You have a gay child.
I know that it may be nearly impossible to say or understand or even believe, but you do.
Christian Mom and Dad, remember everything you did before your child was born; all the advice you solicited, the books you read, the preparations you made, the prayers you prayed, the beautiful dreams you composed in your head for how their lives would unfold?
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t on your radar. I know this wasn’t what you signed-up for.
Right now your mind is probably a swirling, dizzying storm of questions, fears, worry, doubt, anger, grief, and disbelief, and it probably feels like you’re drowning right now; so over your head as a parent that you’re desperately gasping for some precious breaths of air.
Let me try to throw you a lifeline.
I’m not going to preach to you, or tell you what to do, and I certainly can’t give you any words that will magically reset your family back to the way it was in your earlier dreams, but maybe I can help you build a new dream.
As a pastor and parent, let me give you some suggestions to hopefully help still the waters, and give you a place to begin this uncharted course for you and your child.
Rest for a moment in the presence of God. Let your heart rate slow, let your mind still, and lean on what you believe about His character and goodness. As with every struggle you have ever faced, know and trust that God is big enough to carry you through this; that He has enough wisdom and love for you, for your child, and for the questions you have and the questions to come.
God is not surprised by your child’s sexuality, by the challenge it is for you, or by anything that is coming. God doesn’t just have a plan of for you and your child, God has you.
2. Fix your heart securely to your sleeve.
Make no mistake: awkward, messy, tearful, painful conversations with your child are probably ahead, but fully commit to having them. The greatest gift you can give your son or daughter right now is to offer them the same soul-baring honesty they have given you. Show them the great humility and vulnerability of admitting what you don’t understand, but the deep compassion of wanting to understand.
Come clean about your questions, your discomfort, your inability to grasp so much about this, but be relentless in reminding your child that they are loved, and that because of this love, you want to walk alongside them.
3. Pray bigger prayers.
Right now you might be tempted to simply and solely pray that God will fix or change your child; that He emphatically and immediately removes this very difficult reality from your family. You are certainly entitled to this prayer, however from my 18 years of experience as a pastor counseling and serving families of LGBT teens, I would caution against this, as the odds are extremely slim. I do want you to pray big prayers, though. I want you to pray honestly and fervently and continually, that God will be present to you and your family in this journey. Pray that He will work in and around and through you all, as you navigate this as a family in a way that blesses and grows you; one that reflects the character of Christ to each another.
Instead of praying for answers or solutions, simply pray for God’s presence in the unknowing, and welcome it. Allow God to surprise you with provision.
4. Become a student.
Learn everything you can; about sexuality, about the human body, about faith, about the Bible, about the culture; and most importantly about your child. As with all LGBT people, this is not a statistic or a cause, this is your precious son or daughter, one whose story is as beautifully unique as they are. Realize that as much as you feel like this is your crisis, this is their story, first. One of the most difficult parts of our lives as parents is admitting when we’re at the limit of what we know and understand. Chances are, you already have some ideas about LGBT people; even very specific, passionate ones. Some are a product of your upbringing, of your understanding of Scripture, of your faith tradition, or simply of the life you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve had. Most of these ideas, regardless of where they come from, have probably been formed from a distance. Things are closer now, and different now. Do your best to put aside those old assumptions and become a learner and a listener again. Find social media peer groups of families who are living in the tension of faith and sexuality, and have the humility to seek the wisdom there.
Ask difficult questions from all sorts of people, and don’t seek the answers you think you already have, but to learn things you don’t yet know. Don’t be afraid to seek the truth.
5. Realize that you’ll be in or out of the closet as a family.
One of the most difficult decisions you’ll make as this journey unfolds (one you should make with your child), is who to share this news with. It’s incredibly difficult and stressful to choose who you can trust with this sensitive and intimate part of your lives, but know this: You will make this decision and experience the fallout together. If you decide to be “out” with your child’s sexuality, you will be “out” as a family. You’ll inherit the stigma of that sexuality, and you’ll face the same judgment, discrimination, and pushback that they do.
Likewise, if you choose to keep you child’s sexual identity hidden, you too will experience the strain of keeping part of you hidden, and the internal struggle of partial honesty with people around you.
6. Remember who you are to your kids.
Your child might look a bit different to you as a result of what they’ve shared about their sexuality, but it’s important to realize that they haven’t changed, and as importantly, they haven’t changed their perception of you. You are still Mom or Dad. You’re still the most influential people in their lives; the ones they look up to and turn to and seek approval from and refuge in. Now, more than ever, they need your steady love to form the bedrock of their lives, in a world that is and will be extremely unstable. More than a friend or a pastor or church or social group, you owe it to your child to put them first.
In the middle of your own doubts and difficulties and questions, passionately pursue your kids, and do every thing you can to assure them of the unwavering love that you have for them. This is where the rubber meets the bumpy road, Mom and Dad.
7. Play this movie until the end.
Right now it can be so easy to look at what seems like a confusing mess in front of you and lose hope. I know that it all seems quite impossible, and that you can’t really see beyond today, but I can promise you that the way things are right now, is not always the way things will be. Just like any painful, difficult event, there is no substitute for time. You will grow and learn and come to understand things. The rawness and urgency of these days will fade, and the jagged edges of uncertainty will soften, though it won’t happen in a moment, but over a million moments strung together; so start.
There’s no way around this thing. You simply have to do the difficult, sometimes uncomfortable work of getting up every day and living and choosing as well as you can, but as you do, a surprisingly beautiful road may open up. Most great films have an amazing plot twist. Yours will too.
8. Let yourself off the hook.
Mom and Dad: You didn’t cause this. I know you’d like to take responsibility right now; to blame yourself for what your child has shared, because as heartbreaking as that would be, at least you’d have a fixed place to direct any anger or sadness you may have, but it wouldn’t be at all fair. Your child’s sexuality is not your responsibility. There were likely no magic words you did or didn’t say, no duty as a parent that you failed to perform, no love that you withheld or failed to express that could have prevented it.
This is so much bigger than you anyway, so do yourself a favor and take your child’s sexuality off of your shoulders. You were never in charge of carrying it.
9. Act natural.
Continue parenting as normally. Do all the things that you did before you discovered your child’s hidden reality: spend time with them, attend their games, help with their homework, pester them to clean their rooms and eat their vegetables and get off the computer. Go on vacations, go out to dinner, go shopping, laugh together, argue with one another. Continue to be a family in as many normal, ordinary, routine ways as you can, because the wonderful reality is that you are still a family. Your kids are still learning real-time lessons from you about love, faith, adversity, and goodness. Don’t postpone your home life or your family’s future or your parental joy, until you reach some imagined decision or get some hoped-for clarity at a later date.
Your kids are growing-up now, and the precious, fleeting days you have with them are happening as we speak. Go, be a family.
10. Trust God.
It may seem like a trite religious platitude right now, but it’s the heart of truth in this or any day for you. God, if He’s God, is bigger than this, and outside of it all, and capable of revealing His character through it all. Give God you and your decisions; your children, your future, and every single unanswered or unanswerable question that you have, and believe that you and your kids already have everything you need together.
Sift the advice of others; the words of authors, parents, pastors, and bloggers whose opinions you trust. Read, and as importantly, study Scripture, and prayerfully seek the wisdom in all of it; but also know that none of them compare with quieting yourself and letting God speak to you about your child.
Mom and Dad, this may feel like an end of a dream for you, and in many ways it is, but it’s also the beginning of a new dream, and it’s a reality that can be so worth walking into.
Your child is a blessing, so cherish them as such.
Your calling as the shepherd of their lives, is the greatest one you can ever have, so honor it with the best of yourself.
Today as much as any other day: Be encouraged.
(Christian Parents, if you need counsel, a listening ear, or to be connected with Parent Groups or Christian ministries who are lovingly living in the difficult intersection of faith and sexuality, please message me, and I will happily to connect you to those resources.
A version of this piece appears in The Parents Project).