I’m willing to bet that every emotionally mature adult has had this experience at least one time in their life. I’m talking about when the time comes that you have to go home. From wherever you now live, you have to pack your overnight bag and go home to wherever your parents live or your family lives, and you have to tell them something. Something you know they’re going to have a difficult time hearing — not because they’re mean or bad or close-minded, necessarily, but because what you have to say is something they won’t have seen coming, something that will potentially rearrange their understanding of you. And it’s going to be hard.
There you are, on the Friday night at the dinner table, the lump in your throat, and you’re so nervous that you’ve delayed the announcement with three servings of mashed potatoes. You pick up the potatoes a fourth time but then you put them down, finally resolved, and you cough it out: “Mom, Dad, I’ve got something to say.”
I remember one of those nights in my life. I was 19 and I’d driven the four hours home from college to come out to my family. It was a double coming-out, actually. A few minutes after I’d finally uttered the words “I’m gay” to my parents, I also found the courage to tell them, the people who hadn’t raised me in a practicing religious home and were not at all church-going folk, “I’m not only gay but I’ve also become a committed Christian and the plan I’ve had since I was 10 years old, the plan you’ve been so proud of me for having, the plan to become a doctor … yeah, it’s not going to happen. I actually think God might be asking me to be a pastor.”
They didn’t have an easy time with me being gay. They had a harder time with me not being a doctor. But I think they had the hardest time with the idea of me being a pastor.
To this day I can still hear my mom yelling at my dad, “I knew we shouldn’t have let your mother take him to Vacation Bible School!”
Moments like these, when we summon the courage to tell the truth, through a holy synergy of our own power and the power of God, are the moments that make us fully human. We take a step deeper into authentic life when we confront the really real, even when (especially when) it potentially disrupts the systems and scripts — family, professional, cultural, religious — that we allow to hold us in a place we no longer really are.
Coming out isn’t just for queer folks, either. It’s for straight folks, too. Your announcement doesn’t have to be that you’re gay (or that you’re a Christian).
“I’m pregnant.” “I’m not going to work for the family business.” “I’m an alcoholic.” “I’m moving to Niger to serve with the Peace Corps.” “I eloped last weekend, with a Republican (or a Democrat).” “I’m quitting the law firm to become a mime.”
Every act of “rigorous honesty,” to quote Twelve Step Recovery, is a movement toward the truer self. A sacred human experience, if you choose it.
Mantra/prayer: Give me courage to tell the truth about my life.