Hannah, my beautiful youngest daughter, once told me she felt much more comfortable with her theater friends than with her Christian friends. She felt welcomed, included, and free – but not in her Christian group. Why?
Because she could be who she is. She was safe to be Hannah without people watching for some kind of wrong action or wrong attitude. She didn’t always have to wonder if this or that was “accepted” in the group.
This is a huge thing, this feeling uncomfortable in our Christian circles. Huge.
See, here’s what happened. Hannah was born into the world a bright, creative and fearless girl. Favorite story: Hannah would climb the monkey bars in the backyard and hang from the top, her feet dangling some three feet from the ground. At 18 months old! I could see her from my kitchen window. A visiting friend would say, “Is she okay? Should we get her?” I’d say, “She’s fine – she does this all the time.”
Life happens, for all of us, with its issues and hurts, and for a while there, Hannah wanted to shut down. Minimize herself to less than she really is. It was just regular teenaged stuff in a hurting world – but Hannah would want to give in to the pain that had put a lid on her and enclosed her. I tried to help her work through her issues, find someone for her to talk to, to help her get free from the pain.
Pain is just a signal to notify us that something is wrong, by the way, that something needs attention. Like a check-engine light means something is wrong and needs attention. You don’t panic, you don’t cajole the check-engine light into not blinking, and you don’t just put black tape over it and pretend it’s not there. You get it what it needs.
I’ve tried to do this for my kids …and myself. Understand that their pain did not signal something was inherently wrong with them, but that something wrong had been added, so to speak, and it was hurting them. Someone had misused them, or something was not fitting.
When we see people as a “problem to be solved” or “sin to be renounced,” it becomes about fear – our fear that we’re not doing enough to “fix” people, and their fear of never measuring up. (And they’re right – if our job is to keep perfecting them, they never will measure up.)
But what if we interact with them as God’s image-bearer… which they, and we, ARE?
Then the fear evaporates as we are free to live as God made us!
To see yourself as radiantly as God sees you requires a foundational shift. It means to reframe what it means to be a human, bearing God’s image.
Hannah felt confined in her Christian group because they are steeped in behavior-modification, on the lookout for what should be ‘fixed.’ Hannah felt free elsewhere, because they accept people essentially as they are.
Hannah has learned that God loves her perfectly and unconditionally and she is soaring now! She is living and serving in South Africa – surfing, skateboarding, BMXing – and with her incredible music (click here and click here.)
And you know what, I bet every now and then she dangles from the monkey bars – her courage bursting forth – that indelible image of God ready to take her places her heart wants her to go.
She is a beautiful, amazing human!
So are you.
“Find yourself before you turn into someone else.” from Hannah Cottrell’s song Ranna
[To read more from Susan Cottrell, visit www.FreedHearts.org]
SUSAN COTTRELL is a national speaker, teacher, and counselor with years of Biblical study and discipleship experience. Her books include: Mom, I’m Gay – Loving Your LGBTQ Child Without Sacrificing Your Faith, as well as How Not to Lose Your Teen and The Marriage Renovation. Through her nonprofit organization – FreedHearts.org – Susan champions the LGBTQ community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that “loving God and loving others” are the foundation of the rest of the scripture, just as Jesus said.
She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others. Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”
She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at FreedHearts.org and here in IMPACT Magazine’s FreedHearts and Jesus Blog columns.