When a Loved One Says, ‘I’m Gay’: For Parents

Judy Hamilton can vividly recall the day, 16 years ago, when she found out about her oldest son’s homosexual involvement.

As a young adult, Darryl had moved from the family home in Texas to California. “Darryl and I had always been close,” Judy recalls, “so it was difficult to see him go, but I knew he had to live his own life.” Several months later, Judy received a long letter from him.

Darryl shared some exciting news: “I found someone that I care deeply about, and I’m in a relationship that is completely fulfilling.”

As Judy read further, however, her stomach lurched and she could hardly swallow. Darryl confessed that this romantic relationship involved another man. “I have had these strong feelings of attraction to men for as long as I can remember,” he wrote, “and I’ve always tried to hide them.” Now he was “coming out of the closet” and living as he believed God intended.

Judy was completely devastated. “I screamed, I ranted, I cried. I felt like I was bleeding deep inside, and there was no way to stop the gaping wound in my soul.”

Haunting grief

Whether the confession comes from a son or daughter, spouse or close friend, the admission of homosexuality hits like a bombshell, especially in Christian homes. Grief is the most common emotional reaction; and it is often overwhelming and crippling. The deeper the bond between you and your loved one, the deeper your hurt upon discovering his or her homosexuality.

Guilt is also a huge issue, especially for parents. It is common for them to ask, “Where did we go wrong?” They feel like total failures in one of their most important God-given roles. While parents are not to blame for their child’s homosexual struggle, it is also important for parents to understand their son’s or daughter’s homosexual feelings can arise from childhood pain, and sometimes parents have inadvertently contributed to that pain. It does not bring resolution to pretend that a parent did everything perfectly with his or her child. At the same time, all parents are imperfect; all parents cause pain in their children’s lives. This is not exclusive to parents of child struggling with homosexuality. Norman Wright, author of the book, Loving a Prodigal comments, “The misbehaviors of our children do not necessarily indicate that we are failures as parents. Our worth as parents does not hinge on the choices of our children.”1

Parents are not responsible for what they cannot control. For example, they cannot control their child’s temperament. They cannot control their child’s perception. They cannot control their child’s temptations, or their child’s responses to those temptations. And they cannot control their adult child’s moral behavior. That, perhaps, is the hardest issue for some parents to face: the loss of control. Some parents spend years trying to regain control. They manipulate, they threaten, they yell. Ultimately, nothing works. The child is still involved in homosexuality.

Parents can easily get stuck in the “if only” syndrome: “If only I had been a better parent … If only I had become a Christian earlier in life … If only I had lived my faith more consistently … If only I had guessed what was going on earlier…” The list is endless. These types of thoughts can be tough to overcome. Obsessing over the past is not going to change anything. Parents must move forward, with God’s help.

Anita Worthen, co-author of the book, Someone I Love is Gay,2 was a single mom during her 20s and 30s. She realized that her sins as a teen had led to a less than ideal situation for her son. So, she went to him and asked for his forgiveness. She did what she could to make the situation right. As she saw her son pursuing other men who were 20 years older, she knew that he was searching for a father’s love. She felt horrible, but she could not undo the past. She had to renounce the condemnation and accept the Lord’s forgiveness for her own past.

Key Issues to Face

There are some key issues that parents have to face to successfully “move beyond” the paralyzing, grief-stricken state of having a gay child.

The loss must be faced.3 Having a gay child entails the loss of future dreams, loss of control, loss of security, and loss of relationship, to name a few. These multiple losses trigger a grief reaction that can last for months or even several years.

Even if your child comes out of homosexuality, you will always live with the reality that your child has struggled in this area, that something profoundly wrong has occurred in his or her life that will leave a scar—even after healing. You will never see them in quite the same way again. And, in that sense, the way you look at that person has changed forever. This is a loss of great magnitude.

A profound, thought-provoking book on grief is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Gerald Sittser.4 In his book, Dr. Sittser describes the anguish of losing three of the most important people in his life one night in a terrible car accident involving a drunk driver going 85 mph who veered into their lane on the highway. In one blinding crash, Gerald lost his mother, his wife and his young daughter.

In the following days and weeks, Sittser went through the shock, the horrifying emotional pain and the crushing grief of his loss. He felt engulfed in a great darkness for months. Eventually, however, the darkness began to lift. The “sunrise” began to be felt and his emotional state returned somewhat to normal. However, three years after the accident, Sittser wrote these profound words:

“Recovery is a misleading and empty expectation. We recover from broken limbs, not amputations. Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past, which is gone forever, only going ahead to the future, which has yet to be discovered. Whatever that future is, it will, and must, include the pain of the past with it. Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss.”

It is necessary to face the pain. Live through it, rather than run from it. Do not avoid it. Do not feel guilty about it. Do not quote Scriptures to push it away prematurely. Some of the healthiest parents have grieved the deepest over this tragedy of having a gay son or daughter. Some of them have been incapacitated for months following this discovery. Most worrisome are the ones who are “back to normal” after three weeks. They have not yet even faced the reality of this situation.

What causes homosexuality?

One of the biggest questions for parents and spouses is, “Is this my fault?” This gets down to the root issue of who is responsible for my gay loved one’s struggles with his or her sexuality. There are three possible answers:

Answer #1—God is responsible. This condition is genetic—so God caused it, or at least, allowed it to occur. Blame God. It is His fault. Some evangelical Christian parents have actually thrown out their biblical convictions that homosexuality is sin. It is genetic, they rationalize, so my child had no other option. “I guess the Bible doesn’t mean what I used to think it meant about this subject.” This is a false answer.

Answer #2—The son or daughter is responsible. It is his or her choice. Again, this is an erroneous solution. People do not consciously choose to be gay, in the vast majority of cases. They become aware of homosexual feelings, often at puberty, just as you became aware of heterosexual desires and attractions. It infuriates gays and lesbians when you tell them, “You chose this. Now stop it!” This is also a false answer.

Answer #3—Homosexuality is the result of a combination of multiple factors, and parents may, or may not, have contributed in some way to their loved one’s struggles in this area. To find answers, we must be willing to search for the truth, no matter where that search takes us. Are you willing to “walk in the truth,” no matter what answers you find? Are you committed to the truth? Or, are you happy with false solutions because they are easier? They take away the guilt (or do they?). They “fix” the problem—at least, for now.

Anita Worthen realized that she had sinned against her son, Tony, by becoming an unmarried mom. Tony grew up without a father. He was drawn sexually to men about his father’s age, and Anita saw the underlying dynamic: He was searching for the affectionate love from an older man that he never received from his biological, absent father. Anita had to go to Tony and ask his forgiveness—talk about the real issues instead of covering them over with excuses, denial or silence.

There are several steps to a new breakthrough in relating with your gay son or daughter:

1. Seek God for the truth. Ask Him, “Are there choices I made in my past that were sinful, that I need to repent of, that I need to confess to my child? Do I need to ask my child’s forgiveness?”

2. Go to your child and talk about it. You initiate the discussion, in a spirit of humility. Confess the truth: “Tony, I know that I made some wrong choices in my life that I believe have profoundly impacted you. You grew up without a father, and that was a result of my wrong choices. Can you forgive me?” Be vulnerable: “Are there specific incidents you remember where I offended you?”

If we may say a personal word to dads. Some sons can remember specific incidents of rejection or perceived rejection that cause them pain to this day. By going to your son, you avail the opportunity for him to release that pain, so it no longer is hidden.

This is a key point to remember: Most often, it is your child’s perception of the event—not necessarily the event itself—that shapes his or her pain. Most of a parent’s words and actions were unintentional; a mother or father did not realize how they were impacting their child’s life. In other cases, it was due to a parent’s own brokenness. It has been said that we hurt other people out of our own hurt. For example, the boy who “never felt accepted by Dad.” Maybe his father was athletic and appeared to favor his other son, who was a sports enthusiast. When another son came along and wanted to take violin, Dad laughed and called him a “sissy.” The father was not intentionally trying to wound his son. And yet the child perceived the event as hurtful.

3. Based on your child’s answers to your questions, take the next appropriate step: Ask for forgiveness if necessary. Explain your perception of the situation. “I didn’t realize how much I hurt you that day. Will you forgive me?”

Today, an estimated one out of four households is somehow touched by homosexuality. Most Christians want to be a redemptive influence, but many wonder how to show Christ’s love without appearing to condone the behavior.

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