by Pastor John Pavlovitz
You have a gay child.
If you’ve just found this out, I know that it may be nearly impossible to say or understand or even believe it right now, but you do.
Christian Mom and Dad, do you 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 might be a swirling, dizzying storm of questions, fears, worry, doubt, anger, grief, and disbelief, and it probably feels like you’re drowning—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 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 new course for you and your child.
1. Breathe. 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. 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 now and the questions to come. God is not surprised by your child’s sexuality, by the challenge it might be for you, or by anything else that is coming. God has you.
2. Fix your heart securely to your sleeve. Make no mistake—awkward, messy, tearful, painful conversations with your child are 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 of admitting that you don’t understand, but also the deep compassion of showing that you want to understand. Come clean about your questions and 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 the most important prayer. Right now you might be tempted to pray that God will “fix” or change your child, that He simply and immediately remove this very difficult reality from your family. From my 18 years of experience as a pastor, I would caution against this, as the odds are extremely slim. I do want you to pray, 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 in a way that blesses you. Instead of praying for answers or solutions, simply pray for God’s presence in the unknowing, and welcome it.
4. Become a student. Learn everything you can: about sexuality, about the human body, about LGBT culture, about your child. One of the most difficult parts of our lives as parents and adults is admitting when we’re at the limit of what we know and understand. Chances are, you already have some ideas about homosexuality: very specific, passionate ones. Some are a product of your upbringing, of your understanding of Scripture, or simply of the life you’ve lived. Do your best to put those aside and become a willing student of sexuality. Ask difficult questions from all sorts of people, and don’t seek the answers you think you already have, but instead to learn things you don’t yet know. Don’t be afraid to seek 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 is who to share this news with. It’s incredibly difficult and stressful to choose who you can trust with this intimate part of your lives, but know this: You will make this decision and experience the results together. If you decide to be “out” with your child’s sexuality, you will be “out” as a family. You’ll inherit the unfair stigma of that sexuality, and you may at times face the same judgment, discrimination, and pushback that your child does. Likewise, if you choose to keep your 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 probably looks 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 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. In the middle of your own doubts and difficulties, 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 road, Mom and Dad.
7. Play this movie until the end. 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 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. There’s no way around this thing. You simply have to do the dirty, unpleasant, uncomfortable work of getting up every day and living.
8. Let yourself off the hook. Mom and Dad: you didn’t cause this. I know you’d like to take responsibility right now and 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 your anger and sadness, but it wouldn’t be at all fair. Your child’s sexuality is not your responsibility. There were 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, 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. By this, I mean to continue parenting as normal. Do all the things that you did before you discovered your child’s hidden reality: spend time with your kids, 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. 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. Don’t postpone your home life or your family’s future until you reach some decision or get some 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 and 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. God, if He’s God, is bigger than this, and outside of it, 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.
Mom and Dad, today as any day: be encouraged.
Pastor John Pavlovitz is a father of two (Noah and Selah) and husband of one (Jennifer); a 17-year ministry veteran, specializing in rabble-rousing, engineering mayhem, and generally trying to live-out the red letters of Jesus. He enjoys songwriting, exercising, cooking, hiking, and eating emotionally.
Want to become a volunteer writer? Tell us here!