Picture yourself entering the woods by a winding path. You wander in, exploring the trees — all various shades of green, red, yellow, orange. The clear blue sky peeks through the interlaced leaves. You come to a fork and you must choose one of several paths.
You choose and you move forward.
There are rocks in the path, and you step carefully so you don’t stumble. Soon you discover you can step more firmly and quickly, because your foot has learned how to navigate the rocks. You become more surefooted. After a while you come to a stream. You wade into the bubbling water. Refreshing on tired feet after such a long walk. You splash your face and drink the cool, sweet water.
You walk through and come to a barrier. You’re not sure — you may have to go back. No, there’s an opening. At long last, you make your way around and into a small clearing. The setting sun is warm on your back. Then you’re back in the trees, picking up the path where you left off.
Finally, it grows dark.
You hear unfamiliar sounds — animal calls. You don’t recognize them. Perhaps you heard them in the light but you didn’t notice. Now they’re more foreboding. You might be a afraid.
Oh, but wait, I forgot to tell you…
You have a companion! Someone you trust, who’s far bigger and stronger than you are, and who loves and protects you. This person is not afraid in the least! You can relax and enjoy yourself. Talk. Point out the beautiful trees you’ve seen. Talk about how you are pretty sure you will be sore tomorrow, but right now, you feel vibrant, alive and strong! You haven’t been on such an adventure, well, you can’t remember when!
What a different journey it became when you remembered that you had a strong, trustworthy companion who will not leave and who loves and protects you.
That’s what FAITH is meant to be.
It’s a journey, an adventure, sometimes delightful and beautiful, sometimes messy, scary and overwhelming. But always an adventure.
When we go through it with someone who loves us and has our back, then even when it’s challenging — which it often is! — it is safe.
Instead, that wonderful, personal intimate faith is often presented on Sunday mornings as shame-filled, uncomfortable religion, and it feels like crawling over glass while someone stands over you to tell you how you’re doing it wrong.
I’m heartbroken that so many people – including those in the LGBTQ community and their families – have been so abused by religion, religious leaders, fundamentalism, literalism, dogma. Sometimes people stiffen when someone talks about God, or Jesus, because they have been so abused spiritually. Like the boy who’s been beaten so many times, he flinches when the dad moves to scratch his head. It’s an honest reaction, and it is heartbreaking.
Talk of sin and consequences is often used to scare people into submission. We make, or someone else makes, or the church makes our list of do’s and don’ts, so we can be good and check them off.
That goes against everything Jesus taught and showed us.
But the stereotype we receive from so many Christian pastors, in so many churches is a God standing over us, waiting for us to mess up… ruler in hand like a Catholic nun. Or he’s a stern father waiting to get us… if we dare “break his commands.”
But I want you to know that it’s not true. For more reasons than I can write about here, that is the truth about the Bible, about God, about Jesus.
This whole faith thing is suppose to be simple. It is about a relationship with someone who loves us, who guides us, who is always there for us on this journey.
We are not alone. We are loved. Unconditionally.
* Read more from Susan Cottrell at 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.