Harvest House Publishers
Now That You Know
“How Can This Be?“
Loving a Gay Son or Daughter
When Homosexuality Hits Your Marriage
When Other Family Members Are Gay
Negotiating Family Boundaries
The Three Most Common Arguments
A Mile in Their Shoes
What to Do Now
Flashing in my mind was this wonderful son who was so
and happy—such a joy to have around. Thinking of him
entwined with some other male brought heaves of heavy
sobbing from deep wounds of agony.
Where Does a Mother Go to Resign?
The closer you are, the more it hurts. So if a casual friend or co-worker is gay, you’re probably concerned, but not devastated. It’s another matter if you’ve learned this about a daughter, son, spouse, or immediate-family member. At first you may have refused to believe it. Maybe you hoped “I’m gay” really meant “I’m confused,” or “I’m going through a phase.” Then finally, for whatever reason, it sinks in: This person I love is a homosexual.
That’s when the emotional roller coaster takes off, and you can expect to experience every feeling imaginable while you’re riding it. But now that you know, before we examine the ups and downs you’ll experience, let’s begin with an understanding that you’re not alone in this. Countless parents, spouses, family members, and friends have been there too. And wherever they may stand on the morality of homosexuality, they would, I’m sure, confirm how difficult it can be when a loved one announces “I’m gay.”
When Cher (the Cher) first heard those words from her daughter, Chastity, she threw her out of the home. Barbra Streisand had an easier time accepting her son’s homosexuality, but his recent admission of being infected with the AIDS virus has to have been crushing. Liza Minelli found out about her first husband’s homosexuality by walking in on him while he was in the middle of an encounter with a man. In this she shares her mother, Judy Garland’s, misfortune: Garland was married, not once but twice, to men who were later found to be homosexual. Comedienne Joan Rivers was spared a similar fate by discovering her boyfriend’s homosexuality before marrying him, a discovery she initially, like many women, refused to accept.
Actress Lana Turner assumed she’d done something wrong as a mother when her daughter Cheryl admitted her lesbianism, and Dr. Charles Socarides, a nationally recognized psychologist who has pioneered and promoted clinical treatment for homosexuals, is himself the father of a gay son.
Christians and social conservatives aren’t exempt from this experience, either. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been challenged publicly, more than once, by his lesbian half-sister, who opposes many of his conservative views. Vice President Dick Cheney has a smoother relationship with his lesbian daughter, although he clearly does not condone lesbianism, and the late Senator Pete Knight of California, who authored a ballot proposition designed to prevent state recognition of same-sex marriages, had both a homosexual brother and son.
At least three of today’s top-selling Christian authors also know a bit of what you’re going through. Philip Yancey has written extensively about his friendship with gay activist Mel White and the tensions White’s “coming out“ created for them both, in What’s So Amazing About Grace? In How Will I Tell My Mother? Stephen Arterburn chronicles his gay brother’s battle with AIDS and his family’s response. And popular author and speaker Barbara Johnson describes her family’s shock over her son’s homosexuality in her first book, Where Does a Mother Go to Resign?
Additionally, pro-family activist Phyllis Schlafly’s son admitted years ago to being gay, and televangelist Oral Roberts endured the worst sort of tragedy when his allegedly homosexual son committed suicide in 1981.
Clearly, then, you’re not alone—not in the discovery that someone you love is gay, nor in the heartache coming after the discovery. You have lots of company, which, some say, misery loves. But company alone can’t take away your pain, so let’s examine that pain and, hopefully, learn how best to handle it.
When listening to people describe their feelings about a homosexual loved one, death is the word I hear most often. Of course, words like shock, fear, and confusion are used as well, but the phrase “it feels like he died” comes up more than any other.
Sometimes literal death is referred to in these conversations, as in “I’m so miserable I wish I could die,” “I’m so scared he’ll die of AIDS,” or “If she continues in this, she’ll die spiritually, once and for all.” Other times, the word is used more figuratively: “I’ll just die if any of my friends find out,“ or “His father will die when he hears this.”
When homosexuality hits home, I’ve come to believe, there is a death involved, though it’s not the death of the gay individual, or of his relations with his family. But it’s the death of assumptions.
Every relationship is based on assumptions. We assume the person we’re in relationship with is someone we know pretty well, so we trust there are no major secrets between us. We assume this individual tells us the truth and shares our values, and that our relationship will go on in a fairly predictable way.
We hold even more specific assumptions based on the sort of relationship we have. If we’re married, we assume our spouses are, and will continue to be, faithful; that they will always be our partners; that we are safe in our marriages. If we’re parents, we assume our daughter or son will live out the principles we’ve taught in the home, and that we’ll become grandparents some day. If we have brothers or sisters, we assume they’ll eventually develop a traditional family unit of their own and give us nieces and nephews.
And in most cases, since homosexuality is more the exception than the rule, we assume our loved one is heterosexual.
To hear otherwise, then, signals the death of assumptions. Suddenly, we find we don’t know our loved one as well as we thought. We realize he or she has had a secret problem—a secret life, perhaps—that we’ve known nothing about. We may have been lied to, directly or indirectly, shattering the assumption that our relationship was founded on honesty. Our loved one may not, we learn, share our values, and our future with this person is now anything but predictable.
Our assumption of monogamy may die—a spouse has found another partner, in fantasy or real life, and how can we compete? Or the assumption our son or daughter will carry on our tradition, both religious and relational, expires when we learn our child has feelings we never assumed he or she would feel, and now holds beliefs we never imagined a member of our family would hold.
So many assumptions, all lost. It’s neither morbid nor inaccurate to call it death. So clarify these points to yourself:
Your loved one did not die.
Your relationship with this person hasn’t died either. It will take time and effort to rebuild, perhaps, but there’s no reason to assume the bonds between the two of you are severed.
You are experiencing the death of assumptions, and major assumptions at that. So in response to this death, as in response to death of any sort, you’re grieving.
More than thirty years ago, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed a theory on the stages of grief we experience when someone close to us dies. While she clearly does not write from a Christian perspective, Dr. Kubler-Ross’s ideas about death and dying are useful. She breaks grief into five general stages or phases: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Anyone who has worked with grieving families will tell you this progression of five stages accurately describes the emotional process they go through.
But many people, I included, believe these phases are common to people experiencing loss, or death, of any sort: the loss or death of a job, a marriage, or in your case, assumptions. Faced with this loss, family members who’ve just learned about a loved one’s homosexuality can expect to experience stages of grief similar to those Dr. Kubler-Ross describes. Let’s look at each, so we can get a better understanding of what you’re likely to go through.
When Barbara Johnson discovered gay pornography in her son’s desk drawer, she decided it must be part of a homework assignment he was working on. Lesbian activist Robin Tyler’s mother heard a rumor her daughter was a “dyke,” so Ms. Tyler assured her mom that dyke was slang for “Doctor of Young Karate Experts.” And time and again, when parents or family members have called my office to inquire about their homosexual loved one, they begin the conversation by asking:
“Can you help my family member? He’s confused. He thinks he’s gay.”
“How long,” I ask, “has he thought that?”
“Ten, maybe twelve, years.”
He’s not confused; Mrs. Johnson’s son wasn’t doing research; and dyke, while a crude word, was at least accurate and had nothing to do with karate. In each case, homosexuality had hit home long before the home was willing to admit it.
That’s understandable. Denial kicks in when we’re confronted with something unacceptable, something wildly contrary to our expectations and dreams.
I remember, for example, getting a phone call from my father in the fall of 1987. As usual, he was brief and to the point: He had a malignancy in his throat; he would begin treatment shortly; it didn’t look good, and he wanted me to be prepared.
Unacceptable. Absolutely not. No way. After all, I’d just been married that summer, and Dad had kicked up his heels like a schoolboy at the reception, beaming and rejoicing with me and my bride. We’d been through so much by then—so many exhausting arguments, so much hostility—all buried when I recommitted myself to Christ after years of gay activism, then went through intensive therapy, immense personal changes, and, finally, engagement to my beautiful wife, Renee. Dad and I were getting close for the first time; the worst was behind us. I was sure he would live to see my career take off, enjoy my children, and have a full, peaceful retirement. That had to happen.
So, of course, I didn’t believe him. I heard the words “I have cancer,” but they didn’t register. Even as I hung up the phone after assuring him of my love and prayers, I said out loud: “Nope. It’s not cancer; it’s not malignant; he’s not dying.” Then I went about my business as though nothing had happened, holding out hope that what I’d just been told meant something else—anything else—than what I was refusing to face.
Who could blame me? And who, for that matter, can blame you? When you love, you invest in expectations. So think for a moment of all you’ve expected to happen in your loved one’s life, then consider how the news “I’m gay” has affected those expectations. Certain things were supposed to happen—to your thinking, they probably had to happen—so you heard the words and, like me, told yourself they meant something else.
Considering all we hope and wish for the people we love, it’s no wonder that, when we’re confronted with bad news about them, we refuse to believe it. So your emotions will probably not fully register what your ears have already taken in—not at first. That’s denial, the initial stage of the grief process. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means you, like all of us, are slow to accept the unacceptable.
If This Is Where You Are…
…then don’t criticize yourself for finding it hard to believe someone you love is gay. No one lets go of assumptions easily. It takes time.
On the other hand, just because you’re reluctant to believe your loved one is gay, don’t force your denial on him by saying, in essence, “Since I can’t believe you’re homosexual, therefore, you can’t be homosexual!” At least give the person credit for thinking this through. After all, long before he decided to come out to you with this news, he thought it over carefully. So if your loved one has made this announcement to you, take it at face value. If she said, “I’m lesbian,” or he said, “I’m gay,” don’t retort, “No you’re not!” just because you find it hard to believe. Instead, let this person know it’s hard for you to believe this, and you’ll need time before it really sinks in.
It should also be said, though, that in some cases a person really doesn’t know for certain whether or not he’s gay. Sometimes a homosexual relationship is just an experiment and nothing more; sometimes gay pornography is looked at just out of curiosity. And at times, people can be confused about their sexual orientation, leading them to draw premature conclusions. So while I consider it a mistake to try to tell someone what they are or aren’t feeling, I also see value in asking a few simple questions at this point:
“How do you know if you’re really homosexual?”
“How long have you felt this way?”
“How much do you know about homosexuality?”
The answers to these questions won’t solve the problem, of course. They may, in fact, be very hard to hear. But they’ll at least help you determine whether your reluctance to believe your loved one is gay stems from confusion on his part, or from denial on yours. If it’s denial, it will dissolve, probably soon, giving way to the next common stage of the grief process.
When it sinks in that the unthinkable is true, anger is a common response.
I’m sure you remember where you were on September 11, 2001, when you first heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Remember the initial shock of looking at television images that seemed so unreal? Even as the facts were reported in detail over the news channels, most of us couldn’t grasp them. It was too much of a catastrophe; too horrible, completely unbelievable.
But, of course, we had no choice but to believe it, so after the truth sank in, the outrage began. Likewise, on a much smaller scale, outrage begins when you realize your own home or private life has been disrupted by something you never anticipated.
This can be the most destructive of all the grief stages, so for the sake of everyone involved, be careful how you react. When you’re angry, you may want the relief of an emotional explosion, and that may cause you to use the harshest, deadliest words you can think of. I’ve known parents who, out of their own rage, told their sons or daughters they’d rather see them dead than gay. I’ve heard brothers call a homosexual sibling a “freak who oughta be strung up and burned” (I’m quoting exact words here!), and I’ve seen whole families reject and humiliate a gay relative through name-calling and cruel, senseless remarks. And in each case, these family members lived to regret—bitterly—every vicious word they spit out at their loved ones but can’t, as much as they’d like to, retract or erase.
So again, be careful. There’s nothing wrong with anger, but a great deal of wrong comes from misusing it. “Be ye angry,” Paul told the Ephesians, “and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). There’s the challenge.
Properly used, anger can help correct a problem. Some of the finest social movements in history were birthed because people got collectively angry over an injustice, angry enough to do something about it. In counseling, I’ve seen anger provide a man with the motivation he needs to finally confront a problem. And no one can deny the value of Jesus’ anger when he threw the money changers out of the temple. Anger, properly used, motivates us to recognize a problem and correct it.
Wrath, though, corrects nothing. Instead, it lashes out, damaging and destroying. That’s why James said, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Screaming threats and insults at a family member doesn’t help your situation. It does a lot to wound the person you love and to cripple any ability to ever trust you again, but it does nothing to solve or improve the situation at hand. And regardless of whatever relief you temporarily get from blowing off steam, in the end, your explosion will have made everything much, much worse.
The trick, then, is to determine whether your anger is legitimate and then to express your anger constructively.
A few examples of “legitimate anger” and “constructive expression” versus “expression of wrath” might be:
When a married man has committed adultery with another man. His wife is legitimately angry for having been lied to, betrayed, and maybe physically endangered by a sexually transmitted disease.
Constructive expression: “You lied to me and broke your vows— who knows, you might even have infected me! Of course I’m furious!”
Expression of wrath: “You’re a worthless whoremonger who doesn’t give a rip about anybody!”
When a son has been using gay pornography in his parents’ home, knowing how strongly they would object to porn in any form.
His parents are legitimately angry over his lack of consideration for their home and their values.
Constructive expression: “You brought things into our home that you knew we’d never allow. You’ve completely disrespected us and our right to decide what comes into our house!”
Expression of wrath: “You make me sick! Anyone who wants to look at this stuff is disgusting. You’re disgusting!”
When a man marries a woman without telling her about his homosexual attractions.
The wife who discovers this is legitimately angry over having been misled.
Constructive expression: “You let me believe one thing when you knew, and deliberately covered up, that you’re turned on by men. You had no right!”
Expression of wrath: “Our marriage is a joke, and you’re a pervert who used me!”
When a daughter takes financial support from her parents, including money for rent, while telling them she either lives alone or has a roommate when, in fact, she’s in a lesbian relationship.
The parents are legitimately angry over her willingness to accept their support under false pretenses.
Constructive expression: “You manipulated us, lied to us, used us!”
Expression of wrath: “You and your perverted little friend can burn for all we care!”
When a man demands that his family recognize his relationship with another man as a marriage, threatening to cut them off if they don’t.
The family is legitimately angry over his stridency and heavyhandedness.
Constructive expression: “You’re acting like royalty, throwing out demands and ultimatums. There’s going to have to be some compromise here!”
Expression of wrath: “Take your stupid gay-rights parade someplace else!”
In each case, you’ll notice the people involved aren’t angry just because their loved one is homosexual. They’re angry over the way that person has handled, or mishandled, their relationship. The constructive expressions, you’ll also notice, are angry without being insulting or sarcastic, whereas the expressions of wrath aren’t meant to correct the problem as much as they’re intended to hurt the individual. And that’s where the difference is crucial.
If This Is Where You Are…
…then stop and think about how you’ve handled your anger. Of course you’re mad—someone you love has embraced a sin that’s going to disrupt life as you know it and, whether he realizes it or not, jeopardize his standing before God. How could you be anything but angry?
So if you spoke your peace without insulting, threatening, or degrading your loved one; if you let him know how you felt without attacking him or calling him names; if you can look back on what you said when you found out he was gay without regretting your words or your tone, then congratulations. You’ve been angry without sinning.
But if, at this point, you realize your words were harsh or poorly chosen; if, out of your own pain, you said things you didn’t mean; if you injured someone you love with a verbal assault—and I’m sure you know what qualifies as “assault“—then you have your own sin to deal with. After all, it makes no sense to criticize a homosexual for doing something the Bible condemns when you disobey the same Bible that commands you to “let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
So go to him, or her, and apologize. Explain that, although you’re grieved and angry over his or her sin, you now realize you’ve also sinned, both in attitude and words. Ask forgiveness. Let your loved one know you’re still not sure how the two of you are going to work out your relationship, but that you want to preserve it, even if you can’t agree on this issue. And emphasize that you want your discussions, no matter how heated, to be respectful.
There’s a good chance you’ll still be angry, not just with your gay loved one but also at the darker aspects of life in general—sin, Satan, this fallen world. All of these are legitimate reasons for anger, but remember the difference between anger and wrath. Anger, properly used, exposes a sin and tries to correct it, whereas wrath only seeks to hurt.
Anger is a scalpel; wrath is an ax. Before you pick up either one, be sure you know how you intend to use it.
And be sure you can live with the results.
Dr. Kubler-Ross describes this phase as being somewhat irrational, a time when the grieving person tries to bargain with God.
I’ve been there. Once I’d finished railing at God for allowing my father’s cancer, I then tried striking deals with Him. “If Dad watches his diet and we get him the best nursing care,” I prayed, “then maybe You could tag a few extra years onto his life. Deal?”
Similarly, it’s common for the terminally ill to make promises in hopes of a reprieve. (“God, let me live and I’ll quit smoking,” or “Heal my heart and I swear I’ll lose weight!”) That, Kubler-Ross says, is the bargaining phase.
But there’s a more constructive, realistic form of bargaining we can engage in. It begins when we and our gay family member have reached the point where we realize all the fighting on earth won’t change anything. He’s still who he is; we’re still who we are. Neither of us is going to budge. Now what?
That’s when we move beyond our anger and start asking the hard but practical questions, such as:
“Okay, we disagree on homosexuality, so should we drop the topic or keep discussing it?”
“Are you expecting me to welcome your partner into our home?”
“I teach my kids that sex is only moral and normal when it’s between a husband and wife. Even if you disagree, can you respect that when you’re in my home?”
All these can be summed up in one general question: “Under what terms are we going to continue to have a relationship?”
Whatever answers you come to, you’ll probably arrive at them through negotiation. And that’s what makes this the most constructive part of the grieving process.
When you negotiate, or bargain, you set the terms of your relationship through discussion and mutual agreement. Both you and your loved one will still have some pretty deep feelings at this point. You both may still be angry or deeply hurt, but when you negotiate, you’re going to let reason, not emotion, guide the discussion. And reason tells you that in this relationship, as in all relationships, some things are negotiable and some are not. So start with the nonnegotiables—that is, the terms or boundaries that you’re not willing to change. Here’s a list of some common nonnegotiables:
“My position is nonnegotiable. I’ll never say I approve of homosexuality or that I agree with you when, in fact, I don’t.”
“ Mutual respect is nonnegotiable. I won’t be insulted or demeaned for holding my beliefs, no matter how strongly you disagree with them.”
“The standards in my home are nonnegotiable. I won’t allow any open display of homosexuality or materials I feel are inappropriate in my house.”
“Your free will is God-given and nonnegotiable. I’ll respect it, and your right to make your own decisions, even when we disagree.” (Note: If your loved one is a minor, there will be limits to this, which we’ll discuss in chapter 3.)
“I’ll always love and value you, no matter how differently we see things. And that love is definitely and eternally nonnegotiable.”
These nonnegotiables still leave plenty of room for you and your loved one to decide what is negotiable. In deciding how to set terms with people, the apostle Paul encourages us:
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)
Notice he did not say, “Agree with all men, or force all men to agree with you.” Nor did he say, “No matter what, live peaceably with all men, even if they make outrageous demands on you.” His words are reasonable: As much as possible, with believers and nonbelievers alike, we should try to maintain peaceful relations. And peace often requires negotiation, or naming the “negotiables.”
In the following chapters, we’ll look at some common “ negotiable points” that are likely to come up, and we’ll go into the how-tos of negotiation in more detail. For now, I only want you to understand the essence of this part of the process. This is the time for you and the person you love to sit down and discuss under what terms you’re going to continue to relate. And you will, I hope, discuss this with the understanding that you want to preserve the relationship as much as possible, because in all but the most extreme cases, it’s not just possible—it’s advisable.
If This Is Where You Are…
…then let your family member know that you want to protect what the two of you already have. You have history, shared memories, affection, and any number of experiences that have bonded you. Tell your loved one you value what you have and that you’re setting the terms of your relationship so you can preserve it. That’s what boundaries and terms are for: preserving the relationship.
Do be honest and realistic about this. Now that you know your loved one is gay, things can’t be the same. You grieve over the sin; he grieves over your inability to call it anything but sin. But just because things can’t be the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good. They can, but how good they’re going to be depends largely on how well the two of you negotiate.
So think over your terms. Start with the nonnegotiables. Prayerfully list them and make sure they are, in fact, nonnegotiable. Then sit down for a heart-to-heart with your family member. Show him your nonnegotiables, ask what his are as well, then hash out the negotiables. A good way to begin is by asking: How do you want us to relate to each other from now on? What do you want from me, and what do you want our relationship to be like?
Those questions, asked honestly, can be the starting point for constructive negotiation. And negotiation will help protect the bond you and your gay loved one have had.
My father died in the early hours of an April morning in 1988. When my older brother called me with the news, I’d already been through denial, raged my way through anger, and struck as many bargains with God as I could muster. Now it was over, and I was appointed executor of Dad’s estate. That meant a whole slew of responsibilities had just been dropped on me, so as soon as I hung up the phone, I kicked into a sort of emotional autopilot. There were papers to file, people to contact, courts to visit, bills to pay. In short, there was so much to do, there was no time to feel.
Until there was finally nothing more to do. When the estate closed and the administrative work was over, then and only then did the full weight of my loss sink in. Tears started coming at the most unexpected times; waves of sadness would hit, dreams about Dad would come and go, and my energy went down to the point that, at times, I couldn’t seem to do the simplest tasks. That’s when I learned to respect the word depression.
After you’ve talked through all the terms and boundaries, had all the arguments, and hashed out all your differences with your gay loved one, you realize there’s nothing more to do. Except, perhaps, to weep. And that is probably when the full weight of your situation is going to settle in, and you’ll begin the depression phase.
Anyone who says you just have to snap out of it knows little or nothing about true depression. When you’re depressed, you’re not just sad; you’re overwhelmed. This is especially true when love—that wonderful something that’s supposed to make life worthwhile—has now become a source of agony. You love someone, and the someone you love is in sin. Serious sin. Worse, you’re helpless. You can’t change your loved one’s mind, nor can you change your love. So now love means pain—the pain of worrying, wondering, grieving. It’s a pain that frequently evolves into depression.
When depression hits, you feel as though you’re walking through Jell-O. Every move, even the slightest routine activity, seems like a marathon. You tend to oversleep, or not sleep at all. You either lose your appetite entirely, or you overeat, finding food the only source of comfort left in your life. Your attitude becomes pessimistic in the extreme; you see no hope or future. Your energy is gone, your interests are limited, and you withdraw from everyone. That’s depression, and calling it “hell” doesn’t seem extreme.
Barbara Johnson describes lying in bed, listless and sobbing, worrying day and night about her gay son. She likened her depression to an elephant standing on top of her chest, an apt illustration to anyone who’s been there. It’s a vile combination of misery, loss, and utter hopelessness, and it’s one of life’s worst experiences. No one is exempt from it, not even the godliest and strongest. The prophet Elijah expressed it well when he was exhausted and discouraged, fleeing for his life from Jezebel and, according to 1 Kings 19:4, “requesting for himself that he might die.”
“It is enough,” he lamented. “Now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” The man of God, who had recently challenged Baal’s prophets and called fire down on the heathen, was radically, inarguably depressed. It can happen to anyone.
If This Is Where You Are…
…then slow down immediately and don’t ask too much of yourself. By “slow down” I mean just that, literally. After all, if someone you loved had died, you’d give yourself time to rest and grieve. And though your gay loved one has not (thank God!) died, your assumptions and hopes for that person have, and that can be devastating. So now’s the time to shift your attention away from your gay loved one and turn it toward properly caring for yourself during this season of grief.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for doing what we can to improve a situation, provided improvement is within our power. But when we’ve said and done all we can—when we’ve argued, negotiated, pleaded, wept, and raged—our situation may still remain unchanged. That’s the time to turn away from trying to change it and turn toward better equipping ourselves to live successfully (and yes, even victoriously) in spite of our circumstances.
When my clients are facing unchangeable circumstances, I encourage them to invest more heavily in what I consider to be three pillars of successful living: the Devotional, Relational, and Recreational parts of our lives.
The Devotional pillar is made up of the time we spend reading Scripture, praying, and meditating. These core activities are crucial to any serious Christian, yet I find they’re often the first good habits we drop when life gets complicated. I’ve come to believe, in fact, that lack of regular prayer and Bible study have left millions of Christians malnourished and ill equipped to deal with the pressures and temptations life throws them. As believers in Christ, they may have relationships with God, but little or no real intimacy with Him. And all because they’ve neglected their devotional lives.
Personal heartbreak throws an uncompromising light on the state of our intimacy with God. It either makes us glad we have it or hunger for it if we don’t have it. And it’s certain that, if we don’t have devotional lives, we can’t sustain ongoing closeness to God. After all, no relationship thrives without listening and speaking to the other person, and it’s through reading the Bible that we hear from God and through prayer that we speak to Him and He, to us.
So by investing daily in both, we have to draw closer to Him. And when we do, we’re built up spiritually, our love for Him increases, and we’re better able to face our circumstances with a level of trust and peace we wouldn’t otherwise have.
When my younger son, Jeremy, was five, a citywide power blackout hit our home. He and I were on opposite ends of the house, and since it was already dark outside, when our lights went out, the inside of the house was suddenly black as ink. Immediately, I heard my frightened boy yell “Daddy!” from his upstairs bedroom, so I scrambled up to where he was, hoisted him onto my back, and said, “Hop up and grab on.” He was vulnerable and confused, and it was so dark he had no idea how to get from one end of the house to the other.
But he didn’t need to know. His only job was to stay close to me, and I’d get him where he needed to go.
When homosexuality hits home, you may be vulnerable and confused, having no idea how to get from one point to the next. That’s when God says, “Hop up and grab on.” Your job is not to figure out how or when the situation will change. Rather, it’s to draw close to Him and let Him get you where you need to be. So recommit yourself now to the daily routine of reading at least one chapter of the Bible and spending a regularly scheduled amount of time in prayer. Do this, and your closeness to Him can’t help but grow, and your ability to walk through this difficult time can’t help but improve.
Depression also throws light on the Relational pillar of your life, and to what extent you may need to build it up. If you’re depressed, you need human contact more than ever. A devotional life will boost your intimacy with God, which is crucial, but intimacy with God was never meant to replace human bonds. Humanity was created with specific and ongoing relational needs; you’re no exception. And depression makes those needs more keenly felt.
You will, I hope, make good use of your primary relationships (family members or close friends you can confide in) at this point, because those closest to you can become lifesavers during hard, depressing times. But it’s also true that sometimes those closest to us, through no fault of their own, may be unequipped to help. They may not understand our specific problem, or they themselves may be too overwhelmed to help us deal with it. (A mother, for example, who’s depressed over her son’s homosexuality, may find that her husband is so overwhelmed with his own pain that he has little comfort to offer her.) Or, for whatever reason, you may not feel ready to let others know you have a gay or lesbian loved one. So another sort of relationship I want you to consider at this point is one that provides specialized support.
When my wife’s father died, my mother-in-law’s church immediately sent a bereavement counselor to speak with her. That provided her with specialized support—that is, support and guidance from someone who knew what she was going through and could help her understand what bereavement was going to be like. That person offered advice on how she could best manage her life while she was in grief, and gave her some practical “what to do and what not to do” tips. I was impressed by how clearly her church understood her need for empathetic, well-informed counsel.
You could probably use some of that too. You can find it either through your pastor or a professional Christian counselor or a local support group.
Now would be a good time to make an appointment with your pastor, explain your situation to him, and ask if he can offer you some guidance. Or, if you prefer, you might get a referral, either from your pastor or a trusted friend, to a professional Christian counselor who treats depression. And you may find immeasurable support and comfort by meeting with a group of parents or family members who are experiencing many of the emotions and conflicts you’re going through now. (Names of these, too, can be found in the resource section.) All three of these relationships—pastoral, professional, and group—would qualify as specialized support from people who can provide understanding and guidance.
That brings us to Recreation, the third pillar. This is something often neglected because recreation can seem almost trivial, like a luxury you enjoy, but can do without.
Only you can’t. Think of the word itself—recreation—as “ recreating.” In essence, that’s what it does. When you relax and engage in something you truly enjoy, you recharge yourself. Your mind is refreshed, your feelings are soothed, and your attitude is calmer and more optimistic. In short, you re-create the emotional and mental energy you need to sustain your life. That’s the value of recreation, and it’s anything but trivial.
Time and again, I’ve found that my depressed clients have neglected the value of play. Their lives tend to be all about serious matters: child-raising, work, finances, church responsibilities. These are the things they plan for and pay attention to, as well they should. But trouble starts when they forget to reserve time for play and fun as well, making their lives one set of tasks after another. Eventually, they start to sag under the weight of these serious matters, drained of mental and emotional reserves because they haven’t taken the time to recharge through recreation.
Of course, what’s recreational to one person is drudgery to another, as any married couple will testify. So your task, at this point, is to determine what would be truly soothing, playful, and, in general, pleasurable to you. If you’re grieving, you may not be up to the more strenuous recreation of a football game or bicycling. No matter. What’s necessary is that you engage in some activity you can genuinely enjoy and look forward to on a regular basis. That’s one of the most practical and effortless tools I can suggest to a depressed person.
Over the years, family members have told me innumerable things they’ve taken up as recreational habits during this difficult time. Let me pass on the Top 10 activities I’ve heard most frequently:
long hot baths or Jacuzzi soaks
browsing antique stores
long walks on the beach
sleepovers with friends or other depressed people (I’m not kidding)
renting old comedy videos ( The Three Stooges and I Love Lucy videos come the most highly recommended)
You get the idea. Only you can determine what qualifies as recreation, but whatever it is, it should be something that brings you genuine pleasure, something you look forward to doing, and something that, when completed, leaves you feeling refreshed and soothed. Within those guidelines, start planning weekly recreation periods and consider them part of your recovery prescription. Because, believe it or not, they are.
Depression, in my experience, tends to last longer than the first three stages of grief. The bad news is, no one can say how long it will last, and when you’re in it, it seems eternal. But the good news is, it will fade more quickly when you take some of the steps I’ve mentioned here. And, of course, it will go away more quickly when you don’t try to force it to do so.
You’ll know your depression is fading when you wake up feeling optimistic for no particular reason, or when you find yourself laughing out loud more often, or when your appetite, sleep habits, and energy levels stabilize. That’s when your situation will stop seeming, in your eyes, insurmountable or impossible. Hard, yes, and certainly not pleasant. But it no longer seems hopeless, and you no longer feel helpless.
All of which means you’re getting better, and you’re stepping into the final phase of the grief cycle.
Look at Paul’s second letter to Timothy, and you’ll see a portrait of a man who’s rightfully disappointed in life and people but has come to a place of acceptance nonetheless. In some of his other epistles, Paul makes it clear he expects hardship, even persecution, as part and parcel of an apostle’s life. In fact, by the time he wrote this letter to Timothy, he’d been imprisoned for preaching the gospel and was awaiting execution, all of which he seemed to take in stride. But when he mentions the names of people who had been his friends but had now either betrayed or abandoned him, he seems to take it quite personally:
Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.…Crescens [has gone] to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.…Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil.…At my first answer, no man stood with me, and all men forsook me.” (2 Timothy 4:10,14,16)
He’s disappointed, but his letter also has a firm tone of acceptance:
[But] the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known.…And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:17-18)
People had let him down, and Paul didn’t pretend he was above feeling pain over their disappointing behavior. But at a deeper level, he could still accept his situation, without approving of the wrong that had brought it about, because he kept sight of broader issues: his eternal reward, God’s ability to sustain him even in prison, and the privilege he’d had as an evangelist and teacher. “Life,” he seems to be saying, “is not as I want it to be, and people have severely disappointed me. But in light of what I’ve enjoyed in this life, and what I anticipate in the next, I can accept all of it.”
Of course, you’re not Paul, and there’s no imminent execution involved here. But you can see, I hope, the same principle at work in your own life, which is the principle of acceptance.
I’ve seen this at work in a female friend of mine whose daughter is a lesbian activist. Complicating matters, my friend had raised her daughter in a Christian home, and after her daughter came out, my friend began sponsoring conferences and ministries to assist people wanting to abandon homosexual behavior. In other words, the two became full-time workers for opposing (and sometimes mutually hostile) sociopolitical groups.
Obviously, they had a lot to argue about, but they had more than their differences to consider. They had history—years of love and family life, hard times they’d weathered together, common interests they still shared. So they decided, wisely, to just enjoy each other in spite of their differences. Realizing life is short, they decided not to waste it debating the same old pro-gay/anti-gay arguments. Instead, they called a truce and learned to enjoy the times they had together by concentrating on what they still had in common. In doing so, this Christian mother learned to accept, even when she couldn’t possibly approve.
Are you ready to do the same? The apostle Paul shows us both the secret to, and the benefit of, reaching a point of acceptance. He said, in spite of all his hardships:
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
So what happens when homosexuality hits home? First, you cry. Then you argue with your loved one, perhaps even shout a bit. You question; you agonize; you rage. You try to understand the person you love, perhaps never reaching a point of full understanding but trying all the same. You negotiate, renegotiate, and finally come to some sort of terms by which the two of you can still have a relationship.
Then you draw close to God—hopefully, closer than ever. In doing so, you strengthen your relationship with Him, and others as well. You lean on friends, listen to mentors, rest a bit, and try finding a way to relax and even have a bit of fun.
You still grieve, and you still wait, but finally, you also accept. You’re able to accept because, being closer to God than ever, your faith and patience have been strengthened. So you learn to enjoy your homosexual loved one without ever approving of homosexuality, and in doing so, your confidence grows to the point where you, having committed this beloved person to God, can say with more confidence than ever:
“I know who I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed—the person I love and who God loves even more—unto Him.”
My hope is that, by the time you finish this book, this place of acceptance will be your place as well. May it be, and may it be soon.
Determine which of the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—best describes what you’re going through at this point.
Based on which stage you’re in, determine what specific action you need to take to help yourself get through this part of the process. (See the “If This Is Where You Are” section following whichever stage you see yourself in at this point.)
Determine under what terms you and your homosexual loved one can remain in a relationship. Are all these terms nonnegotiable, or can any of them be negotiated?
Plan specifically and clearly what you’re going to do to protect your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being during this difficult time.
What is your relationship with God like at this point? Close? Distant? Growing? Determine what you can do to draw closer to God and what steps you’ll take to do so.
Excerpted from When Homosexuality Hits Home By Joe Dallas. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.