My boys attend a local public school in North Carolina where legislation around transgender issues and public restrooms was a national issue in 2016. Their school ran a CNN Kids news program on the transgender debate. They came home and said with confusion, “Did you know sometimes girls want to come into the boy’s bathroom?” I asked how that came up, and they mentioned the transgender news story. I did a web search for the video transcript.
This incident led me to think about how to have these kind of conversations with our kids. I came up with five principles and four key objectives.
Principle One: Don’t over-react to a conversation prompt; your initial response to a conversation prompt signals to your child whether the conversation is safe or alarming.
Principle Two: Do research and get what information you can about the subject before engaging the larger discussion; it is better if your child doesn’t feel like an “informant.”
Here are a few preliminary thoughts I had going into the subsequent conversation.
Principle Three: When we speak to our children we need to discuss the things that help our children navigate their current social world.
My boys were 9 and 11 years old; 3rd and 5th grade. I wanted to keep in mind their social and cognitive development as we talked. This was not our first conversation about sex and sexuality. If, as parents, we only talk about the subject of sex and ethics reactively, it will distort the message our children hear. Jesus will come across as a defensive guy. The duration of the conversation was about 20 minutes over dinner, a time when we often talk about things that happened at school.
Principle Four: Listen. The most important thing we offer in awkward conversations is comfortable, open-ended questions and silence.
With those things being said, there were four key objectives I had going into the conversation with my boys. I will share the fifth principle at the end.
- I wanted to know what they think as much as teach them what I think.
The most important part of this conversation is what I learned from them, not what they learned from me. That’s not to downplay my influence as a parent, but the most important information transferred was my awareness of how my boys were processing the information they received.
The biggest long-term impact I will have on my boys is shaping how they think as much as what they think. Conversations like these are times when I get a litmus test for how they respond to awkward-controversial subjects, how perceptive they are about moral dilemmas, the degree of impact authority figures (like teachers) have on them, and what kind of logic they use to support their beliefs.
- I wanted them to be BOTH biblically informed AND personally compassionate.
I wanted my boys to be both thoroughly versed in God’s original design and increasingly equipped to care for others in a broken world. My boys love biology, so we talked about how gender is ingrained in every cell of our body as either an XX (female) or XY (male) chromosome. They love to ask, “Whose nose do I have? Whose eyes do I have?” Tying the conversation to something they were familiar with and enjoy was an important way of making it less awkward.
We talked about gender being part of God’s design (Genesis 1:27) and that God’s design was good. I wanted them to know they should enjoy being boys and strive to grow into mature men who care for and lead their families well. I also wanted to communicate that it’s okay if they think girls have cooties right now [attempt at humor], but they should always respect women and treat them with honor.
Don’t over-react to a conversation prompt; your initial response to a conversation prompt signals to your child whether the conversation is safe or alarming.
We talked about how, because of the Fall (Genesis 3), we live in a broken world where many things don’t work the way they’re supposed to and everything falls apart. One result of this is that some people don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies; some people feel fat even when they’re very skinny, some people feel scared when there is no threat, and some people feel like they should be a boy when their body is a girl or vice versa.
I tried to make clear that it is important not to profile those who experience gender dysphoria as sexual predators. We talked about how it’s not the person who is confused about their gender that would take advantage of this law. Instead, the concern is that people who want to abuse children would take advantage of these laws.
We emphasized that we should never make fun of someone who is suffering. We should never call people names that make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. Whenever we hear people doing these kinds of things to others, we step in and help the person who is being picked on. This was the primary application of what it meant to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40) well in their current social context.
We don’t have to agree with someone or understand their experience to love them. We believe that everyone is made in the image of God and deserves our honor and respect. If they’re hurting, we try to represent God’s compassion. If they’re sinning, we let them know of God’s forgiveness through the gospel. If we’re not sure, we listen and ask questions.
- I wanted them to learn how to honor authorities with whom they disagree.
I want my boys to be well-versed in the art of disagreement – the ability to be skeptical or disagree while showing honor to the person with whom they disagree. I affirmed how they handled themselves in the classroom, listening respectfully and bringing their questions to my wife and me. Even when they were uncertain, they made wise choices about how to respond.
We talked about how there was a great deal of debate on this topic in our country, so that is why this was a topic discussed at school. We talked about the good values of those that want open bathrooms are standing for , that no one should be discriminated against for things they did not choose.
We talked about how one of the challenges of government is balancing personal freedom (i.e., choice of restroom) with the collective good (i.e., privacy and safety in public restrooms). I was surprised how much they were interested in and followed this point.
The main point here was that just because someone has a different view from us, it doesn’t mean they’re bad. It also doesn’t mean we’re bad if we disagree with them. It is important to know what you believe and why. It is important to be able to articulate and defend what you believe. It is equally important to listen well to those with whom you disagree and honor their leadership when God has placed them in that role.
- I wanted them to be sympathetic to the reality that even good legislation can have unintended consequences.
Our conversation may have had as much to do with politics as sexuality. It is easy for kids (and adults) to begin to think that good rules would make a good world, that the problem with the world is that we just haven’t figured out what the best rules should be. We talked about how often laws have unintended consequences.
We talked about why we don’t need better rules as much as we need a Redeemer. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher (although he was the best teacher). Jesus came as our Savior. He knew we needed a new heart, not just better thoughts.
At the end of the conversation, when my boys asked me, “So, what should be done about the bathroom thing?” my best answer was, “I don’t know. I know that God’s design of men and women is good. I know there is a lot of pain and brokenness in our world. I know I want to love well anyone God gives me the chance to befriend and that it’s not mean to think about safety in private places like restrooms. But when it comes to this law and its possible unintended consequences, I’m not sure.”
Principle Five: Our children need to hear us say that sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know” because they need to have the freedom and courage to say “I don’t know” when they’re uncertain. It also makes the things we are sure about seem more solid, if we are willing to admit our uncertainty on things that are less clear.
This was the gist of our conversation and the intentions for the various points of emphasis. I hope it’s helpful for other families as you consider how to have similar conversations.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
In a Christian home, when a child identifies as gay or transgender, all the relationships in the family are upended. Suddenly, conversations and discussions become landmines that, when stepped on, explode in hurtful and angry words. How can parents navigate a home filled with tension and deep disappointment?
Click here to read more from Chris at this blog: “The Biggest Impact You Can Have on a Wayward Child”
The biggest heartache for a parent is to watch their child determined to go their own way. Turning their back on values they were raised on; turning toward beliefs and people that encourage him or her to embrace a whole new way of life.
A life that renounces what a follower of Jesus should look like.
This is what Joe and Maria were facing with their daughter, Jamie. They talked with me at the beginning of their daughter’s third year of declaring herself to be transgender. Two years of contentious discussions, on and off, had progressed downward to a chilly silence. Jamie has made it abundantly clear that this topic is off the table. Nothing substantial is ever discussed anymore.
Jamie has made up her mind to discover what this new identity of being transgender means for her. Next year she’s off to college. And Joe and Maria are desperate to find a way to break down the high wall that exists between them and the daughter they love.
If you have a son or daughter that has adopted a gay or transgender identity, you probably know what Joe and Maria are going through. It is flat out difficult to love a child that is bent on pursuing their own way. Parents are at a loss about how to lead their child to Christ when all of their efforts to speak truth are met with resistance. Even hearing the word “Scripture” may cause your child to cringe, let alone consider a passage or verse for them to mull over.
How can you possibly have a voice in your son or daughter’s life when they won’t talk to you?
I don’t want to minimize the pain of this situation, but I do think there is a way to move forward—toward your child—that will have an impact whether they acknowledge it or not.
1 John 4:10-12 (NIV) gives a strong message of hope to parents who have a child that is determined to pursue a gay or transgender identity.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
This is familiar language to us, but take time to contemplate verse 12 again. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Your words may have little impact on your child, but the way you love others—and them—is the way God has designed relationships so that they might see Christ—through you.
2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV) similarly puts it this way; “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” As a parent, the title ambassador is one of the most prominent roles you play in your child’s life!
Ambassador is a hope-filled word for parents! Yes, for many parents the primary means of helping a struggling child is by speaking, carefully sharing and sprinkling God’s Word at opportune times. An ambassador does speak.
But it’s not the only thing they do. Though an ambassador speaks on behalf of someone else, it’s their entire being that also communicates what’s important. Their attitude and demeanor, all “speak;” they all point toward who they represent.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
To put it bluntly, the biggest impact you can make in your child’s life is not in what you say. It is in the way you show love for them.
Let’s get specific
Let’s consider some specific steps you can take to become this kind of ambassador.
- Examine your heart.
Sometimes, if we are honest, we can be poor ambassadors of Christ. This particularly happens when we are in pain, and the pain and hopelessness we feel bleeds into our attitudes and behavior. But looking at whatever log is in our eye first is always the path God sets out for us.
Start with some attitudes and behaviors you need to put off: anger, impatience, harsh words, and the like. Allow Colossians 3:5-17 to guide you toward attitudes and behaviors to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, patience, etc.
Now think deeper: what does your behavior reveal about where you are putting your trust? When you are filled with fear, do you try to take control through words or actions? Can you see that behavior like this is an attempt to merely fix what is wrong with your child? Does your child see love (I trust in God) or control (I need to trust in myself) in how you act toward them?
- Love in surprising ways.
This may be one the hardest things to do: be interested in what they are doing. Many parents are afraid of knowing things and afraid that asking is equivalent to approving. But staying interested in their life communicates that you still love them. It also expands your vision of your child, which may have diminished only to the issue that divides you.
So, ask how their friends are doing, what are their plans for the weekend, how school is going, if they have enough food in their dorm room, how they are really doing, and take time to listen and show you care.
Then, do something together: go out to dinner, take a bike ride, go shopping, see a movie, and find a neutral activity that you both can enjoy. These types of activities communicate that, in spite of the issue that divides, you still love and delight in them. Conversations may remain superficial, but God can use these activities to soften their heart and reveal His love for them through your kind gestures. We have a God whose kindness wins our hearts to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Finally, think outside the box! Don’t be afraid to joke around with them. Send them a funny meme or picture they would laugh at. Text your son or daughter out of the blue to share something funny. Humor is an effective way to release tension and even demonstrate love for someone in a nonjudgmental way.
There is a silver lining in this weighty burden of walking with a child that identifies as gay or transgender. That silver lining is this: God is using this situation to draw you closer to himself and conform you to look increasingly more like Jesus. If you allow Him to work this transformation in you, from the inside out, you will produce good fruit.
By God’s grace, they will see this fruit, and your child may see the love of God more clearly through your life, and return to him and his ways.
Chris talks more about this on his accompanying video: How Do I Represent Christ to My Child Who Won’t Listen to Truth? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
01 Dec 2017
In my prior blog about the dangers children are facing today as transgender ideology continues to be promoted in the culture, my hope was to direct parents to take pro-active steps to intentionally teach and guide their children about God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender. Apart from such active parental guidance — and I include the church in this endeavor, as well — our children will passively absorb these transgender ideas and wonder why gender matters at all — and perhaps come to believe that changing one’s gender is the correct way to fix one’s discomfort or confusion.
And for those few children that do struggle and question the connection between their biological sex and perceived gender — struggles which generally resolve themselves for most children by the time they reach adulthood — absorbing these cultural ideas can have life-long, damaging implications.
Our children need to know that gender does matter. Who we are is dependent on our creational identities as male and female, made in the image of God. Our gendered bodies at birth are deeply connected with who we are and who we can become. Our gender wasn’t “assigned” at birth; it was given to us by a Providential Lord. We relate to one another as men and women, not merely as amorphous persons.
So let me direct you, first, to our harvestusa magazine issue on Transgenderism and Tim Geiger’s lead article, “Transgenderism: The Reshaping of Reality.” It’s a good overview of a biblically-based view of gender.
Then, take a look at some of these recent stories that highlight the fierce intensity of this cultural issue and what’s at stake for our children; again, especially for those children who have legitimate struggles and questions about their bodies.
Our gender wasn’t “assigned” at birth; it was given to us by a Providential Lord. We relate to one another as men and women, not merely as amorphous persons.
Listen to a 14-year-old named Noor talk about her journey from moving toward transitioning to realizing that it was OK to learn to love her body as it was. Here is just one remarkable insight from this teen: “Feelings are feelings. Feeling something doesn’t mean it is true or real…You weren’t born in the wrong body because that’s not possible” (her emphasis).
The website Noor writes at, 4thWaveNow, is not Christian or religious at all, which highlights something you don’t see in the media: that it’s not just Christians who are not accepting the transgender ideology.
World Magazine, which is Christian, writes of a UK-based online community where parents can share their concerns about how their struggling children are quickly diagnosed with gender dysphoria by National Health Service clinics and then moved into transitioning services. Some UK parents are expressing genuine concern and fear at the speed with which this is happening, with little or no time allowed for possible alternative viewpoints.
The online community to which World Magazine refers is Transgender Trend. Again, this is not a Christian website. While the situations mentioned are based in the UK, browsing the site is informative on multiple levels, giving well-reasoned arguments that are logical, commonsense, and reality-based.
Finally, here’s a story from the New York Times that is slanted toward approval of gender fluidity for children. Why am I suggesting you read it? Because if you read it carefully, you’ll spot not only the bias that media typically displays about this issue (progressives are thoughtful and socially responsible, but traditionalists engage in hurtful, bigoted behavior), but I want you to notice three things that come together in this story that helps to explain why this issue is here:
One, it highlights the extensive reach of 50+ years of gender deconstruction and how this worldview is now reaching into the youngest group of children. While the article argues for respect for students who express gender fluidity (Yes! No one should allow anyone to be treated with disrespect and harm!), one educator correctly states that this issue is about more than accepting trans or gender nonconforming people, “it’s about loosening up the whole idea of gender, for every kid” (emphasis mine).
Two, it shows how objective reality is ignored in favor of personal subjectivity. Now, the spirit of the age declares truth is subjective, and one’s personal truth is sacrosanct. The traditional understanding of gender (sex = gender) is now viewed from the perspective of a second-grade child who says (parroting today’s gender propaganda): that gender “is a thing that people invented to put you in a category.”
Three, the article shows how parenting has been eclipsed by professionals (therapists and educators), seen in how one mother talks about her gender-confused child: “It’s tough when people say follow your kid’s lead… We’re talking about a 7-year-old who has no concept of what this looks like in the future.” This mother’s instincts are right—her young child is confused and immature, and all the guidance she seems to have in this culture is a narrative that personal self-actualization, based on one’s feelings, is the highest goal of every person, reinforced by professional educators and therapists (and behind them, an aggressive LGBTQ agenda).
To me, the story gives additional reasons for why every parent, and every church, needs to TEACH their children about God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender. The stakes are so high now. Silence is destructive to our children and families.
30 Nov 2017
Ever since I was a kid I have been a reader of the National Geographic magazine. So I was both intrigued and concerned when the January 2017 issue, “Gender Revolution,” arrived. How would the story on gender and transgender be told, with an objective analysis or a subjective slant? On the cover was an elementary-aged transgender girl, with the caption reading, “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.”
I got my answer. I found myself looking at that picture and feeling much sadness. I couldn’t help but think that this young child is still pretending, but now being encouraged by adults to exchange reality for fantasy.
I don’t want to criticize National Geographic for this issue. After all, transgender issues are in the forefront of our news and culture. Christians must look at this issue from both a cultural and individual level. We should not dismiss out of hand these stories of children and adults who feel out of sorts with their own gendered bodies.
But we must equally examine how the media presents this issue. There is a concerted effort to complexify issues of gender, designed to leave the reader agreeing that biology has no essential connection to gender, and that we can be whatever we want to be regardless of the anatomy with which we are born.
That’s a deeply mistaken notion. But what’s most tragic is seeing where this viewpoint has led — that we let even the youngest children make life-altering decisions that will lead them to steadily transform and even mutilate their bodies, with parents and other adults encouraging them onward. Our hearts should feel for how these children struggle with their sense of self, but we should grieve even more for the kind of help they are being offered.
The main article in the magazine, “Rethinking Gender” by Robin Marantz Henig, is the one to read carefully. It is well-written and presents itself in a measured tone, and that is what makes it all the more uncomfortable, if not disturbing. Unless you carefully read what it is saying and what is subtlety not being said, you might walk away thinking, yes, science is indeed showing us that what we believed about the connection between gender and biology — the normative gender binary — has been all wrong.
But that is not what the article proves at all. And you’ve got to read it carefully to know that.
Here’s what I mean:
Henig begins by writing about the complexities of being born intersex. The brief summary is excellent in describing how complicated intersex conditions are for the child and their family. These are difficult situations for parents, doctors, and the children involved, to sort through, and we should give wide leeway to acknowledge the tough decisions that have to be made here.
Intersex conditions have long been seen by the medical establishment as disorders of sex development. In other words, something has gone wrong in the fetal development of the child. A Christian worldview sees intersex conditions in the same light, placing it within the biblical story of the Fall, where the introduction of sin brought about brokenness in all things, including our bodies.
But what’s most tragic is seeing where this viewpoint has led—that we let even the youngest children make life-altering decisions that will lead them to steadily transform and even mutilate their bodies, with parents and other adults encouraging them onward.
But in a post-Christian culture, energized by an increasingly aggressive LGBTQ agenda, intersex conditions are now seen as evidence of multiple genders, as normative as the binary view of gender once was.
Henig, however, makes a connective leap from intersex to transgender, slipping in a paragraph that mentions Caitlyn Jenner becoming a trans woman. Here’s the paragraph:
As transgender issues become the fare of the daily news—Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement that she is a trans woman, legislators across the United States arguing about who gets to use which bathroom—scientists are making their own strides, applying a variety of perspectives to investigate what being transgender is all about.
Step back and notice what has happened here. Henig has linked here the complex issues about intersex conditions to someone being transgender. The reality is, these are two very different things. Jenner’s transformation has nothing to do with being born intersex. The phenomenon of transgenderism is quite distinct from intersex complications. This unwarranted (and virtually unnoticeable connection), if not challenged, will leave the casual reader thinking the two are related, and that science is finally coming to understand, through its research, a new understanding of gender.
Transgenderism is a radical redefinition of what it means to be human, and the implications are likely to bring tragic results.
Henig casually drops hints that, indeed, something more than science is driving this phenomenon. She writes about a 14-year-old girl: “She’s questioning her gender identity, rather than just accepting her hobbies and wardrobe choices as those of a tomboy, because we’re talking so much about transgender issues these days” (emphasis added). Did you catch that? So much of what these children are struggling with is how to fit into cultural roles of gender, many which change from one generation to another. How did we go from ongoing generational discussions about gender expression (or roles) to encouraging children to alter their bodies to fit into those roles?
What is driving the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance is not scientific research (let’s not as Christians oppose legitimate scientific inquiry into this issue), but a dominant cultural idea which has persistently deconstructed gender and gender roles for more than half a century. In a materialistic worldview that refuses to see a divine plan for how we should live, we now arrive at truth by means of our own individual stories and experience. This personal-truth-for-me cultural mindset is seen in a photo of a six-year-old boy who describes himself as “gender creative” and who, the caption says about him, “is very sure of who he is.”
But when it comes to sexuality and gender, we must not let our children learn on their own, passively absorbing the constant bombardment of cultural voices. We must intervene…
A six-year-old who knows with certainty who he is? Childhood has always been observed as the journey in which young boys and girls wrestle with who they are, and eventually emerge into adulthood with a clearer understanding (sometimes still not fully formed) of themselves and the world in which they will live. Now we think children are wise enough to short-circuit that process by more than a decade.
The real difficulties these children experience will not be fixed by encouraging them to pretend to be what they are not, and especially to put their bodies at the mercy of hormone-altering drugs and surgical knives. Walt Heyer, a former transsexual, says about this issue, “Like others who elect to live the transgender life, I painfully discovered it was only a temporary fix to deeper pain… if National Geographic truly wanted to explore the complexities of gender change, they would have included stories of people who discovered that living the transgender life was an empty promise.”
There are a lot of risks our children face as they grow up; some we can protect them from, and some we can’t, where we must let them stumble and learn. But when it comes to sexuality and gender, we must not let our children learn on their own, passively absorbing the constant bombardment of cultural voices. We must intervene, not to shield them inside a protective bubble — as if we could — but to teach and persuade them to see and believe that life is found by living within God’s design and purpose.
P.S. Read my follow-up blog that will post on Friday that links to several online stories and articles that will show you how this issue is reaching deep into the lives of families, with frightening consequences. More reasons to not be passive and silent in raising our children to learn to embrace the gendered bodies God gave them at birth.
10 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well. One part of our life to run well is how we live with our sexuality. A life of sexual integrity doesn’t just happen—it takes serious steps to run this race well!
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog here: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 1.
05 May 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often, their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia shares with parents one more thing they should do in engaging their child: love as Christ loves us and be patient for God to work. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: “Coming Out as Gay or Transgender: Five things a parent needs to do—Part 4.“
As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.
Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.
Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.
Part 3: Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.
Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.
As Christ has loved you, so love
God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.
Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.
Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.
But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.
As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.
Keep a long-term view in mind
Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.
If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart
Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.
Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.
Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.
So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.
This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.
Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.
You can watch Chris talking some more about this on his video, Coming Out: Five things must do—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
27 Apr 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia says the third thing a parent should do is to engage in three kinds of conversations—conversations that aim for the heart. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: “Coming Out as Gay or Transgender: Five things a parent needs to do—Part 3.“
In Part I and Part II of this four-part blog series, I talked about the experience of a child coming out to his or her parents, and I mentioned two essential things you can do when your child is identifying as gay or transgender:
First, get to know your child. Listen to his or her unique experience, and ask thoughtful questions out of a desire to love and understand them.
Second, reflect on what is in your heart too. Be honest about all that you are experiencing as a result of your child’s decision to come out. Invite God and others to share in the burden of pain and keep the sinful responses of your heart in check.
Now I want to add another useful step to help you to respond to your child in wisdom.
Have wisdom in ongoing conversations
Knowing how to navigate ongoing conversations with your son or daughter over this will be challenging. One thing that will make this more difficult is the likelihood that your child will have bought into how our culture believes truth is arrived at today: by the authority of one’s individual experience rather than viewing oneself and the world through the lens of Scripture. Because your child has been greatly influenced by these worldview beliefs, it will be important for you to use discretion as you engage in conversation with him. You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Here are three categories of conversations to consider as you engage your child.
You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Keep track of the good you see in your son or daughter. Affirm your love for your child by celebrating the unique way that God has made her and the strengths and gifts that God has given her. Point it out to her when you witness these gifts at work. Communicate to your daughter if you see something she has done that is praiseworthy.
Don’t be afraid to speak about the good you see! If he did well in his classes, if you enjoyed spending time with him on his visit home, if he talks with you about something on their heart, if he did something caring or thoughtful for another person—share how you appreciate these things, and tell your child that you are proud of him in areas you can sincerely identify.
Here’s the bottom line: Do not reduce your child down to sinful behaviors, allowing her coming-out decision to be the only way you see from here on. Continue to genuinely love her, and say it to her. This is your child! Loving your child in all the ways she has been gifted communicates a gospel perspective: that God sees us even in our sin and rebellion and continues to show his love toward us.
As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going
Ask to be invited into what is hard. Your son or daughter is also going through suffering and hardship as well. Seek to identify what that struggle is and enter into it if your child will let you. This may not be easy to do, especially if your child’s struggle is way beyond your experience.
So begin by looking for things in your child’s life where he shows or expresses pain. Acknowledge the struggle and ask to hear more about it. An example of this could be if you have a son who identifies as a girl and has long felt different from his male peers. You can be sure he has struggled to a great degree with confusion and shame.
It’s appropriate to voice that pain back to him and ask him to help you understand how hard it has been to live with it. As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate and speak to your child about the compassion Christ has for us in our struggles.
Loving your child also means mirroring back what is bad and ultimately destructive to our souls. Again, you do not want to badger your child, but you do want to lovingly display the mirror of God’s truth to her. By taking those opportunities when they arise, you help your child see—even if it’s just a glimpse—when her decisions or behaviors are self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating.
Where are those opportunities to do this? When your child experiences some of the negative consequences of his actions. Perhaps he shut out others in the family who have not affirmed his coming-out decision, so as a result he feels unloved and discriminated against. An appropriate response is to help your child see how the demand to be loved on his own terms will damage relationships in his life.
By mirroring her behavior back to her, you are lovingly keeping her accountable for her actions while helping her see some of the negative consequences of her sin. It may be a temptation to avoid these hard conversations out of fear of damaging your relationship with your child. I know this area of communication is going to be the most difficult to pull off. However, we must not shrink back from telling the truth in love. Doing so demonstrates that God’s love does not allow us to remain in rebellion and sin that is ultimately destructive to us.
In all of these conversational areas, you must recognize that, above all, your son or daughter’s greatest need is to see and experience the love of God and understand his or her fundamental desperation for his saving grace. A relationship with God must be more meaningful to your child than the desire for fulfillment through perceived sexual or gender identity. Repentance is a fruit of being moved by the love of Christ through the gospel. As you have wisdom in ongoing conversations, you can be instrumental in showing the love of Christ for your child more comprehensively in these particular ways.