I will never forget the 14-year old girl who came up to ask me a question after I spoke at the Christian concert festival, Soulfest, several years ago. She wandered around the edges of my booth as I spoke to others. She would walk away, but then return every so often. Finally, she looked up at me. Her eyes revealed a terror of fear inside. My heart broke. I could tell she was not going to be able to say a word. She opened her mouth to speak, but her throat locked up. Tears filled her eyes. As I gently reached out a hand to say “It’s ok,” she darted off and I never saw her again.
To many in the gay community, it is “2010” (make that 2011!) and there should be no fear about sexuality. What is under-estimated is how difficult the process of sexual identity development can be for each new generation. It does not matter how accepting our culture is – for many young teens, the idea that they might be gay is very scary and not solely because of religion. For many of them, they just never expected this would happen to them. The early months of self-discovery can be painful and scary. To pierce the veil of one’s secrecy by mouthing the words “I think I am gay” can be frightening.
My gut instinct was to run after that young girl and just hug her. As you can imagine, that would not have been the best choice. We cannot ultimately force young people to disclose their secrets before they are ready. This raises a question: what can we do?
In our family, my wife and I have made a decision to start having regular and deep conversations about tough issues with our children while they are young. We talk openly about older teens who are drinking or using drugs; young adults who have walked away from God; girls who have become pregnant without a husband; boys who have been placed in a detention center for stealing; and kids who have been touched inappropriately by adults and how necessary it is for these kids to tell their parents or a trusted adult no matter what threats have been made against them – or against their loved ones. We talk about the importance of sharing our sins, secrets and struggles with one another.
Talking is great, but modeling this is much better. So very regularly, I will confess the way I have sinned against or failed to meet the needs of my children – or my wife. I want our children to grow up knowing that it is natural to talk about tough things. My wife and I love our children: we want to make sure that they always know that there is an open door. With our older adopted sons, we talk openly about sexuality and we want them to know that “home” is the place where you share your questions and get real answers.
When sexual abuse is the secret, it is understandable why young people hide. To these teens I can only plead: if you are being sexually abused, you need to tell a trusted adult. If you are being abused by someone other than your parent, you need to tell your parents immediately. If you are being abused by a parent, then you need to tell a pastor or school counselor. Or call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 422-4453 to obtain anonymous help 24-hours a day. Importantly, they are not a mandated reporting agency. This means they can help you without reporting you or your situation. This is a safe number to call.
When sexual orientation is the secret, it is equally understandable why young people hide. To these teens I can only plead the same: you need to tell a trusted adult – your parents if possible. If you need to discuss your options for getting support, Lead Them Home is a safe organization: we will not report back to your parents. While I cannot answer emails or telephone calls 24-hours a day, I will return all calls and emails usually within a day or so. You can reach Lead Them Home at (877) 683-6867 or through our contact form. There is help available, and it is free.
When suicide is the secret, you need to dial 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency. Otherwise, you can get non-emergency help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. There is hope: call now.
Whether your secret is sexual abuse, sexual orientation or suicidal thoughts, there is help for young people just like you. Please reach out for help today. God loves you, and he has a plan for your life. We love you too. Your life is incredibly valuable. I hope you will reach out for help today. God bless you.
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