|Posted on January 6, 2016 at 7:00 AM|
I THINK I AM GAY: A Parent's Response
Written By: Tim Geiger
(Posted Nov. 2012)
[This essay was written by Tim Geiger, a person formerly experiencing same-sex attraction (SSA), who serves as Director of the Harvest USA office in Pittsburgh. Tim's thoughtful article provides guidance to a parent about how to respond with grace and love to someone who declares, "I believe I am a homosexual." This essay initially appeared in the OnebyOne Newsletter in May, 2012; their Chairman, Rev. Jeff Winter, graciously gave JONAH permission to adapt it.]
I think I'm gay." Abraham's and Sarah's hearts stopped for an instant and everything around them seemed to stand still. It was like the shock of hearing that someone close to you has suddenly died. Now, as they hear these unexpected words from their oldest son, Mark, 20-years-old and home from college on spring break, Abe and Sarah wonder if this is also a death of another kind -death of their hopes and dreams for Mark and the death of their own desires for a "normal" life of family and grandchildren.
After the initial shock, all sorts of questions flooded their minds. Was this something they were responsible for? What will this mean for their two younger children? Will they be gay, too? Will Mark ever change? How will they deal with Mark's "friend" (though there was no "friend" at this point) if he wanted to spend the holidays with them? What would the other members of their congregation say? Worse yet - what would they think - about Mark and about them, as parents? They wanted to ask their son questions. They wanted to tell him they loved him. Yet all they felt they could do was try to process the information they already had, "I think I'm gay."
So what do you do when you hear those words...or find gay pornography on your child's computer or phone? How would you respond if you were the parents? How would you help a friend or someone in your congregation or community respond if they were in this situation? There are no easy answers, but there are a few strategies to keep in mind that may help you, your child, or the friends you are trying to help, through the difficult initial days or weeks of hearing this news and trying to understand it.
You don't need to know all the answers.
Don't feel as though you need to have all the answers, or even know all the questions to ask, right at the beginning. It's okay to tell your child after his or her initial disclosure, "This is a lot to think about and take in. I need some time to think over what you've said. I'd like to sit down with you to talk about this in more depth later - after I've had some time to calm down and reflect." Your child was in charge of the initial disclosure, and he has probably been thinking about what he would say on this day for many weeks, months or even years. So, you don't have to quickly respond. Don't be rushed. Go at your own speed.
Affirm your love for your child.
No matter what ultimately happens, no matter what you son or daughter says, feels or does, he or she is still your child. Express your love for her. Promise her that there's nothing that would ever cause you to withhold that love. This may be difficult to do, but the most important way that parents can help their child who has adopted a gay identity is to keep the lines of relationship open. Your child's behavior is not rebellion against you, although, if there is anger in her declaration, you will most likely be the prime recipient of that anger. Maintaining love and contact with your child is the best way to be faithful to God's commandments and to remain a presence in your child's life.
Ask your child what does he mean by saying he is gay.
Don't take for granted that your child's understanding of the terms he uses to describe himself is the same as yours. Ask your child how he came to this conclusion, how long he has been thinking about it, and how certain he feels it is true. Is he dealing solely with feelings or is he also dealing with behavior and/or identity issues?
You may find that your child isn't so much making a statement about his identity as it is his assessment of a situation in which he perceives himself as helpless. "I've been struggling with these feelings for years-and the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that I must be gay." Saying you're gay and saying you've been wrestling with feelings you don't understand and don't want are two completely different things. This is an important point to clarify with him.
You don't need to know details about your child's sexual activity.
If your son or daughter is over 18, this information is often not helpful for a parent to know, and may serve only to separate parent (who may experience additional shock) from child (who may experience guilt and shame over revealing such personal details to her parent[s]). It is okay to ask general questions, "Are you in a relationship? With whom? Who else knows?"
If your child is under 18, then it is important to ascertain some level of detail about his or her behavior. "Is what you feel limited to fantasy and masturbation? Is pornography involved? Have you had sexual contact with anyone?" Keep in mind that asking these kinds of questions can be difficult for you, as a parent, to ask, and for your child to hear. Here it may be wise to enlist the services of a good counselor, one who can help you learn how to talk to your child on these sensitive matters, and who might better relate to your child. There are many counselors who are not only professionally trained in gender affirming processes but have had the added benefit of overcoming his/her own SSA issues. Don't be afraid to check around to find the right kind of counselor, one whose values and beliefs are consistent with yours as too many counselors have bought into the unfounded notion that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable.
Also in the case of a minor, it is important to assess the situation and determine if laws have been broken, and if your child is at risk from a predator, either in person or online. It is also essential to determine if sexual abuse has occurred and if so, to report this to law enforcement as quickly as possible. Talk to a counselor or rabbi or member of the clergy who is familiar with your state's laws about child sexual abuse to determine how to proceed.
Ask your child if he is content to be gay, or if he wants to change.
Some children will quickly state they're happy--and if your child does, you likely won't be able to convince him otherwise. Others, though, may report years of angst, guilt and shame over their feelings and behavior and will express either some desire to change or wonder if that is even possible. If so, enter into that struggle by sensitively talking to him, Again, it may be helpful to have your child talk with a qualified counselor who both affirms what the Bible says about holiness and sexuality and has the ability to relate well to youth.
You can't change your child.
You are not the one who is going to change your child. No matter how badly you might want to see change in your son's or daughter's life, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won't be able to convince your child to change if he or she is convinced this is "who they are."
Only through a transformation of his/her feelings, behavior, and identity will the change that is needed actually occur. God wants to do business with your child's heart - he/she has adopted or is struggling with a gay identity because, at some level, he/she has believed lies about God, self, and others. His/her perceptions have been colored---often by deep emotional wounds from childhood. He/she has come to believe what the world currently believes about life, sexuality, purpose, God, etc., instead of viewing life authentically through the lens of the Bible and commentaries.
On the other hand, what you can be is an agent of change in your child's life. Such change is likely to come about within the context of community - through your relationship with your son or daughter, or through his or her relationship with another mature, compassionate human being. Often, God can change your son's or daughter's heart but a human agent is likely necessary to give him/her the tools required to complete the change.
Your child doesn't need to become straight
What your child needs is what God calls everyone to, and that is a life of faith and repentance (teshuvah). Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child's problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not being straight - it is living by God's commandments in a lifestyle of faith and repentance. Godly sexuality is about holiness (Lev. 19:1); it is about living life according to God's design.
You can't do anything to control your child's struggle or repentance.You may have influence but no longer have "control." You can, however, respond to what the Lord is calling you to do in terms of your own faith, obedience and repentance in life as you struggle with these issues in your own family.
Bring others in.
No matter how strong your faith, you can't deal with this on your own. Isolation is a death-knell. Seek out trusted and spiritually mature friends, family members, congregation members and clergy to help you both interpret the events in your family from a biblical perspective and to help you respond in a holy and God-glorifying way in response to your child's decisions. God often ministers to His people through the context of community. Don't let your fears get in the way of faith. Consider helping others who are suffering or are in pain over sexuality issues within their family.
What about setting boundaries in my relationship with my child?
It may be appropriate to set some boundaries in your relationship with your child if she persists in her behaviors. Those boundaries will be unique for each family and will often change as needs and circumstances dictate. A ground rule for boundaries, however, is that they should exist to protect your family and to protect your child. Boundaries should never be punitive or manipulative.
How can I help my child?
Pray. Pray for wisdom, pray for faith, pray for strength to reflect the love of God to your child. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Make sure your child knows that he can always come to you. At the same time, give him space to make his own decisions. Respect those decisions, but don't necessarily agree with or condone them. Let your child realize the natural consequences of his behavior. If your child makes decisions to pursue self-destructive or otherwise sinful behavior, communicate the sinfulness of that decision and your disappointment - but never withhold your love.
Finding yourself in a situation where your son or daughter is struggling with unbelief and sin in particularly hurtful ways is truly difficult. Rest assured that God is there to comfort you and to provide you with the "chisuk" (strength) necessary to get you through this difficult time. He is at work in all things---especially the hard ones---for the good of those who live according to His purpose. He hasn't forgotten you. To the contrary, He is the only One capable of helping you to grow in faith and hope in the midst of a dark and difficult time. Believe that He can! He is there for you.
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