblings, grandparents, and friends of someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ or adopts LGBTQ+ theology all face similar trials when they are called to reflect both the truth and mercy of the gospel. How do we walk through this minefield, pursue humility in our own hearts, and yet remain firm in God’s Word? Here are a few things to consider.
Expect misunderstanding and persecution. Our culture’s man-centered theology is based on the heart’s desires, where there are no absolutes and everything is relative. When we take a contrary position, we become a threat and affront to others. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the debate about sexuality and the Bible. Believing that God speaks clearly and authoritatively about sex and sexuality is supposedly bigoted, unloving, and socially incorrect. You may be viewed as the problem or the enemy. Don’t let that shipwreck you! Expecting these responses and believing on Scripture’s reliability guards you from dismay when people react against your lack of approval or enthusiasm.
Engage and ask good questions. As others voice their disagreement with you, realize that all worldviews—how people see themselves, the world, and God—stem from past experiences, wounds, and powerful emotions wrapped around sinful and twisted hearts. While we cannot correct others’ views and convictions—which is the work of the Holy Spirit—we can try to better understand them by diving more into their story, who they are, and why they believe what they believe. This usually happens through genuine listening and asking good questions, which often helps people drop their defenses, leading to more productive, non-combative conversations.
Also, consider sharing your testimony, particularly highlighting your need of God’s grace. Admittedly, being able to do this is a supernatural work, especially when it comes to our families, where emotions can run high and quickly escalate. But taking initiative in conversations like this can actually strengthen your faith and make you feel less defensive yourself.
Embrace the hurt and suffering that come with being misunderstood or seen as the bad guy. Even though you may attempt the first two points above with sincerity, you may still experience real, ongoing pain and heartache. When we see family or friends pursuing a destructive path contrary to God’s will and his Word, we often feel powerless and hopeless. I’ve found that many Christians who eventually adopt the mentality of “gay is okay with me and with God” usually do so because they simply feel worn down and want to be thought well of by others. You may feel like you are alone in a desert, barely holding your own with your beliefs about God’s Word—but know that Jesus is with you. He too was in those desert places as he obeyed the Father and stood on Scripture.
Remember that this is a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we battle not against flesh and blood but spiritual forces of evil. Ultimately, only God can address the spiritual issues of family and friends’ blindness and rebellion. If you constantly feel pressured to change others’ views or make them see the light, you will likely end up frustrated and perhaps even begin to question your own beliefs.
Those who walk in blindness need what Tim Keller calls a “self quake” and a “God quake.”1 God is the one who must intervene to change hearts. Can you relinquish (not abandon) your family, friends, or loved one to the Lord? Can you trust God to write his story in their hearts and lives in his way and in his timing? The gospel is the greatest need for those who pursue sexuality on their own terms—along with those who agree with them and buy into worldly sexuality.
Bathe everything in prayer. Pray for those who disagree with you. This is pretty self-explanatory! Prayer both softens our hearts and allows us to seek the best in and for those who we love. You may feel incapable of doing anything about what others believe—or believe about you; for the most part, you are! However, we can pour out all of our troubles, fears, confusion, and hopes at the throne of grace, as well as gain the courage to boldly persevere.
Remain grounded in the Word yourself and seek the support of others. You are vulnerable to outside voices tempting you to give in, but the best remedy for standing firm for the long haul is to remain in God’s Word, continually steeping yourself in his perspective and truth. When I speak about how the Bible should inform our sexuality, someone invariably comes up to me and says, “Thank you. I needed to hear that and be reminded of the real truth again.” We always need to be reminded of the truths of Scripture. But we also need the help and encouragement of others who will walk with us, shoulder our fears and burdens, and hear our pain and confusion—people who will always point us to the Savior and the truths of God’s Word.
1 Keller, Tim. “The Gospel and Your Self.” The Vision of Redeemer Series on Isaiah 6, November 13, 2005. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York.
God created us as sexual beings, so it makes sense that our sexual desires would be a primary target for attack. Thankfully, God did not leave us helpless. He gave us his word, and he gave us Ephesians 6—a very well known passage addressing spiritual warfare. In this video, Shalee Lehning explains how we can pray the armor of God (as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20) into our sexual struggles and temptations.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, When an Unseen Enemy Assaults You, which corresponds to this video.
03 Sep 2020
What is it like to be a Christian parent of an LGBTQ+-identified child? You may be intimately acquainted with what this means by having experienced it yourself, or perhaps you have imagined how this would feel and the burden it would place on a parent’s heart. The following article is a window into a mother’s experience and inner dialogue as she navigates these difficult waters with the Lord.
I find myself making so many demands of God. “Lord, dismantle the devices of the evil one. Blast through the darkness and flood my daughter’s life with clarity, truth, and life. Exchange the chaos that rules her soul with your order and peace. Make known to her the vastness of your goodness and the magnitude of your majesty. Make her see your holiness and the desperateness of her sin, and cause her to know the immeasurable greatness of your mercy as you embrace her. Lord, simply let her know that you are good and great so that she will see that she is lost.” And I go on and on, tears accompanying these commands with little provocation.
What right do I have to boss God around? I have no justification apart from my position in Christ to ask anything of him, let alone ask with fervor and impatience. I am at his mercy, and I realize I have no other recourse in this desperate situation with my lost daughter than to cry out to him. It’s obvious that I have no control over this and, if anything, have been a contributing factor in some way or another. (I do not mean to say that I caused my daughter to choose an LGBTQ+ life. My daughter’s confusion about her identity has much to do with her own sinful heart, cultural influences, desires for fulfillment and validation, and many external factors apart from my direct influence.)
So the bottom line is that, despite wanting to fix everything and make it right, I have no power to do so. Only God does. I guess I don’t want to have that kind of power, really, though a huge part of me wishes I could go back in time and somehow untangle all the strands that knotted into the confusion now in my daughter’s mind. It would be scary to entrust my grossly limited mind and despicably tainted heart with any real power. It’s just so tempting for a mother to want to do anything at all to see her daughter in sweet fellowship with the Lord and this nightmare redeemed.
That thought of redemption is the thing to which I cling, hoping and trusting that the One who does have the power to change (and the mind and heart to know why this devastation is our current reality) will make this all well in the end. He will be known to many, and his power will be exalted before masses, and his goodness will be proclaimed to the brokenhearted. One day, it will really count for something more than the bucket of tears I am accumulating now and the untold pain that my daughter has accrued.
But all of those demands that I make incessantly…I’ve been appealing to God on her behalf for decades already. I have begged the Lord to grant me another child who would know him as Lord and Savior and be one of his very own. And I have prayed daily for her growth in grace and protection from the evil one as she matured. The bottom line is that if the volume of pleas and tears could be measured and rewarded in tangible ways in this life, then I have been shortchanged in the absence of God’s response.
Have there been times when I have questioned God’s faithfulness? I have often asked how my daughter could have come to her conclusions, but God keeps circling me back to focus on his economy of time. He doesn’t have to follow my timetable, despite my pleas for miraculous transformation right this second. I will keep asking, and God will do as he knows best. I will rest in the truths that The Valley of Vision outlines in the prayer “Openness”: “Nothing can befall me without his permission, appointment, and administration.”
In the meantime, in this almost unbearable season of waiting, I will pray that I will daily learn more of his love, grace, compassion, faithfulness, and beauty. And I am sure that he will teach me much about my heart and its need to be led to the cross to see my Savior’s wounds for me.
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.
18 Jun 2020
I watched her body tense as she made eye contact with me and said tearfully, “I don’t want to pray; I don’t know what to say.”
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White and When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “How to Pray When Your Heart Hurts,” which corresponds to this video.
18 Jun 2020
Pain is deafening. Whether physical or emotional, pain not only has the ability to hurt deeply but also to smother our faith and hope in Christ. Pain of betrayal. Rejection. Broken relationships. Loss. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Ongoing sexual struggles. Deferred hopes. Or simply the consequences of living in a broken world with our sinful choices. The sad reality is that, regardless of what triggers our pain, the aftermath can be just as disorienting.
Many Christians have been taught that prayer is a wise response to painful life circumstances. However, one of the things I hear the most from women amidst their suffering and heartache is that they struggle to know what to pray. In the throes of emotional turmoil, many people find that words evade them, or they don’t think they are allowed to say what they truly feel to a holy God. Sexual strugglers can mistakenly believe that their temptations and sins cannot be voiced at the throne of grace. Shame keeps them silent and stuck in an internal dialogue of unbelief: “Can God really handle my truth?!”
God is holy and deserves our reverence, but he also desires to be in relationship with us. For relationship to thrive, there must be communication. But what do you do when the pain of life cuts so deep that you can’t think, let alone find the vocabulary to pray?
Well, you can pray God’s Word. Let his Word come up with what to say for you. Scripture shows us examples of God’s people crying out gut-raw, honest prayers in the midst of their pain and suffering. The Psalms are a great example of this appropriate honesty. When life hurts most, we have a guide!
Here are some ways you can pray when pain is disorienting.
When you feel weak and weary, pray…
“Lord, I am so tired; I don’t feel like I can do this. Your Word says you give power to the weak, and you increase their strength when they have none. Please give me strength to get through this day” (Isaiah 40:29).
When you feel ashamed, pray…
“Father, I am so ashamed; I just keep failing. Please remove my shame because, in Christ, I am your beloved one. Thank you that as I look to you, my face is never covered with shame, regardless of what my emotions tell me” (Psalm 34:5).
When you feel alone and afraid, pray…
“Father, I feel all alone. I’m so scared that this pain is never going to go away. Your Word says not to fear because you are with me, but it is so hard to believe that you are near. Please help me believe. Strengthen me, help me, and uphold me with your righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
When you feel grief, pray…
“Father, my hopes and dreams are caving in. As Proverbs 13:12 says, a deferred hope makes the heart sick, and that’s all I feel right now. Thank you that a day is coming when you will wipe away every tear from my eyes; when there will be no more death, sorrow, or crying; when there will be no more pain as the former things pass away” (Revelation 21:4).
When you doubt God, pray…
“Lord, I just don’t understand! The pain of this ongoing struggle is making me question so many things. Please help me trust in you and not lean on my own understanding. I acknowledge you as God. Help me believe that you will make straight my path” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
When you feel tempted, pray…
“Father, help! I don’t feel like I can say no to this. I know this temptation that is trying to overtake me is common to mankind, and your Word says you are faithful—you will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. This feels like too much to bear, so help me see the way out that you provide for me to endure this” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When you need hope, pray…
“Lord, I feel hopeless. But thank you that I have more to hope in than my present circumstances. Thank you that, according to your great mercy, you have caused me to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for me. By your power, I am guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Are you struggling to know what to pray? Be honest with God about how you feel. When we are crushed in spirit, God doesn’t expect us to package all of our emotions into neat, little gift boxes. He doesn’t say, “Child, don’t speak until you have something eloquent to say.”
Instead, he meets us in our honesty with mercy and compassion. He speaks tenderly to us with peace, love, and forgiveness (Hosea 2:14). He does what only he can do by taking the pain meant to destroy us and using it to make us more like Jesus, the person who is most able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
The next time that life hurts so bad you can’t think of words to pray, or when circumstances make despair seem like the only feasible option, let God’s Word be your guide. Our loving Father already knows exactly what you’re feeling, so accept his invitation to tell him about it.
You can also watch the video, “Praying with Someone in Pain,” 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.
One of the most common questions I receive from individuals who learn about our ministry to hurting parents is, “Where would you even start to help a parent struggling with this?” They usually ask with a sincere concern and eagerness to help. Nowadays, Christians are well aware of the cultural shifts occurring with sexual and gender identities but are often at a loss for how to speak into these issues. In particular, you may feel heavily burdened to help a parent whose child embraces an LGBTQ+ identity, but you may also feel nervous and timid when approaching such a difficult subject.
If you personally know a parent whose child is experiencing these issues, or you would like to help Christian parents who are navigating these difficult waters, I encourage you to be assertive in utilizing one of the most powerful tools of help: prayer.
Christian parents desperately need your prayers. Often, this experience is devastating and disorienting for a parent. It leaves them feeling a range of emotions from guilt, to fear, sadness, despair, and grief. Their questions and fears are simply overwhelming. In the midst of their hurt and confusion, parents need reassurance of the truth and comfort of Jesus Christ. As with many hard trials that we endure, parents need to be reminded of the truths of God they already know but are struggling to see and believe. They need the body of Christ interceding for them, providing strength in the midst of their weakness. I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure” (Life Together, 23). In our place of strength, may we commit ourselves to interceding for parents who are deeply struggling.
When you are at a loss for which words to pray, Scripture is a good place to start. God’s word gives us language to use as we pray it back to him. I encourage you to consider finding specific passages to direct your prayer and intercession for hurting parents.
Here are a number of ways you can pray:
Pray for Comfort in Their Pain
“Lord you say, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Would you let this parent know the blessing of your deep comfort in the midst of their grief over their child?” (Matthew 5:4)
“Thank you, Lord, that you are near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit. Be near to these parents in their heartbreak.” (Psalm 34:18)
Pray for Peace and Trust in God
“I pray these parents would turn to you in their anxious thoughts about their child, because you are for them. May your peace, which transcends their understanding of what is taking place, guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as they entrust their requests to you.” (Philippians 4:4–7)
“I pray that this parent would trust in you with all her heart and not lean on her own understanding of what is best for her child. I pray that she would acknowledge you in all her ways, that you might direct her steps!” (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Pray for Wisdom to Love Their Child
“Father, this is my prayer: that these parents’ love for their child may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. May they be able to discern what is best, and may they be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:9–11)
Pray for Strength and Perseverance
“Lord, please help these parents lay aside every weight and sin that entangles and run with perseverance the race you have marked out for them. Help them fix their eyes on you, the Author and Protector of their faith, who endured the cross for the joy set before him. Help them consider you who endured such opposition from sinners so that they may not grow weary or lose heart in their continued love for their child.” (Hebrews 12:1–3)
“Father, you say that you will renew the strength of those who wait on you. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. I pray that you would help this parent wait on you, Lord, that you might renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Pray for Their Child
“Lord, you are the spring of living water! Open this child’s eyes to see you rightly, as the true living water for their soul. Help them see that turning to anything else to find fulfilment apart from you is only a broken cistern that cannot hold water. May you draw them to yourself.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
“Father, only you can remove a heart of stone and give a heart of flesh. I pray that you would soften this child’s heart. I pray your Holy Spirit would move in them so that they would desire to follow after you.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)