Last week I read about a young girl, just 16 years of age, in Kentucky who was attacked by two men shouting anti-gay slurs. Her jaw was broken, she lost several teeth and one of the younger boys with her suffered a concussion trying to protect his friend.
Then today I read about a woman in Nebraska who was bound, had anti-gay slurs carved into her skin, doused with gas, and had her house set on fire. The woman managed to escape the house. But one can only imagine the long difficult road ahead of her to recover from this level of trauma.
A friend left a video link on my facebook wall that tells the story of a profoundly hurtful family response to the partner of a gay son who had died in an accident.
And these are just snippets of what passes through not only my inbox, but my mind and heart, on a daily basis. And some days I just want to scream and yell and pound my fists and say to God, “Enough! I can’t take it anymore! Too much pain. Too much hatred. Too much fear. Too much already! Do something! Intervene! Change hearts! Do it now before someone else gets hurt or dies or is so emotionally and spiritually wounded that they walk away from you or take their own life ….. Enough already God!!!”
It is true that New Direction seeks to promote generous spaciousness rather than a particular political agenda. It is true that we tend to focus on the slow, patient work of relational reconciliation, constructive dialogue, and mutual respect amidst difference. And in the big picture of things, I believe that that is what we are called to, that is what will eventually bring sustainable transformation that ushers in more love, peace, hope, and life for the common good of all. But ….. some days ….. I just can’t take it anymore! Some days I just want God to act – and to act quickly. Some days I just want to call out the people who smugly think they are doing God’s will by being complete a–holes. Some days, I feel like I can’t extend any more grace to those who seem so arrogant in their ignorance and whitewash it in the name of Jesus.
(Note: I am not suggesting that every straight conservative Christian is a smug jerk ….. I know there are many kind-hearted people who are trying to find a way to be loving and to relate well. I also think, however, that sometimes people caught in the invisible web of straight privilege do not realize how they trigger hurt and alienation in those who do not enjoy that same privilege.)
For those of you who may not end up reading through all of the comments on posts, I want to share with you a comment that just broke my heart yesterday.
Marty said, “Wendy, I have a question from the opposite end. I have a brother who refuses to speak to me until I leave my “sinful lifestyle.” (Not sure what that means since I’m single and live pretty much as I always have.)
Growing up and into adulthood we had a good relationship. I was the best man at his wedding before I came out. But afterward, not so much. Almost a year after I came out to him, he and his wife had their first child and my first nephew. I planned the thousand mile trip to visit and deliver gifts. But when I called to make the arrangements, he told me not to come and to never call him again.
I’ve sent him messages and birthday wishes several times since, saying that I would like to talk about our relationship and how we can get along even if we disagree. But he thinks that even having a relationship would be condoning sin. (I’m pretty well-versed in the Bible, so I get the irony. Unfortunately, he isn’t as well versed. He just knows what his pastor tells him, but his pastor doesn’t know me.)
I feel horrible about the whole thing, and I wish there were something I could do. I think about it constantly. Some of my friends tell me I just need to let him go. It’s just that I’ve grown up my whole life hearing about how important family is and how they will be the ones who always stick with you. It feels like I’d be giving up on that too. Reading this over again, maybe it’s already gone.
OK so we know in this situation that logic is not going to likely soften or open this brother’s heart. We could explain that when Paul says, in I Cor. 5:11, “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people” he is speaking to a specific group in a specific historical and cultural context. We could explain that he is talking about behavior not orientation or attraction. We could point out the gross inconsistencies in how we associate with all kind of people who are greedy or heterosexually sexually immoral without giving it too much agonizing thought. We could contrast this text with other statements by Paul such as the thought that “everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial” (see chapter 10 of the same letter about a believer’s freedom). Or we could contrast this text with the example of Jesus who dined with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners. Not to mention the universal truth that all human beings have been created in the image of God, are loved by him, and are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. But, the likelihood would be that all of this would fall on the deaf ears that have been closed by certainty, anger or fear.
In these situations, we may be served by letting go of the hope or expectation that just the right argument will unlock their hearts. Going over all the logical argumentation in your head will just drive you crazy. And it is a pretty remote possibility that logic will bring change.
On the flip side, when we are hurt by another’s silence or overt exclusionary statements, it can be easy to justify ourselves in a way that puffs us up – but doesn’t really help us grieve the loss we are feeling. It is true, the person who has cut us off isn’t acting like Jesus. It is true, that they may be acting out of their own fear, anxiety or insecurity. It is true, that they may not be able to risk thinking for themselves but are relying on the advice of a pastor or leader who may be poorly equipped to offer Christ-like wisdom. It is true, that you may be more mature, that you’ve given more, that you’ve reached out more, and that you feel like you’ve been more Christ-like than they have. But when we wrap these assurances around ourselves like a warm protective blanket, deep on the inside something will still ring hollow, and we will still feel hurt, and nothing will have been done to help the relationship. This kind of self-protection is completely understandable, we all do it. I don’t describe it here in any kind of judgmental tone. But I do describe it because I know only too well how this strategy backfires in leaving us still longing for reconciliation and still hurting inside.
So, what then can we do?
We can’t force reconciliation – especially when the other person has put themselves on the “I’m right and righteous and you’re wrong and an abomination” pedestal. Maybe we’ve already tried demonstrating unconditional love and reaching out – and it has been consistently met with silence or rebuff – and to keep doing that is just pouring salt into our wounds. Maybe, you’ve tried to confront with honest, clear, truthful statement about how their actions make you feel. But they’ve ignored you. Or turned around and blamed you for being attacking or unloving because you confronted them. And you just ended up being hurt even more. Or you simply feel your heart shutting down because it is just too hard to keep getting hurt, disappointed and let down by the people who are supposed to love you and support you no matter what.
I wish I had some perfect magic formula to heal your heart and bring reconciliation. I sure could use that in my own life. But I haven’t found it.
But there are a few things I know to be true:
It is really important that you give yourself the space, time and permission to grieve. Being shut out of a family member’s life is profoundly hurtful. It is a great loss. Grieving may begin with acknowledging this. Maybe it will mean allowing your emotions to emerge: the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe it will mean gathering a small group of friends who love you and accept you and support you and reading them a letter that you have written to your family member about how you feel …. Then destroying the letter with your friends around you offering comfort and support. As you destroy the letter you choose to release that family member, choose to release yourself, and receive and accept the freedom to move on. Not forgetting, but not being bound into an interminable loop of longing and disappointment either.
Grieving, as I wrote in a couple of posts ago, is a messy chaotic and unpredictable journey. So be gentle with yourself.
Learn what triggers you and pulls you back into the cycle of trying to fix this. There may be some mementos or photos that you need to put away. Maybe you need to hide someone’s profile in your facebook. Maybe you need to give yourself some boundaries about calling or contacting them.
Be intentional about your own heart and spiritual health. Hurt hearts can get infected. It is a common and pervasive problem. But infected hearts hurt us even more because they fill us with bitterness and anger and cynicism and the infection blocks up our ability to be the loving, kind, giving person that we want to be. Make sure you have a trusted confidante who will be gracious when you need to vent, who will be pastoral when you need to confess, who will be humorous when you need to laugh, who will weep with you when you need to cry. Don’t isolate yourself in this hurt. Don’t just fill your life with stuff – make some room for silence and reflection – and allow the still, small voice of God bring you comfort and peace.
Remember that God puts the lonely in families. Be intentional to build a support system of friends, surrogate parents, and loving sisters and brothers in Christ, who you can share the deep and intimate happenings of your life with – both your joys and your sorrows. Welcome children into your life in whatever capacity makes sense in your stage of the journey. Children have a way of bringing us back to the simple place of loving and being loved.
None of this is perfect or complete …. So remember that as Paul describes in the 8th chapter of Romans, that we are groaning with all of creation for God to finally come and pull back the veil and make all things right. We are not alone in our groaning – but the whole creation is saying, “Enough already God …. C’mon …. Make things right!! We’re tired of waiting …. We’re not sure if we can wait any longer ….. Fulfill your victory!” And remember that we are not diminished in our waiting.
Waiting in this time between the times, where Christians don’t act like Jesus, where families don’t act like families, where friends fail us, where churches reject us, where citizens beat us, where the powerful stomp on the weak …. Waiting in this place is made bearable because we serve a risen Saviour who displays his wounds. Waiting in this place is made bearable because we have been sent and given the Comforter. Waiting is made bearable because of Emmanuel – God is with us.
And so as you grieve and wait ….. may you know the Everlasting Arms of Grace enfolding you, sustaining you, loving you and being your Abba.