21 Jan 2022
It may or may not surprise you that the majority of men seeking help from Harvest USA are married. The majority of these husbands are not coming to us because of their own conviction over sin but because they were caught. They were living, often for decades, in darkness, and now they’ve finally been forced into the light. They usually come to us with a mixture of pain and relief—the pain of the consequences of their sexual sin and its accompanying deception, and also the relief of no longer living as hypocrites.
This initial exposure is freeing and provides with it real opportunities for change and transformation. While there are many dangers and snares along the path towards marital restoration, none is more common and more deadly than going back into the darkness.
For any of you familiar with twentieth-century American poetry or Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film Interstellar, you probably know the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In his poem about death, Thomas provides incredible wisdom for a husband tempted to go back into hiding. He writes,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Husbands who are battling sexual addictions are not only wrestling against the allure of sexual sin. They are also facing the constant temptation of lying about it to their wives. I’ve heard all of the major excuses for going back into the darkness:
“I love her too much to hurt her by telling her.”
“I know how she’ll react; she just can’t handle this.”
“She’s not supposed to be my accountability partner; I have men in my life I confess to.”
“Confessing to her doesn’t help me; she’ll just use that as fuel to punish me later.”
“I’ve already confessed it to the Lord.”
While we recognize that there are rare and extreme situations where it may not always be prudent or loving for husbands to confess their sexual sins to their wives, the general rule we find to be most beneficial for marriages is called “the 24-hour rule.”
What is the 24-hour rule?
The 24-hour rule is when a husband promises that he will confess, within 24 hours, any time that he engages in behavioral sexual sin—including masturbation, pornography, fantasy indulgence that lasts for minutes at a time, and anything worse than these behaviors. This includes any active pursuit of these behaviors, even if he is unsuccessful, such as seeking ways around internet filters to find pornography.
What the 24-hour rule is not
The 24-hour rule, misapplied, has the potential to become very detrimental to a marriage, which is why clear, objective expectations are essential. It is unhelpful for a wife to be privy to every single battle a husband faces with sexual temptation. We believe she deserves to know the battles he clearly loses, but not every battle he faces.
While every couple requires a nuanced approach, we generally try to steer couples away from certain scrupulous standards of confession. We generally do not encourage couples to adopt the following types of confession as a rule:
- Every time a husband takes a second look
- A sexually suggestive image appears on his device apart from his active pursuit of it, and he immediately flees from it.
- Tempting thoughts that come into his mind but against which he has fought and upon which he does linger for minutes at a time.
It’s important that couples understand the difference between a “rule” and Spirit-led confession. The purpose of the 24-hour rule is to build trust, as I will explain later. Understandably, breaking the rule has devastating consequences in breaking trust, but a husband can also freely confess as the Spirit leads. So, while it is not a rule that a husband confesses every battle with temptation, he may share about specific temptations with his wife from time to time, which can have very positive results for both of them. She can encourage and pray for him, and he can continue to learn how to trust his wife and be more vulnerable with her.
Expecting a husband to confess every temptation or lustful thought is often a grasping for control and only leads to a further breakdown of the fragile trust they are seeking to rebuild.
Why the 24-hour rule?
An entire book could and probably should be written on why this kind of rule is so helpful in marriages seeking restoration after sexual betrayal, but here are just a few reasons why we find this guidance so crucial:
- Often in these situations, the greatest damage done to the marriage is the loss of trust and the difficulty of earning it back. Succumbing yet again to the snare of pornography does great harm to a recovering marriage, but the difference between confessing openly and being caught in covering up sin is worlds apart.
- Wives usually want to know when their husbands have been unfaithful with pornography. It hurts them to know, but they still would rather know than be left in the dark. The most common response I hear from wives to their husbands is, “I’m hurt that you did this, but I’m grateful that you told me.”
- Committing and being faithful to a 24-hour rule takes the burden off of a wife to be a detective. Wives often feel scared when weeks or months have gone by without hearing from their husbands how they’re doing. In this scenario, no news is sadly often not good news. Faithfulness to the 24-hour rule guards wives against fretfully wondering what is true.
- The 24-hour rule forces husbands to live in the realty of their decisions. One of pornography’s greatest lies is, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” Needing to confess each instance kills that lie very quickly. I’ve heard many husbands talk about how great their marriages are apart from this one issue. Men have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and downplay the impact of their sin on their marriages. Hiding this sin and never talking about it creates a very powerful illusion that things are great, but this backfires in the end. The more a wife believes her husband is being faithful, the greater the disappointment, hurt, and sense of betrayal once she finds out that’s not true.
- Confession creates opportunities for genuine relationship. Whether a husband knows it or not, keeping this sin hidden forces him to put up his defenses. He can’t be his true self around her. He’ll need to hold some of himself back from her. The two of them can’t truly be naked and unashamed, but being open with his wife provides the foundation for truly knowing one another.
- Confession gives his wife an opportunity to forgive him and for him to receive her forgiveness. This is a beautiful display of the gospel, reminding them both that we only have a saving relationship with Jesus because of his grace! Our marriages should point us to the gospel every day, and living in the darkness kills that opportunity.
- The 24-hour rule upholds the great responsibility, dignity, and honor of the marriage covenant. Most couples take vows at their weddings, and many will vow to “forsake all others.” Pornography breaks this marriage vow and tramples upon it. The offended party not only has the right to know but also needs to be involved for proper restoration to occur. A commitment to the 24-hour rule is an outworking of your commitment to your vows.
- Willing confession of sexual betrayal in a marriage is scary for a husband to do. Confession takes all of the control out of his hands, forcing him to entrust himself to the Lord. This is such a critical step in repentance. He must lose his life in order to save it. Sin so often seeks to make life work on our own terms. Hiding your sin is a prime example of a refusal to let God be the Lord of your life.
On more than one occasion, I’ve sat with wives in tears as they come to realize their husbands have been hiding their sin. Their faces show their embarrassment, shock, disappointment, and confusion. But what is perhaps most heartbreaking is watching them plead with their husbands to come back into the light. They aren’t asking their husbands to be perfect, only honest! These women are willing to forgive, to help, to pray, but they feel completely shut out, disregarded, and unsafe when they realize they’ve been deceived. Deception virtually wipes out any growth a marriage has made, leaving wives feeling like they are back at square one. But the enemy is so crafty in telling husbands the very opposite lie—that confession will take them back to square one. Deception, not confession, is your enemy, brothers! Fight it; put it to death. Entrust yourself to Christ because he will never forsake you! Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
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.
18 Mar 2021
“What will I do if they make me sign something that goes against my biblical beliefs?”
“How will I feed my family if I lose my job?”
“If we lose federal funding by staying faithful to our convictions, how will our organization survive?”
No doubt many of you have already been asking these very questions in light of bills like the Equality Act, which pose genuine threats to expressions of religious freedom in the United States. To be clear, very real injustices, violence, and hatred of people claiming an LGBTQ+ identity should be abhorrent to all Christians who honor God. Harvest USA is passionate that all people are made in the image of God and deserve to be cared for, respected, and treated with honor and dignity. But Christians are right to be concerned about the government forcing individual Christians or Christian organizations to do things that would go against their beliefs.
While the Equality Act may or may not dramatically change the limits of religious freedom in America, it is hard to deny the general direction that our country is headed in. The Church must face the reality that it is no longer advantageous to be a Christian in the larger culture. For a long time, it was considered a boost to your job resume to attend church regularly, and, to this day, it still seems a prerequisite for the highest public offices in our nation.
But, more and more, we are feeling and experiencing the liabilities that come with faithfully identifying with Jesus Christ. The cross is not only foolish to our culture; it is increasingly seen as dangerous. Faithfully holding to a biblical sexual ethic in the years to come will become even more costly for the church of Jesus Christ. So I ask you, as I need to ask myself, “Have you counted the cost of following Christ?”
Jesus told a great crowd in Luke 14:26–27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
This passage, and many others like it, shares words that the Church in America has always needed to hear. But often, to our spiritual detriment, these warnings have felt largely inapplicable in our lives. Our expectations for life in America have often shown a blatant denial of Paul’s words that, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
But every believer, every church, every Christian organization in America is being called at this moment to do some spiritual accounting and boldly face the real cost of following Jesus. While I know that I still have much to pray through and many fears that need to be continually submitted to my high priest, I thank the Lord that he has already given me countless examples of men and women at Harvest USA who are showing me what it means to count that cost!
What do I mean by this?
Much of the work we do with men and women seeking out help for sexual struggles revolves around one central question: “Is Jesus worthy of your trust and complete submission?” One of the biggest reasons we often go back to our sins of choice is that we don’t believe that God will take care of us. As Isaiah described it, instead of trusting God to be our light in the darkness, we light our own torches, which results in torment (Isaiah 50:10–11).
The husband who is unwilling to confess his sexual sin to his wife doesn’t believe that God will bring him through the relational pain that would inevitably follow. And so he continues to play the role of the perfect husband, all the while sinking deeper into hidden shame and misery.
The single woman who desperately wants to be known, loved, cherished, and cared for seems to have found what she’s looking for in another woman. She is faced with the gut-wrenching choice of being offered two antithetical paths, wishing she could hold onto Christ while also pursuing what she feels would make her happy.
The young man who, from an early age, has struggled to fit in with his peers finds himself more drawn to his mother than his father, his sisters than his brothers, and even female clothing and makeup. Now he feels the daily pressure from the wider culture to embrace the narrative that he is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body and that to deny this reality would be to live a lie.
The wife whose husband has gravely sinned against her in committing adultery is now faced with the excruciating call to forgive her husband, and pray for him, while her own world is collapsing all around her.
The parents whose child tells them that she is transgender threatens to cut off all relational connection with them if they do not embrace her choice to transition. They desperately want to maintain relationship with their child, but they feel stuck about how to do that.
Each of these men and women are, in their own ways, being forced to count the cost of following Christ. For most of them, this cost is not financial, but relational. It is a sobering reality to sit with a man and call him to do something that may change his life forever. It is heart-wrenching to have to tell him that his obedience may not result in the outcome that he wants. I’ve felt my body shake as I imagine the very real possibility of a future wrought with loneliness, rejection, and difficult consequences as a result of his obedience.
But there are few moments in my life as precious as seeing these men and women count that cost and do so with genuine hope and joy. When someone decides to follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death, I’ve never seen them do so despairingly. Without exception, I always see a measure of hope, peace, and even joy as they follow their good Shepherd. If only we could see what is happening spiritually when the Holy Spirit brings that conviction and hope. I firmly believe that I have witnessed miracles in our office that exceed the wonder of walking on water. I have seen brothers and sisters boldly and courageously step out into the storm with their eyes fixed upon Christ! I have seen young men struggling with same-sex attraction, never knowing if God will grant them a spouse, boldly testify that God is their portion, both in this life and in the next. I have seen husbands resolve to confess their sin of adultery to their wives, knowing that it may lead to the end of their marriages. I have seen wives graciously extend costly forgiveness to their husbands, even when their churches and their own families were opposed it.
We get regular front-row seats into the stories of fellow saints carrying heavy crosses. But here’s the key: They don’t carry them alone. None of them do this in their own strength. They do so through abiding in Christ and through genuine fellowship with his Body. The Church in America will not survive if our relationships with one another only stay on the surface. We will not bear up under the pressure if Jesus is not our life and deepest satisfaction.
You may be reading this and asking yourself, “Will I have the strength to lose anything in order to follow Christ?” If you’re concerned with your response, ask yourself these four vital questions:
- Have I learned the secret of having plenty, and being full, through Christ who strengthens me? If you haven’t learned Christian contentment in seasons of plenty, you won’t be ready for a season of hunger and want.
- Have I been getting through life as a functional lone ranger, or do I have brothers and sisters who truly know me? In times of peace and ease, our sense of need for one another can go numb. But when the true cost of following Christ is put before you, you shouldn’t expect to make the right decision on your own.
- Is Jesus my portion in this life and the next? God describes himself in Scripture as a generous Father who knows not only how to provide for his children’s needs but who also loves to give us an abundance of good gifts that show his lavish character. But more than the gifts he gives, God wants us to ultimately rejoice in him, the greatest gift to his people. If you don’t love Jesus more than anything right now, you won’t be ready to lose whatever is required of you for his sake and the gospel.
- Am I seeking first his Kingdom and righteousness? Jesus knows that we are prone to anxiety about our earthly needs, and, as our good Shepherd, he doesn’t merely chastise us for our concerns. Instead, he shows us how to live a life of genuine peace and hope. To paraphrase Matthew 6:33, Jesus basically says to his people, “Focus your energy on the Kingdom, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Working at Harvest USA has shown me that it is possible to hate even my own life as a faithful disciple of Christ. I’ve seen so many men and women do so in our offices to the glory of God. And our Lord’s promise to us is that, if we lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, then we will save it (Mark 8:35).
28 Jan 2021
Today was sort of a typical day in which I bounced between hope and grief while I continue in the journey of parenting an adult daughter who is embracing a gay identity. The morning’s quiet time was especially helpful as I meditated on a passage in Mark 4. I was studying the story in which Jesus slept on the ship as it was tossed in a violent storm. The disciples, who were avid seamen, were quite adept at reading the weather on the water, but this storm evidently took them by surprise. The word used for “storm” here is something akin to hurricane winds—clearly a frightening threat. I can relate when I consider the storm that swept over us like a tidal wave as we became aware of our daughter’s assertions.
Jesus spoke out and said, “Peace! Be still!” In other places, “be still” is translated as “be muzzled,” like in Mark 1, when Jesus tells the unclean spirit in a man, “Hold thy peace.” This peace is literally an involuntary stillness. I realized that he wasn’t talking to the water but to the antagonist who brewed the distress and chaos. When Jesus commands Satan to be muzzled, Satan is involuntarily constrained in an instant.
I was reassured that there is absolutely no power that can contend with Jesus when he determines that it is time. At any moment, he can bring an end to the storm that the devil has launched in my daughter’s heart, a storm which has thrust her into deception and confusion regarding her sexual attraction and her relationship with God. While an end may not be instantaneously complete, still, his power is unlimited and uncontested.
Another account, which also takes place on the water, follows a couple of chapters later. The disciples were madly rowing their way out of a second storm. It seems that the enemy is good at bringing unexpected disasters into the lives of individuals who are seemingly prepared. In this instance, Jesus is described as walking on the water, and the Bible says that he “would have passed by them.” The expert rowers were working in their own strength to deliver themselves from their trial, and Jesus was willing to allow them to continue in their plight until they focused on him, recognized their inadequacy, and called out for rescue. He immediately comforted them and caused the storm to cease again. I was struck with gratefulness to be reminded that Jesus was so ready to answer their need when the disciples recognized their inadequacy and called out for deliverance.
The combined impact of these meditations was a reminder that I am unable to rescue my daughter from the storm that Satan has provoked, but, when Christ determines to command that the enemy release his grip, there is no question of who will be victorious. I felt hopeful and encouraged again that my sovereign Savior has complete power to still the waves, end the storm, and bring my daughter safely to harbor.
Bringing my concentrated time with the Lord to a close, I embarked on housecleaning. I had neglected it over the holidays, and there were many bedrooms in need of repair after the adult children departed. While in my daughter’s room, I longingly looked at some of the pictures of her as a toddler, a child, a teenager. I couldn’t help but feel mournful as I looked wistfully at the pictures. Certain thoughts came to my mind: “Back then, surely, she wasn’t . . . I had no idea then that she would become . . . In her childhood, I would never have believed that . . .” It’s painful and awkward to admit, but, honestly, it sometimes feels as if she’s died, though clearly it’s only the dreams that I imagined for her life that feel dead right now. I even enjoyed a vibrant conversation with her just last evening, yet there is such an immeasurable loss in which I seem to almost drown in at times.
And so, another typical day, in which I vacillated between hope and grief, has ended. Is this not the dichotomy of the Christian life? We experience turmoil and heartache in the world, and yet we live under the dynamic reality of Christ’s superseding power and compassion as our anchor and light. I need not succumb to fear of the storm because Jesus can end it with a mere word. He comforts me in my grief and promises to offer his aid as I acknowledge my insufficiency and focus on him. He understands that I have conflicting emotions, and he loves me. Dearly.
In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s name because she has requested to remain anonymous.
If you’re a parent whose child identifies as LGBTQ+ and you’re looking for additional support and help, consider downloading our free digital resource, Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity.
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.
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.
In a Christian home, when a child identifies as gay or transgender, all the relationships in the family are upended. Suddenly, conversations and discussions become landmines that, when stepped on, explode in hurtful and angry words. How can parents navigate a home filled with tension and deep disappointment?
Click here to read more from Chris at this blog: “The Biggest Impact You Can Have on a Wayward Child”
The biggest heartache for a parent is to watch their child determined to go their own way. Turning their back on values they were raised on; turning toward beliefs and people that encourage him or her to embrace a whole new way of life.
A life that renounces what a follower of Jesus should look like.
This is what Joe and Maria were facing with their daughter, Jamie. They talked with me at the beginning of their daughter’s third year of declaring herself to be transgender. Two years of contentious discussions, on and off, had progressed downward to a chilly silence. Jamie has made it abundantly clear that this topic is off the table. Nothing substantial is ever discussed anymore.
Jamie has made up her mind to discover what this new identity of being transgender means for her. Next year she’s off to college. And Joe and Maria are desperate to find a way to break down the high wall that exists between them and the daughter they love.
If you have a son or daughter that has adopted a gay or transgender identity, you probably know what Joe and Maria are going through. It is flat out difficult to love a child that is bent on pursuing their own way. Parents are at a loss about how to lead their child to Christ when all of their efforts to speak truth are met with resistance. Even hearing the word “Scripture” may cause your child to cringe, let alone consider a passage or verse for them to mull over.
How can you possibly have a voice in your son or daughter’s life when they won’t talk to you?
I don’t want to minimize the pain of this situation, but I do think there is a way to move forward—toward your child—that will have an impact whether they acknowledge it or not.
1 John 4:10-12 (NIV) gives a strong message of hope to parents who have a child that is determined to pursue a gay or transgender identity.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
This is familiar language to us, but take time to contemplate verse 12 again. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Your words may have little impact on your child, but the way you love others—and them—is the way God has designed relationships so that they might see Christ—through you.
2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV) similarly puts it this way; “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” As a parent, the title ambassador is one of the most prominent roles you play in your child’s life!
Ambassador is a hope-filled word for parents! Yes, for many parents the primary means of helping a struggling child is by speaking, carefully sharing and sprinkling God’s Word at opportune times. An ambassador does speak.
But it’s not the only thing they do. Though an ambassador speaks on behalf of someone else, it’s their entire being that also communicates what’s important. Their attitude and demeanor, all “speak;” they all point toward who they represent.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
To put it bluntly, the biggest impact you can make in your child’s life is not in what you say. It is in the way you show love for them.
Let’s get specific
Let’s consider some specific steps you can take to become this kind of ambassador.
- Examine your heart.
Sometimes, if we are honest, we can be poor ambassadors of Christ. This particularly happens when we are in pain, and the pain and hopelessness we feel bleeds into our attitudes and behavior. But looking at whatever log is in our eye first is always the path God sets out for us.
Start with some attitudes and behaviors you need to put off: anger, impatience, harsh words, and the like. Allow Colossians 3:5-17 to guide you toward attitudes and behaviors to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, patience, etc.
Now think deeper: what does your behavior reveal about where you are putting your trust? When you are filled with fear, do you try to take control through words or actions? Can you see that behavior like this is an attempt to merely fix what is wrong with your child? Does your child see love (I trust in God) or control (I need to trust in myself) in how you act toward them?
- Love in surprising ways.
This may be one the hardest things to do: be interested in what they are doing. Many parents are afraid of knowing things and afraid that asking is equivalent to approving. But staying interested in their life communicates that you still love them. It also expands your vision of your child, which may have diminished only to the issue that divides you.
So, ask how their friends are doing, what are their plans for the weekend, how school is going, if they have enough food in their dorm room, how they are really doing, and take time to listen and show you care.
Then, do something together: go out to dinner, take a bike ride, go shopping, see a movie, and find a neutral activity that you both can enjoy. These types of activities communicate that, in spite of the issue that divides, you still love and delight in them. Conversations may remain superficial, but God can use these activities to soften their heart and reveal His love for them through your kind gestures. We have a God whose kindness wins our hearts to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Finally, think outside the box! Don’t be afraid to joke around with them. Send them a funny meme or picture they would laugh at. Text your son or daughter out of the blue to share something funny. Humor is an effective way to release tension and even demonstrate love for someone in a nonjudgmental way.
There is a silver lining in this weighty burden of walking with a child that identifies as gay or transgender. That silver lining is this: God is using this situation to draw you closer to himself and conform you to look increasingly more like Jesus. If you allow Him to work this transformation in you, from the inside out, you will produce good fruit.
By God’s grace, they will see this fruit, and your child may see the love of God more clearly through your life, and return to him and his ways.