A Means of Coping
Hearing the painful news that your son or daughter is embracing an LGBTQ+ identity can cause any Christian parent to feel profound pain and heartache. I often sit with mothers and fathers who share stories filled with complex relational challenges and heartbreaking circumstances. I have also watched parents resort to all kinds of measures to manage their emotions and pain—from seeking some sense of control by lecturing their children and by turning to sources of comfort to self-medicate or simply trying to distract themselves from thinking deeply about their child altogether. These behaviors are commonly referred to as coping mechanisms. Conscious or unconscious, coping mechanisms are developed to manage painful and uncomfortable emotion. They help us survive traumatic events, endure stressful circumstances, and find some sense of comfort or assurance that everything is okay. I would like to take a closer look at the very common, but often subtle, coping mechanism of denial.
Surprisingly, denial can be healthy in the middle of a surprising or traumatic event, as denial allows you to be removed enough from an overwhelming emotion so that you can function until you have time to process the situation. Take the mom in this story, for example: A middle school teacher checks her email on a lunch break and discovers that her 17-year-old daughter is taking hormone therapy through the family insurance plan. Because the mom can’t afford to allow the weight of this discovery to completely undo her in that moment, she temporarily removes herself from her emotions before getting back to her classroom, knowing she just has to finish her day and make it to the car before breaking down in tears. Or consider parents who are completely taken off guard by their son disclosing to them that he identifies as gay. Rather than exploding from shock and devastation, they exercise self-control and compose themselves when hearing their child’s news, responding in words of love and care, despite how significant of a blow they had just received. In these ways, denial can certainly aid in the moment when the need to control difficult emotions is critical. It can also give a parent time to process his or her child’s issues at a pace that the parent can manage.
Even though denial can play a healthy role in parents’ emotional process, it often lingers much longer than is helpful. Although initial denial alleviates negative feelings and reactions, prolonged denial is detrimental, only making matters worse over time. Consider a few ways hurting parents may persist in denial as a means of coping with their situation:
- Not believing their son or daughter is telling the truth about his or her perceived sexual or gender identity. It can be tempting to minimize what your child feels about herself, perhaps chalking it up to confusion or just going through a phase. Certainly this could be a possibility for some kids, but if your child is truly embracing an LGBTQ+ identity and you continue to dismiss it, then this will only lead you to hurt your child and damage your relationship with them.
- Pretending that their child’s sexuality or gender identity is their own issue to manage and doesn’t really affect the parents. Denial can give a false sense of resolve by reasoning that your child’s issues affect him or her alone and therefore you needn’t be directly involved or impacted. This is commonly the case for fathers who feel that there is no sense talking anymore about the issue if they can’t fix it. This reasoning minimizes the grief your child has caused and keeps you from sharing the painful burden you are carrying, besides keeping your child at a distance.
- Pretending that your child’s sexual or gender identity will resolve itself and will go away in time. Because denial shields you from uncomfortable realities, it also prevents you from engaging in what is really going on in the life of your child: his story, his relationships, his day-to day-reality. If your child lives outside the home or you have a cordial relationship as long as this issue is not brought up or acknowledged, you may be tempted to resist God calling you to engage in loving your child by bringing up her sexual identity; this gives you a false reassurance that things will work out without your direct involvement. This kind of denial hinders a parent from loving his child in a personal and relevant way.
Remaining in denial can feel safe and comforting, but, in the long run, denial will only hinder you from participating in the work that God desires to do in and through you from these hard circumstances.
Embracing Growth and Change
When seeking to cope with uncomfortable and painful circumstances, we must consider how Scripture offers guidance to us in our heartache. Romans 5:2–5 says,
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
This passage invites us to embrace hardship and suffering because of all that God wants to produce through it: endurance, character, and hope, grounded in the love of God! This is certainly not a common go-to coping mechanism, yet walking through suffering in faith is the only coping strategy that is firmly grounded in the love of God and hope of his redeeming purposes.
Prolonged denial is focused on temporal relief and avoiding the responsibility of confronting your unpleasant reality. Although this can alleviate the anxiety and pain in the moment, if prolonged, it results in cutting off access to the means of healing and growth that God is willing and ready to provide.
If you are a Christian parent of a child who embraces an LGBTQ+ identity, take a moment to examine yourself. Where are the places of denial that God may want to address in your heart? Perhaps you need to finally acknowledge your child’s same-sex partner, ask more details about your child’s experiences as he wrestled with his gender identity, or simply talk to a friend or spouse about how you are really feeling this week concerning your child.
If you know a parent who may be in stuck in a place of denial, consider pursuing them out of love. Ask them to talk to you more about how they are feeling. Consider how you can discover what God may desire to do in his or her life from this difficult trial.
May you be comforted with the knowledge that God not only desires to alleviate the burden of your pain and discomfort, but he also wants to use these circumstances to demonstrate his providential care and strength through your life.
In any family, conflicts between parents and their children are to be expected. Especially as a child grows into adulthood, it is only natural for them to develop their own unique beliefs, values, and worldviews that may differ from those of their parents. Although parents can invest all the time and energy in the world into instilling biblical values into their children, they have little control in determining who their children will become. I can still remember the feeling of unease when my dad was preparing to lecture my brothers and me after we had done something foolish. Of course, I already knew everything my dad was going to say, so it registered about as well as Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Little did I know I would be here sitting in my mid-30’s reflecting on how true my dad’s words were in those lectures!)
When a child adopts values and beliefs that go against the teachings of Scripture, Christian parents find this extremely challenging, resulting in tension, arguments, and conflict. Perhaps there isn’t a clearer place this can be seen today than in Christian families with an LGBTQ+-identified child. The child’s worldviews, adopted from the LGBTQ+ community that contrast directly with biblical worldviews, often result in tremendous turmoil among family members.
Let’s consider just a few of the arguments and presuppositions of the LGBTQ+ community that conflict with a biblical worldview.
- “My experience of sexuality and gender is the truth I must follow and the authority by which I come to understand myself,” versus, “God’s Word is the ultimate authority that informs how I understand myself and my experiences, including matters of sexuality and gender.”
- “My sexual or gender identity defines who I am; therefore, it should be celebrated and embraced as good,” versus, “Sexual or gender struggles are a result of my broken condition as a sinner. Although my desires may feel natural and right, they must not be gratified or embraced as good if they contradict the Word of God.”
- “To disagree with my sexual or gender identity is to speak against me as a person and therefore is both unloving and an attack on my psychological wellbeing,” versus, “God’s love accepts me as I am, yet works to conform me to his holy character, so that I might be free from the bonds of sin and alive in righteousness.”
Do any of these conflicting values and beliefs resonate with what you have experienced between you and your child? Perhaps you can identify others that lie underneath the disagreements and tension.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul defines these arguments and opinions that rise against the knowledge of God as spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include false beliefs, thoughts, arguments, and reasoning that stand in opposition to the truth of Scripture. Individuals who embrace them will be bound by them and, in turn, will be unable to see God or themselves rightly. The fruit of this bondage manifests itself in a person’s behavior.
Paul is giving us insight into where the real battlefield is: the spiritual realities at work in your son or daughter’s heart. Your child’s underlying beliefs that stand in opposition to the truth of God’s Word become a stronghold that can be seen in the fruit of their actions and words. Paul’s reminder to the church of Corinth is the same reminder we need today: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Not against flesh and blood
We are often far too shortsighted when it comes to doing battle against the issues we see in our children. Typically, parents try everything in their own power to address the behaviors they see. This might look like wanting to talk sense into their child, giving them articles or books to read, rebuking or disciplining them, and trying to convince them of their error. Although these strategies may have their place, they are often a means of doing battle with ”flesh and blood” and are misguided in addressing the real powers at work. Paul’s words remind you that your aim must be set at doing battle against the spiritual strongholds that undergird your child’s beliefs. It can be helpful to consider where the bulk of your efforts and energy is directed to. Are you waging war according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God against the spiritual strongholds that exist?
Weapons of our warfare
Parents who belong to Christ possess great power to do battle for their children. In fact, according to this passage, you have divine power to do battle against the strongholds that exist in your child! This is true because of the One who is in you, as 1 John 1:4 says: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Because of the victory Christ has over sin and death, you can have confidence that battling for your child is not in vain. But how do you do this?
God gives us divine power through the spiritual weapons available to us in Christ. These weapons, as Paul lays out in Ephesians 6:10–18, consist of the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes fitted with the readiness given by the gospel of peace. When parents suit themselves up with the armor of God and remember to pray on all occasions, they are most prepared to battle effectively for their children. Here are a few closing questions for you to consider as you examine the weapons of your warfare.
- Do you pray truth over your child more than you speak it to them? Speaking truth has had an important place in your role as parent through the years. But if you still are acting as if your own words, or even your persistently repeated biblical words, are the primary weapon that will reach the strongholds, you are mistaken. The more you recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more your prayers to him will outnumber and outweigh your own words to your child.
- Does the truth of Christ guard your heart from despair and hopelessness for your child? Despair and hopelessness are bad fruits that can indicate a reliance on your own strength and effort, which simply cannot win and so can only lead to despair.
- Are you concerned with your own personal growth in righteousness, even as it pertains to how you relate to your wayward child? The true battle of prayer always brings us, ourselves, to transforming relationship with Jesus. As James says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).
- Do your words and actions toward your child reflect the demeanor of one who is controlled by the peace of God? If you are not resting in the power of God alone, it will show in fruit like frustration, anger, manipulation, or a tendency to take over and make things happen the way you want them to.
- How might you grow in discerning when you are waging war according to your flesh? According to the power of the Holy Spirit in you?
May you remember that your struggle with your son or daughter is not against flesh and blood, and that God has given you divine power to combat the spiritual strongholds that grip your child’s heart and mind.
Many Christian parents of an LGBTQ+-identified child feel at a loss for what God is up to in their families. One of the most common questions you may find yourself asking again and again is, “God, what are you doing!?” When you contemplate your child’s situation—from the devastation and deep hurt you have felt to the haunting question of your son or daughter’s relationship with the Lord—you will undoubtedly search anywhere and everywhere to discover where God is working.
More often than not, you may feel that these questions are left unanswered, but you can be assured that God is at work, and you can pray for his purposes to prevail. God may use these difficult circumstances to draw your child closer to himself and to bring conviction of the truth deep into your child’s heart, dislodging the false beliefs they have adopted and the negative influences that surround them. The God of Joseph, who used what was meant for evil to bring about good (Genesis 50:20), is the same God in whom you can place your hope and trust as you consider where your child’s journey may lead.
Out of all the ways in which God could possibly work, there is one purpose that you can be sure he is accomplishing through these difficult circumstances. This particular work of God may not be as obvious to you, but rest assured that it is there. This is the purpose that God is actively working on your heart. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).
This familiar passage in Romans may not be the most comforting words at first glance—this is not my “go to” passage for a parent first discovering their child’s chosen identity—but opening your heart to this promise of God is sure to bring clarity and hope as you see God’s tangible work unfold in your life.
The Lord, in his sovereign providence, has placed you on the difficult road on which you find yourself. If you are in the love of God, he is at work using these circumstances to make you more like his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Lord desires to comfort you in your pain, guide you in relating to your child, and soften your child’s heart. But there is more that God desires to do through the suffering and trials you are experiencing; he wants nothing less than to remake you into the image of his Son.
Practically speaking, what might this look like?
Embracing this purpose of God’s refining begins by taking your eyes off of your child and putting them on yourself. The purpose is for you to pause and consider, “Where do I see God at work in me?” More specifically, ask yourself the following questions.
- How do I see God teaching me to trust in him with my whole heart and not lean on my own understanding?
- In which area(s) is God prompting me to relinquish control of my child’s life?
- What does this trial show regarding what my heart truly believes about God and who he claims to be?
- How is God challenging me to stand firm in his Word and its promises?
- How am I handling this differently now compared to when I first discovered that my child was identifying in this way?
- Where else have I seen God work in my heart through this hardship?
Questions like these will help you see evidence of God’s purposes at work in you and challenge you to embrace his sovereign will all the more.
Below are some of the things you may discover and enjoy as you walk in this purpose of God.
- God will show you more clearly your own broken condition and need for him.
- He will teach you how to love messy sinners in the same way he has loved you.
- He will give you the desire for him to be glorified through your family situation above everything else.
- He will open the door for you to comfort other hurting people with the comfort that you have received from God.
God has promised to use your son or daughter’s situation to bring about his good purposes in your life. I encourage you to invite God to work in you, in accordance with his will, that you might more clearly see his sovereign and good plan unfolding as he cares for you.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (215) 482-0111 and take this first step towards inviting others into your struggle.