When I'm just wrong...
A while back, a friend asked me to write a post of what a person should do when they’ve “blown it” with a friend/co-worker/family in the area of sexuality. So here it is: my two cents on some next steps after the “misstep.”
For me, an extrovert with a lot of words, I’ve had a lot of chances to work out what I’m going to share, as I’ve made countless stupid comments and a million judgments, I’ve spoken some of those judgments aloud, and I’ve said some outright hurtful things. I could just decide that I’m done talking (that would pose some difficulty for me, in all honesty), but I think a better plan is to be able to lovingly address what I’ve said and done and then work on some internal change in me.
I’ll just highlight a couple examples, which will hopefully hit most of your scenarios.
Example #1: I say something mistakenly stupid or ignorant. I actually have a recent example of this.
While leading a discussion recently on LGBTQ issues at a local college, I met a man who attended the first session. He was married with several children, but very well-spoken and well-read on the topic. The following week he arrived early, and we were making small talk when I said (and I’ll quote), “What interested you in coming to this seminar? For someone who is straight, you are very well versed in LGBTQ topics.”
Have you already winced and cried aloud ,“How could you say that?!”I did! As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to hide and run from the room.
A long pause ensued, and he replied, “I would actually identify myself as gay and wanted to share that with you.” Wow . . . after my enormous judgement statement, he actually still wanted to talk to me.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you have your own story like this or you’ve heard someone say something really dumb out loud. For me, the only thing I can do is:
Own completely what I’ve said. I replied to him, “I cannot believe I just said that. I’m sorry to have labelled you before I really know much about you.”
Apologize. Along with owning my words, I express that I am sorry for what I’ve said. No explanations, no excuses. I said that, and I’m sorry.
Change. I’ve worked to slow down my words, say less, and think a lot about terminology and language.
Example #2: Someone wrote to me recently about alienating their brother. During his brother’s coming out to the family, he left with the impression that his family expected his orientation would change over time.
This is a hard one. I can’t control how someone perceives me. That said, many in the Church hold the opinion that counseling, therapy, uncovering past trauma, or prayer will lead to a change to heterosexual desires.
Could God do this? Sure, He could. Does He promise this? Nope.
Is counseling or therapy profitable? Yeah, it has been for me in a huge way. Does it guarantee orientation change for people with same-sex desires? Nope.
If a person’s orientation doesn’t change, does that mean they’re somehow less godly or not following the Lord? Nope.
Is prayer profitable in our lives? Absolutely. It is essential.
Can I will something to happen in my life by fervent prayer? Not really.
I can ask. I can seek diligently. But God alone determines His response.
But still, a friend may perceive that I am expecting them to change in orientation and be hurt by that.
First I have to ask myself, do I expect that? If that is the posture of my heart, I want to examine some of the above thoughts. This may be a dicey thing to say, but I don’t believe that I should be expecting someone’s orientation to change. Is it bad to ask the Lord to remove someone’s same-sex desires? I happen to think that’s a good prayer if offered with an open hand. Life is legitimately more difficult as a sexual minority. But when my prayers are demanding or I am demanding of my friend/family member, I project the idea that they are “less than.” And I don’t want to ever do that. Ever.
Anecdotes and research tell us that complete orientation change is rare. Again, God can do whatever He wishes, but too many people live with feelings of constant disappointment in themselves because friends and family believe they aren’t “working” hard enough for change to occur.
So given this scenario, here’s my thoughts on how I would work through it.
First, I want to examine my heart for exactly what my expectations or desires for my friend are. And there’s a huge difference between desiring something for someone and praying for that versus expecting some specific response,attitude, or action from them.
Secondly, I want to ask humbly what I’ve done to hurt or offend them. (And I really mean humbly.) I want to ask from the vantage point of really seeing how I’ve impacted them and how my words have hurt or my attitudes have wounded.
Lastly, I want to seek forgiveness where I need to. Perhaps there has been miscommunication that has led to hurt feelings. Perhaps I’ve actually sinned against them. I want to listen and respond with love.
Basically, working out the gospel in my life means that I want to grow in loving God and others. This means that whether I’ve knowing done or said something hurtful, unknowingly done or said something that gets brought to my attention, or just sense coldness from my friend, I want to ask.
I want to love my friend so much that in humility I will place their needs above my own.
I want to learn how to use language well so as to not offend.
I want to read and understand the topic so my friend doesn’t become my “test case.”
I want to have a posture that invites rebuke and sharing. I want to know if I’ve hurt someone.
This takes time and energy for sure. Relationships are worth the effort. I can’t guarantee that my friend will receive my apology, and I can’t ensure that our relationship will continue. And that is painful to face. But I want to do my part, all of my part, to communicate how valuable they are to me. Then I can leave the healing and the future in the hands of the Holy Spirit.