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When Your Child Doesn't
"I think most parents who discover their child is homosexual feel a sense of loss similar to death."
My thoughts had been in a turmoil ever since the heart-chilling moment when Danny*, our youngest, called to announce that he and Angela had decided not to get married. They'd been engaged for two and a half years and were just at the point of ordering their wedding invitations when he dropped this bombshell. My husband, Michael, and I were very fond of Angela and had been delighted about their wedding plans.
Suddenly my heart filled with a sense of foreboding, a premonition that there was more to this than Danny was telling us. His reason for the broken engagement seemed vague and unsatisfactory. "We don't share the same philosophy of life," he'd told us, adding, "but we're still good friends."
Soon after Danny's call, Michael, a busy church administrator, went on a six-week trip to South America, and I was left alone with my thoughts, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. The worry simmered in the back of my mind, and gradually memories that had been buried in my subconscious began to surface. I remembered the frequent vague feelings of uneasiness that I had tried to ignore.
As I realized the direction my intuitions were leading, I panicked. Hoping to set my fears at rest, yet terrified of what I might learn, I finally picked up the phone and called the college pastor to whom Danny and Angela had gone for premarital counseling. My voice shook and I felt as though I could hardly breathe as I told him that the terrible possibility had occurred to me that my son might be a homosexual, and asked if it was something I should talk to Danny about.
My life has been forever divided, before and after that terrible moment indelibly imprinted in my memory. After an uncomfortable silence, the pastor said stiffly, "Talk to him. But he careful not to say anything that might drive him into a lifestyle neither of us would want."
I hung up as screams of rage, pain, and disbelief exploded from deep inside. My heart violently rejected this knowledge, even as my mind acknowledged that it was true. A flood of torturing questions swept over me: 1s Danny going to be lost? Will he never get married or have children? Will he die of AIDS? How could this possibly have happened? Is it our fault? Finally I was left with one last, sorrowful question: What has this been like for Danny?
By the time I learned of Danny's orientation, he had already come to the conclusion that, in spite of years of desperate prayers for God to change him, this was something he was going to have to live with. "I always knew there was something different about me," he told us later. It was in seventh-grade Bible class that the "something different" had been defined and named.
"It was something I could never have talked to you about," he said, but he had spent hours agonizing over it with his academy Bible teacher and the father of one of his classmates.
One of the first things I realized after learning about Danny's homosexuality was that some of my preconceived ideas must be wrong. I had always thought that homosexuals were perverted and obsessed with sex. But I knew Danny had a deeply spiritual nature. While not an angel, he'd always been a good kid who tried to do what was right. He was studying to be a teacher and hoped, eventually, to be a missionary. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming need to learn more about homosexuality, so I began reading everything I could find about the topic. I had to understand how this could have happened to a lovable Christian boy raised in a Christian home. I discovered that there are many different beliefs and theories about its causes and treatment. Eventually, after filtering them through my understanding of God and the Bible, I came to the conclusion that for the true homosexual the orientation is just another one of the results of living in a sinful world. The homosexual does not choose his or her orientation, I concluded, but God asks, and can, enable the person with this orientation to shun the homosexual lifestyle.
For a long time after facing the reality of Danny's situation, I felt very much alone. Shame and embarrassment made me feel that there was no one I could talk to about it. Michael and I held leadership positions in the church. What would people think if they knew our son was a homosexual?
It was several months before I was even able to tell Michael. Sensing how much Danny needed our love and support, I was afraid Michael might react in some way that would alienate our son. Instead he took the news quite calmly. He was sure it was just a phase Danny was going through.
I think most parents who discover their child is homosexual feel a sense of loss similar to death, and must work through the various stages of grief. For a long time Michael was stuck in the stage of denial. He was sure that if he could just make Danny understand how homosexuality would affect his life, he would get over this "phase." When that didn't work, he preferred not to think or talk about it.
I, on the other hand, spent a long time in the anger stage. I was angry with God for allowing such a terrible thing to happen to the wonderful, talented boy who was our son. I was angry with myself for not recognizing the problem sooner, wondering if perhaps I could have prevented it. At the least, I could have avoided making some harsh statements about homosexuals that must have hurt Danny deeply.
And I felt angry at the church for the prejudice of many of its members, for the attitude of revulsion and rejection that they displayed. As I came to realize how many families secretly harbor this hidden pain, I was angry that church leadership continued to ignore the problem, finding it easier to talk about AIDS, or even child abuse, than homosexuality.
Both Michael and I struggled with feelings of guilt as we faced the popular view that homosexuality is caused by a distant father or a controlling mother. Michael had been away from home a lot as Danny was growing up. And I had been very close to Danny because of our shared love for music, art, and writing. But God finally helped us realize that while we had undoubtedly made mistakes in bringing up our children, we were not responsible for Danny's orientation.
For some time in our different ways of reacting, Michael and I coped with our grief alone, but eventually were able to share our pain and sorrow, and even grew closer together. As we and Danny continued to reach out and try to understand each other, in spite of our often fumbling attempts we were able to maintain a close and loving relationship. Most important of all, this experience drove us to our knees and brought us closer to God.
The last six years have not been easy. When Danny finally came to terms with being homosexual, he wanted to be open about it and stop pretending to be something he was not. He told several of his friends, and the news got around. Some boys in the dorm began harassing him unmercifully, and even made threats against his life.
He had always been a good student, but at the end of his college career he seemed to flounder. He did not get his teaching credentials and couldn't decide what else to do with his English major. After graduation he got a job as a secretary.
Feeling that God had refused to answer his prayers, he went through a long period of doubt and separation from God. He met Steve, a Catholic boy, who invited him to sing in the choir at the cathedral at which he worshiped. In a few months they began living together and committed themselves to a monogamous relationship.
About a year ago Danny called and told us his faith in God had been restored. He said that he and Steve had repented of their homosexual lifestyle and had decided to become celibate. And he had decided to join the Catholic Church.
What mixed feelings this news precipitated! We rejoiced that he had come back to God and left a lifestyle that was outside of God's will. But it was difficult to accept that this had been accomplished through another church. However, his experience is so joyful and genuine that we have to believe God is leading and will continue to lead. We have seen many homosexuals find love and acceptance in non-SDA churches, and pray that soon a new day of caring concern for those who struggle with this orientation will dawn in our church.
To other parents who are dealing with this kind of situation, I would offer the following suggestions:
1. Model God's unconditional love. Loving your son or daughter does not mean that you condone a sinful lifestyle. God loved us while we were yet sinners.
2. Reach out for help and comfort. When I finally found the courage to talk to my pastor and close friends, I found that nearly all were supportive and sympathetic. And I found others who shared my heartache and understood what I was going through.
3. No matter how distressing your child's situation may be, never stop praying. If you ask in faith, God can work miracles.
*All names have been changed.
Kate McLaughlin is the author of My Son, Beloved Stranger, published by Pacific Press.
Originally printed in Women of Spirit, Spring 1995