Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Luke, a Straight-Friendly email subscriber, left a comment on last Thursday’s “Conscience Cleanser” post that’s stuck with me ever since. If you missed it, here’s the portion that startled me to fresh awareness:
This false guilt blog really hit home with me. Not because I have false guilt over something, at least not that I am aware of now. It hit home because of my mother. She and my father both thought my being gay was their fault… It is hard to admit that you have nothing to be guilty about for some people. No matter if you did or not God has forgiven you because of Jesus' sacrifice. My parents wouldn't accept that or that they had done nothing wrong to begin with. It tortured them for a long time.
Luke’s story reminded me no matter how God shapes us, male or female, regardless of orientation, our parents naturally believe they could have done better. When we veer from the course they envisioned—drastically, as is usually the case for parents of GLBT children, or subtly—they’re left second guessing decisions and choices they made. It’s all too easy for parents to accept false guilt for perceived failures and incredibly difficult for them to accept God’s plan for us doesn’t always synch up with theirs. We may never convince them nothing they’ve done—or possibly could do—affects who we basically are. There may be nothing we can do to alleviate their anxiety. But we can intercede for their peace and comfort. Our parents need our prayers.
“This is Me”
As I’ve mentioned before, “coming out” isn’t a uniquely gay rite. We all come out once we mature into full personhood. Traits and proclivities we quietly harbor through youth grow more pronounced as our self-confidence improves. Many of them sneak out before we know it—a competitive drive becomes self-evident in our passion for sports or a solitary nature reveals itself in voluntarily keeping to ourselves. But eventually our closets run out of space for parts of us we try to hide. We open the door and announce, “This is me. This is who I’m meant to be.”
The coming-out experience is traumatic for some and reaffirming for others. From the worst to best possible scenario, freedom to live openly and honestly ends with us feeling relieved and exhilarated. We’re ready to get on with our lives. Before we dash into the future, though, we may find our parents headed into the past, replaying missed opportunities to steer us from potential dangers and disappointments we may encounter. From the most supportive to the least, they’re apt to feel let down and guilty on some level. Their responses may range from “I don’t care who you are, I’ll always love you” to “I didn’t raise you to be this way.” Wherever their reactions fall (and settle) on the acceptance spectrum, as followers of Christ, we accept them as they are because we desire their acceptance. If they enfold us in loving arms or angrily kick us to the curb, knowing their behavior and attitude toward us comes from internal struggle is why we love them and pray for them.
Second to God
The Ten Commandments' ordinal arrangement reveals a fascinating insight into God’s estimation of parenthood. The first four focus on Him: I come first; no idols allowed; revere My Name; set aside one day a week for Me. Then, before the big stuff that makes news—murder, adultery, theft, perjury, and greed—He wedges in a commandment many find toughest to obey: Honor your parents. Since He does nothing randomly, we assume putting this behind those about Him tells us to esteem our parents as second to God. Particularly for those whose parents act and think nothing like God, this sounds unreasonably impossible. How can He ask us to honor people who abused us physically and emotionally, neglected and rejected us, who withheld love and tormented us with fear, who took more than they gave? God only knows. But here are two viable theories.
First, we honor our parents as His instruments in our creation. Second, we honor them for our health and peace of mind. Reviling and resenting them weakens us. Thus, God promises long, established lives for those who obey. Our relationships with our parents may be damaged beyond repair. Yet inoperability doesn’t relieve us from showing the same kinds of concern we needed and still need from them. Those who endure unmitigated horror at their parents’ hands have every right to question why God placed them there to suffer. Yet they also should consider the possibility such questions are misdirected. Could it be we’re sent to love our parents, not the opposite? Again, only God knows, though it’s worth pondering, if only to aid obedience to His Word. Whether we credence this or not, we're still obligated to obey. When we can’t reach our parents with love, we can honor them with our prayers.
One last thought. Luke’s comment takes us to Calvary, where Mary stands. We wonder what she’s thinking and feeling as she looks up at her oldest Son splayed on a criminal’s cross. It defies all logic to imagine she’s not crushed with false guilt. How her mind must run through the past, searching frantically for where she failed, panicking at the thought she must have failed. John’s Gospel suggests Jesus senses Mary’s anguish. He sees her and calls out, “Dear woman, here is your son,” indicating John. Then He tells John, “Here is your mother.” “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home,” John 19.27 says. At His weakest, loneliest hour, Jesus saw to His mother’s care. We can do no less. Parents need our prayers.
No matter how “perfect” we grow up to be, our parents will inevitably feel guilty for not having done better. If we can’t dissuade them of this, we can pray for their peace and comfort.
(Tomorrow: Leaving a Legacy)
Postscript: Glade Church
I’m delighted to add Glade Church in Blacksburg, Virginia to Straight-Friendly’s “Welcoming Churches” list. It comes to us by way of personal recommendation by Alice, a regular reader here who attends the church with her partner. She recently inquired about how her church could be listed. After explaining I ask for an emailed permission from pastors of all the churches listed here, her pastor, Rev. Kelly M. Sisson immediately replied.
Glade Church and Rev. Sisson are active leaders in campus ministry at Virginia Tech, the site of last year’s horrible killings. Their witness of Christ’s love and healing is extraordinary in their on-campus work, congregational life, and numerous other outreach ministries they support. To learn more about the church, visit their site here:
Alice, thank you so much for bringing this vibrant body of believers to our attention! We will keep you, your partner, your pastor, and your community of faith in our prayers.