As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.
Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.
Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.
Part 3: Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.
Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.
As Christ has loved you, so love
God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.
Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.
Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.
But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.
As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.
Keep a long-term view in mind
Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.
If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart
Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.
Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.
Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.
So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.
This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.
Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.
In Part I and Part II of this four-part blog series, I talked about the experience of a child coming out to his or her parents, and I mentioned two essential things you can do when your child is identifying as gay or transgender:
First, get to know your child. Listen to his or her unique experience, and ask thoughtful questions out of a desire to love and understand them.
Second, reflect on what is in your heart too. Be honest about all that you are experiencing as a result of your child’s decision to come out. Invite God and others to share in the burden of pain and keep the sinful responses of your heart in check.
Now I want to add another useful step to help you to respond to your child in wisdom.
Have wisdom in ongoing conversations
Knowing how to navigate ongoing conversations with your son or daughter over this will be challenging. One thing that will make this more difficult is the likelihood that your child will have bought into how our culture believes truth is arrived at today: by the authority of one’s individual experience rather than viewing oneself and the world through the lens of Scripture. Because your child has been greatly influenced by these worldview beliefs, it will be important for you to use discretion as you engage in conversation with him. You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Here are three categories of conversations to consider as you engage your child.
You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Keep track of the good you see in your son or daughter. Affirm your love for your child by celebrating the unique way that God has made her and the strengths and gifts that God has given her. Point it out to her when you witness these gifts at work. Communicate to your daughter if you see something she has done that is praiseworthy.
Don’t be afraid to speak about the good you see! If he did well in his classes, if you enjoyed spending time with him on his visit home, if he talks with you about something on their heart, if he did something caring or thoughtful for another person—share how you appreciate these things, and tell your child that you are proud of him in areas you can sincerely identify.
Here’s the bottom line: Do not reduce your child down to sinful behaviors, allowing her coming-out decision to be the only way you see from here on. Continue to genuinely love her, and say it to her. This is your child! Loving your child in all the ways she has been gifted communicates a gospel perspective: that God sees us even in our sin and rebellion and continues to show his love toward us.
As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going
Ask to be invited into what is hard. Your son or daughter is also going through suffering and hardship as well. Seek to identify what that struggle is and enter into it if your child will let you. This may not be easy to do, especially if your child’s struggle is way beyond your experience.
So begin by looking for things in your child’s life where he shows or expresses pain. Acknowledge the struggle and ask to hear more about it. An example of this could be if you have a son who identifies as a girl and has long felt different from his male peers. You can be sure he has struggled to a great degree with confusion and shame.
It’s appropriate to voice that pain back to him and ask him to help you understand how hard it has been to live with it. As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate and speak to your child about the compassion Christ has for us in our struggles.
Loving your child also means mirroring back what is bad and ultimately destructive to our souls. Again, you do not want to badger your child, but you do want to lovingly display the mirror of God’s truth to her. By taking those opportunities when they arise, you help your child see—even if it’s just a glimpse—when her decisions or behaviors are self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating.
Where are those opportunities to do this? When your child experiences some of the negative consequences of his actions. Perhaps he shut out others in the family who have not affirmed his coming-out decision, so as a result he feels unloved and discriminated against. An appropriate response is to help your child see how the demand to be loved on his own terms will damage relationships in his life.
By mirroring her behavior back to her, you are lovingly keeping her accountable for her actions while helping her see some of the negative consequences of her sin. It may be a temptation to avoid these hard conversations out of fear of damaging your relationship with your child. I know this area of communication is going to be the most difficult to pull off. However, we must not shrink back from telling the truth in love. Doing so demonstrates that God’s love does not allow us to remain in rebellion and sin that is ultimately destructive to us.
In all of these conversational areas, you must recognize that, above all, your son or daughter’s greatest need is to see and experience the love of God and understand his or her fundamental desperation for his saving grace. A relationship with God must be more meaningful to your child than the desire for fulfillment through perceived sexual or gender identity. Repentance is a fruit of being moved by the love of Christ through the gospel. As you have wisdom in ongoing conversations, you can be instrumental in showing the love of Christ for your child more comprehensively in these particular ways.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. In my first blog in this four-part series, I emphasized how important it is for parents to get to know their child and their unique experience of their sexuality and/or gender. To genuinely love your child is to know them more fully, even—no, especially—after coming out. As we continue Part 2 of this blog series, I want to focus attention on what is in your heart as a parent in all of this.
Get to know your own heart
When a Christian parent has a child who comes out as gay or transgender, it can be devastating. Emotions swirl; everything from fear, despair, anger, regret, grief, and more can be part of that experience after the coming out. The experience can hit like news of a sudden death in the family, leaving you shocked and disoriented.
As time progresses, parents can also experience mourning. The loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child can be intensely painful. They fear the worst as they consider what the future holds for them.
Those who have walked this road a little longer know that the severity of those emotions tends to lessen over time but can still rise to the surface at any given moment. A random Facebook post or picture pops up on their profile; a text conversation with your son feels cold or distant; a friend boasts to you about their daughter’s pregnancy, and the pain and resentment come sweeping back in like a stiff winter wind.
What do you do with all these feelings? I encourage you to be honest. Honest about everything you are experiencing. To get the care and support you need, it will only begin when you honestly face—and talk about—what you are going through.
This can be very hard to do. To reach out to others for help means working through the shame you feel, much of it caused by how you think others will think about you and your family.
But God does not intend for you to carry this burden on your own. He desires to comfort your pain, speak to your fears, and remind you that he is your rock, shield, and fortress in the midst of this great storm. Just as Proverbs 30:5 testifies—“every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (ESV)—let me strongly encourage you to talk to him first. You need to pray and share with him how you are feeling, and invite him to speak in return through the Scriptures.
And in this conversation you will be having with God, you’ll discover his desire is that you be honest not only with him but that you invite others in to share this burden. It’s never just about you and God; it’s about you and God and his people. It’s about how the church community, in particular, comes alongside us in our pain and guides us toward him.
If you are honest, you know your heart can respond in sinful and damaging ways to your child, to others, and yourself.
You can damage your relationship with your child by responding to them frequently in anger following their disclosure. Instead of sharing your sadness with them regarding their newly declared direction, you can find yourself responding to them in anger while you attempt to reason with them. Every time you see them, you have another lecture to give them. This will just drive them away from you and from further opportunities to speak biblically into their life. Any love you do have for them will be lost in the tension that now exists between the two of you.
You can also damage yourself and others with these attitudes and behavior. You can fool yourself by displaying negative attitudes and behaviors toward your child while thinking you are following God faithfully.
But God’s call to all of us is to love even while we are hurting and in pain. When we aren’t doing this, we don’t see how cold and hard our hearts are becoming, until one day we realize how bitter we are toward God for not giving us the child we worked so hard to raise.
All these actions are motivated by a heart that is desperate to control what seems like an out-of-control situation, rather than to be guided by the mystery and uncertainty of how the Spirit does his work.
I encourage you to consider these questions individually and/or with your spouse, as a way to reflect on where your heart is in all of this:
- Do you have someone who knows what’s really going on (a friend, pastor, or church member)?
- Who is one person you could trust to a greater extent by sharing the daily struggles you face with your child?
- Have you asked others to pray for you and your child?
- Has this situation revealed areas of sin in your own heart?
- How can your struggle bring you to pray in more meaningful ways by inviting God to heal your pain and control your heart’s sinful responses?
You must not neglect all that is happening in your heart, for as Jesus said in Luke 6:45, from the overflow of your heart your mouth will speak. We all need help from God and others to process the pain we experience.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. It is a far too common experience today for a parent to discover their child is identifying as gay. Teens and young adult children suddenly coming out as transgender is also a growing occurrence in Christian families.
News like this is a very difficult thing for parents to navigate when they hold to biblical convictions of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is hard to know what to do when you are thinking of how to love your child while moving them towards walking in the truth of the gospel. At this point, most parents want to do just about anything to keep their kid on the right path after hearing this news. Their approach to their child can swing in wildly opposite directions.
On one end, parents may try to argue with their child to no end about their decision to come out, seeking to convince them of how misguided they are, and use everything in their power to change them. On the other end, parents may seek to keep things light and superficial in hopes to not ruffle feathers or push them away and hurt the relationship. They refrain from bringing this issue up altogether. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, this is a very hard journey to walk.
Wanting your child to turn back from what they are considering is what your heart and emotions scream for, but as it stands now, you have some important work to do—work that is smack in the middle of these two opposite poles.
And the work you need to do… should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life.
And the work you need to do—as much as it depends on you, as Romans 12:18 says—should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life. And working to stay connected is still the way to show them how much you love and care for them.
So, I want to give you five things you can do that will help this situation. Five things that won’t guarantee your child will change, but that can be used by God to stir up his or her heart.
Get to know your child
Here’s the first one. Whether your child is 14 years old or 24 years old, you need to get to know your child’s unique life experience and what has led to their decision to identify this way. When someone first comes out as gay or transgender, they most likely have been wrestling with these thoughts for years. There was an interior life that you were not part of, and now one of the most significant ways you can know and show love to your child is by listening to their story.
Here are some sample questions you can use to help you get this important (and yes, scary!) conversation started:
- When did these feelings of (same-sex attraction) begin? Or, when did you start to feel that you were a boy (or girl)? What made you feel that way? (As much as possible, move toward getting specific here, but don’t push too hard at the beginning—this will be a difficult conversation for both of you.)
- What was it like to grow up in our Christian home and struggle with these thoughts and desires?
- How did you feel sitting in our church and struggling all this time in isolation? What were you thinking when you were feeling so alone?
- Why did you feel like you could not come to us when you knew you felt attracted to people of the same sex (or feeling like you were in the wrong body?) Why? What was one thing that kept you silent?
- How do you envision yourself living out your sexuality (or gender) from here on? What do you want your life to look like?
- How do you see this decision to come out and identify as gay or transgender as being OK for a Christian?
- How do you want our relationship to be now that this is in the open?
These questions are by no means meant for interrogation (although that may be a temptation). I encourage you to sincerely desire to know your son or daughter’s experience, not as a means to “fix” them, but out of a desire to love and know them more fully. It’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you are farther out from their initial disclosure.
This discussion (or series of talks) may be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship by talking about past relational hurts or experiences that have impacted your child. It may also present opportunities for you to speak truth to them in a way that they can be open to receive it. You might just be surprised by what they share.