by Lori Thorkelson-Rentzel
An event that most people are totally unprepared for is the discovery that someone close to them is gay. Whether the confession of their homosexuality comes from a son or daughter, husband, wife or close friend, the reaction is often the same: “What do I say to them now?” “How can I help?” and sometimes; “Could I be partly to blame for this situation?”
DEALING WITH HOMOSEXUALITY IN A CLOSE FRIEND OR RELATIVE
Perhaps the most dramatic way a person can encounter the issue is by discovering homosexuality in someone close to them. Yet this is a common occurrence in families today: a son or daughter comes home from College and tells their parents of involvement in the gay lifestyle, or a married businessman with children confesses to his wife that he has been actively homosexual for several years. Every situation is different, yet there is one thing in common – the person hearing the news is faced with the question as to how they are going to respond to the gay individual.
Recognising the confusion and bewilderment than can overwhelm someone at this time, we have put together a few guidelines on “how to respond” to the person who has informed you of their homosexuality.
Remain as calm as possible. The discovery of someone’s homosexuality usually sets of an emotional reaction of panic that makes you think the whole world is falling apart. It is not, of course. At this time it helps to focus on the question “What does this person need from me now?” This initial disclosure is not the time to dwell on your own fears and insecurities. There will be plenty of time to deal with those things later.
Communicate Acceptance. Do not reject the gay person. They need your love and acceptance as never before. You may be feeling totally bewildered – that lovable, familiar person who you thought you knew so intimately has suddenly turned into a monster. Rest assured, they have not. With as much acceptance and grace as you can come up with (prayer is essential here), reaffirm your love for this person. They do not need rejection or harsh angry lectures.
Love Unconditionally. You are probably wondering; “But isn’t homosexuality sin?” Yes, we’ll come to that later. The main thing you need to have your energies directed toward now is loving that person unconditionally. It is unlikely to come naturally, so you will have to call on God and draw strength from Him.
Loving Confrontation. Most people would tend to confront first, anger being more obvious in the reaction than love. That is why we stress the need for affirming our love and acceptance of the gay person. But the truth is, homosexuality is contrary to God’s Word. It is sin and as always results in sin’s destructive effects on the individual and on those close to them.
After you have successfully communicated your love and acceptance and the person knows you are not going to withdraw your support, you are ready to share your own viewpoints. This is especially true if the person is already a Christian and believes in the Scriptures. This can be done in a gentle way, taking care not to “beat them over the head” with the Bible.
Offering Hope for change. Along with loving confrontation, it is important to lead the way to the alternative to homosexuality: the love of Jesus Christ and His power to redeem and recreate the individual. If possible give them something of substance to encourage them, such as tapes they can listen to or watch, the telephone number of an ex-gay Christian they can speak to, or the brochures of a ministry to ex-homosexual people.
Be part of a supportive community. The person with homosexual problems is going to need faithful, consistent love and support. Their initial disclosure and your response to them is just the beginning. The gay world is full of change, instability, unkept promises and broken relationships. You can provide a listening ear, a place of warmth, security and wholesomeness that sin cannot offer.
Practical things you can do: Tell them you love them; show them by writing a letter, telephoning periodically, inviting them over for dinner, to give just a few suggestions.
How to handle your own reactions to homosexuality. When a person tells you of their homosexuality, it may seem that the uniqueness of their problem causes your own problems to seem rather inconsequential. However your first encounter with the problem of homosexuality may result in some distressing and confusing reactions on your part. Do not feel guilty for having problems of your own. Most people do have some difficulty dealing with the confession of homosexuality by someone they care about. Here are a few tips for working through these reactions.
Do not take it personally. Occasionally a gay person will be disclosing his past with intent to hurt you, or to get you to share the blame for his current situation. However this is not usually the case , more often than not the person will s hare this with you in an attempt to come closer to you. Try to look at their homosexuality as a simple fact. This is how it is.
It is not something intended to hurt you, incriminate or embarrass you, or to be a statement about you in any way.
Parents and spouses. The problem of taking it personally is especially felt by parents and spouses of gays. They are particularly vulnerable. Because some of their own actions may conceivably have had some influence on the situation. But in reality, homosexuality is a condition with such deep and extensive causes that one individual cannot (and must not) hold themselves personally responsible for making another person gay. It will help you get this firmly established in your mind. You are not to blame for the homosexual problems of your friend or relative.
Dealing with questions about your own sexuality. An almost inevitable result of learning about the homosexuality of someone close to you is that you begin questioning your own sexual identity. Most people have fears about their own sexuality to begin with and these fears will probably rise to the forefront at this time. Many will start to ask themselves, “do I have homosexual tendencies?”
A common problem we encounter in counselling is fear of homosexuality, otherwise known as homophobia. The fear of something is often greater than the issue itself. Some people will involve themselves in homosexual activities just to rid themselves of the feat of being gay.
Common Characteristics Of A Homophobic
They are predominantly heterosexual in their thought life, dreams and desires abut may have had a few homosexual attractions and/or some experiences with the opposite sex that were negative.
Perhaps they were involved at sometime in a few same sex encounters, which produced some lingering memories and fantasies, but the fact is, the condition of homosexuality refers to a consistent, ongoing preference for members of the same sex
Another aspect of the homophobic reaction, one which is just as common as questioning your own sexual identity, is the reaction of fear, repulsion and disgust. It is out of this type of reaction that words such as queer, faggot, pervert & dyke come into use.
Some people, upon learning of the homosexuality of someone else, will actually become physically sick, such a violent emotional and physical symptom are not uncommon.
However, a message that many of us as Christians are reluctant to learn is that it is UNACCEPTABLE before God to allow the attitudes behind these feelings to remain a part of our lives, influencing the way we treat people from a homosexual background.
LEARNING A CHRIST LIKE RESPONSE.
It is amazing how Christians, who wholeheartedly believe in treating alcoholics, prostitutes and even murderers with the love of Christ, can see a couple of gays walking down the street and scornfully remark “Just look at that couple of queers.” What is even more amazing is that these Christians will feel completely justified in having this response. This attitude towards those with homosexual problems is not acceptable to God.
God does judge and condemn homosexual acts and gay lifestyle , but His Son Jesus never treated those caught up in sexual sin in such a debasing way. Consider how he treated the Samaritan woman caught in adultery. While the Pharisees (the religious men of His day) looked on such people with contempt. Christ forgave them. Although He confronted them with their sin and never condoned it, His first concern was for the well-being of these people, meeting the needs of their hearts and setting them free to live godly, productive and fulfilling lives.
Jesus gives us His example of the attitude we need to take in ministering to those with homosexual problems. If you do not have it, if you are overwhelmed with feelings of fear and repulsive, be honest with yourself and God.
Bring these things before God in prayer, asking Him to change your heart. It will take time, so be patient with yourself; be persistent in prayer, and you will changed.
OVER REACTION : DEALING WITH THE GRIEF PROCESS.
Some of us may experience the homosexuality of someone close as a devastating and traumatic experience. The reason why it hits some individuals this way and not others is not clear cut. The fact remains that for some, this is an experience that can leave as great an impact (or even greater) as if a close friend or relative had died.
In fact it is not uncommon for a person to go through the same grief process that occurs when someone dies; the sense of loss can be so great. This is actually what triggers the grief process: the realization that someone or something of very great value to you has been irretrievably lost in some way, maybe forever. To help you understand what is involved in working through these emotions, here is a brief look at each step of the grieving process :
Stages of the grieving process
Shock, denial and disbelief – When we desperately wish something were not true, we may subconsciously refuse to acknowledge it. A person may minimize someone’s confession of homosexuality; “It’s not such a big problem; it will go away in time. Let’s just forget about it and hope he never mentions it again. It’s just a stage.” Of even; “He’s not really a homosexual; it’s just all in the mind.”
Emotional release – Once reality begins to hit, there may be many tears and overwhelming emotions. The best way of coping is to allow yourself to feel these things and express them, but try not to unleash them on the homosexual person. It would be better to tell the person what you are feeling than to shriek at them or tearfully accuse them.
Depression and Isolation – These symptoms (fairly self-explanatory) are usually accompanied by self-pity over the loss, that leads to feeling cut off from others.
Physical symptoms of distress – These can be most perplexing and highly varied, ranging from extreme headaches to chest pains, nausea and difficulty with breathing. One woman complained that her “teeth itched”. Another felt as though she were swallowing a lead golf ball (for a year). You will not die though, even if you feel as though you are going to.
Sense of Guilt – This is where you review in your mind all your previous contacts with the person, thinking, “Where did I go wrong?” This can be fruitless unless you ask, “What can I do now?”
Anger and Resentment – “How dare they do this to me?” This question hits us after the initial sorrow wears off. Actually, it is a sign that we are on the mend. When a sick person is recovering from a prolonged illness, they begin complaining when they start feeling better. This means the road to recovery is under way. It can be a healthy sign, as long as we do not dwell on it and become bitter. Get it out and move on.
Resist Returning to Normal – here is where you realise that “Life goes on and so must I.” Still, there is a hesitancy to leave the problem behind and move on. Grief has been like a blanket, a form of security it is not easy to abandon it.
Hope comes through – one day you wake up feeling better. Usually you start noticing that several days have gone by since you were last aware of the pain. Perhaps you have been so busy with other things that you have not had time to notice the loss. This is the key sign; your focus now turns outward instead of inward. The problem is still there, but the personal hurt is gone.
Struggle to affirm reality – For the most part, life is back to normal. From time to time, the memories or realisation will sweep over you. In the case of homosexuality, the person is probably still around and there may be occasional crises to deal with, but it is not the same. Everything has reduced to a more rational perspective. You have somehow worked through the trauma, thanks be to God.
KNOWING WHEN TO LET GO – THE ART OF RELINQUISHMENT
(See Parents in Pain, by John White – Intervarsity Press)
Relinquishment does not mean that we abandon the person or neglect our responsibilities towards them. To understand what relinquishment is, we must first understand what God is like and what is the essence of His relationship to us. As He is to you, so must we be (as far as possible) to those close to us.
Some ideas of letting go of those you love
Forsake the right to be proud: We have no right to expect or demand that this person fulfil our dreams for them.
Be willing to forego any repayment for what you have done for this person.
Give up your right to uninterrupted tranquillity.
Give up your right to respectability. We may pray that gossip will pass us by, but we cannot cling to your “right to escape it.”
Allow them to accept the consequences of their own actions; most important and probably most difficult of all, relinquishment means allowing our loved ones to face the pain, tragedy and even death that results from choosing to go their own way instead of following the Lord.
BE PREPARED, GOD MAY USE YOU
The experiences you have been through suffering. In the Old Testament, Moses and Joseph were among those who experienced great suffering and the letters in the Old Testament leave little doubt about the hardship and pain endured by the Apostle Paul.
1 Peter 6:7 Describes the value of suffering :
“In this, greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater value than Gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
No one is better equipped to minister in a given area than one who has “been there”. If you remain open to God and are willing to be used, you will probably find many opportunities to…..
” …. comfort with the same comfort you have received from God.” 11 Corinthians 1:4
In fact, the joy, which comes from helping those in need, can be the greatest tool God uses in bringing healing to your own life.