Fostering self-acceptance is one of the hardest things for us as LGBTQ Christians to do. With years of conservative theology playing in our heads, it is hard (and takes time) to erase those tapes and build a new library of affirming beliefs about ourselves. You must give yourself the permission you need to be where you are and to allow yourself to go through the process.
Some tips for loving yourself:
Release yourself from expectations.
If you’ve grown up in the evangelical church like I have, you most likely put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform and measure up in order to make God and those around you happy. You may feel pressure to spend an hour in prayer and Bible study every day, or be at church every Sunday without fail, or fast at least one day a week to “pray your gay away.” You need to let go and release yourself from all of that.
Accepting an LGBTQ identity can be difficult for anyone, but even more so for those of us that feel the constant pressure to measure up. The expectation is so high that we don’t know how to stop performing. In order to begin a new narrative for yourself, you need to give yourself the grace to take space where it is needed.
That may mean taking a break from church or not reading your Bible for a time if those are things that trigger you. Don’t condemn or make yourself feel guilty for taking a break. God can (and will) meet you wherever you are at. You don’t have to be in a church to encounter God. And the Bible is not the only way that God speaks. If you listen, you can find God anywhere. It may be in a song on the radio, or in a quote someone posts on Facebook.
Open your heart to listen, give yourself grace, and see what you discover–without standards or expectations.
Read some books by affirming Christians.
This is a great way to start rewriting those tapes in your head. Pick up a book by a progressive and affirming pastor, theologian, or teacher and listen to the way they understand life, God, and the Scriptures. There are many that you could choose from, but few that I would recommend are Richard Rohr, Sarah Bessey, Austin Channing Brown, Brené Brown, Rob Bell, and Rachel Held Evans. Each of these people are straight allies to the LGBTQ community and are doing amazing work on the forefront of spirituality, equality, and love for all of God’s people.
Write yourself permission slips.
In Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, she talks about writing yourself permission slips. Your permission slip may say something like, “Permission to take a break from church” or “Permission to set healthy boundaries with non-affirming people” or “Permission to love myself.” Whatever your heart needs, give yourself the grace to grant it that. Then, write it on a sticky note and put it in a prominent place as a frequent reminder of the permission you’re granting yourself.
Find at least one person you can completely be yourself with.
Having at least one person with whom you don’t have to filter what you say or do is completely liberating. It’s especially important if you’re dealing with internalized homophobia as we discussed in the previous chapter, because internalized homophobia only thrives in isolation or non-affirming spaces. But when you bring your identity to the light in a place that is safe, just like shining a flashlight in the dark, the homophobia you feel towards yourself must immediately diminish in power.
Intentionally position yourself in affirming spaces.
This is key, which is why the entire next chapter is dedicated to the importance of community. But for the sake of this section, know that finding an affirming space (whether that be an affirming church, an LGBTQ support group, or a therapist’s office) is vital to being able to accept yourself.
The more you are around people who affirm you, the more you will be able to affirm yourself. Support combats fear and self-degradation, causing you to feel less isolated, and more supported in your journey.
Remember that being LGBTQ is a strength not a weakness.
Sometimes all we need is a paradigm shift in the way that we view ourselves or our situation. Recognizing your identity as a strength that brings character and diversity to who you are (rather than a weakness that makes you a misfit) can help you tremendously in the way you view both yourself and the way you move through the world. Begin to affirm your identity as a valuable part of who you are and allow it to blossom and grow.
Find a role model. Look into the LGBTQ Christian community and find someone that can be a role model for you.
Whether it is someone that you know personally, or someone that you look up to from a distance, having someone you can glean wisdom from will help you realize that you can be a LGBTQ Christian and live the happy, fulfilling life you’ve always dreamed of. There are a growing number of LGBTQ Christians to learn from and many of them are doing amazing work in the fight for equality.
Hold onto your dreams.
Just because you are LGBTQ doesn’t mean you can’t get married (thanks to President Obama), or that you can’t have or adopt children (thanks to medical science), or that you can’t be in ministry ever again (thanks to progressive Christians).
The dreams you had all your life may be packaged or played out a little differently with a LGBTQ identity, but most of them are still able to be accomplished thanks to the amazing people who have fought for our rights for so many years. Just because you’re LGBTQ does not mean all is lost. You can still grab hold of your dreams and chase after all that you’ve ever wanted. Don’t let this hold you back just because others think you don’t belong. You do belong, and the world needs you to rise up and shine.
As you move forward in your journey of accepting yourself, let go of the shame you carry, hold onto hope, and love yourself exactly as you are. Fostering self-acceptance will propel you forward and help you embrace the many amazing things that are in store for you ahead.
Excerpted from Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians, © Amber Cantorna. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press