A Love Letter to Teens in the Closet


If I remember it correctly, being a teenager can be Hell.

In the middle of so much changing in and around you, it can impossible to figure out just who you are.

Trying to navigate it all; the desire to fit in, the fear of rejection, the cruelty of other people, and your own daily inconsistency—can all be rightly disorienting. Some days it’s a battle just to take the next tentative step into the world, knowing what might be waiting for you out there. It’s not a natural thing to purposefully walk  toward pain that way.

I don’t need to tell you this.

You know it all too well. You understand better than most teenagers, and that’s why I’m writing to you.

I can’t fathom what it’s like to be stumbling to finding yourself, while being told by the voices around you that this self is an abomination; to be discovering truths about you, that instead of bringing joy, only confirm your greatest fears that you are different and that this difference is a liability. The tension that can create within a young soul must be nearly too much to bear.

I can’t imagine how much it hurts to hide in the middle of the crowds, to be silent about the deepest longings of your heart with those close to you, to sit in the middle of a joke that is about you and having to laugh along with friends and peers oblivious to the bomb going off inside you—and to believe that God Himself is against you.

It must be exhausting to keep your guard up all the time; to have to weigh every word, manage every conversation, carefully maintain the facade at home and at school and with friends, so as not to ever be fully transparent. It must be a nightmare to never get to be real anywhere.

And I guess I just wanted to tell you that I see you and that I’m sorry if this is the road you have to walk, because you deserve far better.

I wanted to encourage you not to let the voices around you drown out the one within you, because that one is the only one worth listening to. And I don’t mean the voice that now parrots back the terrible things they may have said about you. I’m not talking about an inner voice that’s gradually learned to agree with the bullies and bigots and the brimstone preachers.

I’m talking about the voice that says, “Yes, this is who I really am.”

Because that is the voice you need to cherish and protect and to hold tightly too, until you are able to speak and fully live what that voice tells you. One day I pray you will be able to do that. One day you’ll feel strong enough or loved enough or safe enough to say everything. But that day isn’t anyone’s business but yours. It will happen on your terms and in your time.

But in the meantime, I wanted you to know that you are loved; not only the carefully crafted version of you that you share with the world to protect yourself, but the real, true, most authentic you that so rarely gets to show itself.

That you, much of whom you are still discovering, is original and beautiful and made for greatness.

Keep going, dear friend and know that someone sees you and is for you.

Be so encouraged today.


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15 thoughts on “A Love Letter to Teens in the Closet

  1. Dear Pastor John,

    Thank you once again for a beautifully pastoral letter. I honor your gift to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and experience what it must be like for them.

    Something else I love about this post is its universality. All teens experience similar anguish. I can’t speak for all parents, but mine never took me seriously. My father thought I had nothing to complain about because he had been a teen in the Great Depression and that was really something to complain about. My mother was too absorbed in her narcissism and anything that disturbed her view of how she thought things ought to be was dismissed.

    If parents can’t or won’t listen to their suffering teens, it is just heart-breaking.

  2. Pingback: A Love Letter to the Teens in the Closet — john pavlovitz | survivor road

  3. Thank you once again, John. Your posts are truly authentic and I hope and pray that all the young people that are truly suffering on the inside can read your endearing words of encouragement!!
    Spoken with pure love!

  4. John:

    I love your posts for their compassion and understanding. It was voices so unlike yours that helped turn me away from the faith of my youth long before I became aware of my identity. I have begun following you and others of like mind and I am glad for it.

  5. That was so beautifully said….thank you…my son is gay and I remember all the inner struggling he went through…thank yourself much….very much appreciated…

  6. Everyone within ear distance need to hear your words John.
    Your ability to walk in the shoes of the people you speak about no matter the subject matter always shows your understanding and compassion.
    There are also those out there who must also deal with indifference which can be a traumatic as being all out there. In my case, that was it. It was O.K. with us but just don’t flaunt it, do not demonstrate your love for whom you really love. This too can create and cause trememdous trauma in the lives of young and old alike. We are still dealing with Seniors who have been in the closet all their lives and now feel free to come out and they are scared stiff. Also those Seniors who are LGBTIQ and out, but now have no where to go. To be vetted before entering a less than friendly Seniors home or institution can lead to early death for a lot of Seniors who still have lots of life to live and gifts to share. Thanks again John., love sharing your posts..

    • Iv nvr undrstood the “flaunting” issue. Is it not open to intrprtatn? Is hand holding a problm for heteros? PDA? Thanx b to Bob for usin the term “demon straight”???? Lord nos same sex coupls flaunt their love. Is it any wondr how dificult it is for seniors to b comfortabl in coming out & xpct to b acpted? Surly they hav xperincd luv in a hatefl society. Can we PLEZ as childrn ofa god, or watevr, find it in our hearts to b kind & respectfl to one anothr? If not now then wen… ✌

  7. Thank you for your words John. I am always moved by your love and compassion. Your message can extend far beyond teenagers in the closet and as someone who knows what it was like to be a fiercely closeted teen I was particularly struck when you wrote “…know that you are loved; not only the carefully crafted version of you that you share with the world to protect yourself, but the real, true, most authentic you that so rarely gets to show itself.” It wasn’t long ago when I was a scared, gay teenager and if someone had truly recognized me and understood me when I was too afraid to come out of the closet and even more afraid of staying in it I think I would be a very different person today. To be seen, validated, and loved in such a confusing time in your life can be incredibly powerful and I wish I had been less afraid of self acceptance and not feeling like I needed to be in or out of the closet; to just be okay where I was and who I was in the moment. If the 16 year old me read your words five years ago I probably wouldn’t be as confused or angry at myself as I am today. And while I’m not a teenager anymore I can still receive your message of love just as my younger self would and I can listen to the voice that tells me ‘this is who I am’. So I will.
    Thank you John, for making the lives of people like me that little bit easier – that little bit sweeter – and for comforting our younger selves who are never fully at peace until they hear gentle, meaningful words like yours. I’m not religious nor am I a believer but God Bless you John.

  8. Yes yes yes. My 14-19 year-old selves would’ve loved to hear words of encouragement. To know it would all turn out ok. That I would experience love and acceptance, not just from family and my now-wife, but from a rainbow of friends. Life is grand. Getting out of the teen years was a blessing to my life. Support means everything to all teens. I see them every day where I work. They need adults in their lives to show consistency, support and love.

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