A dear friend wrote me a letter this week. Walking home from the mailbox, I dreaded opening it because I had a hunch what it contained. They had previously posted a few things on social media that gave me a sneak preview.
As I broke the self adhesive seal and pulled out the single sheet of paper, my heart sank. The letter was typewritten and covered both sides of the paper.
A cursory glance revealed phrases like “gave in to your gay feelings,” “no place in heaven,” and “I do not agree with your choice.” In that moment, I did what I’m learning to do more and more: wait. I slipped the letter into my backpack and let it sit for several days.
As I’ve come out to people over the past several years, I’ve encountered a variety of responses. Some have been overwhelmingly positive and affirming, some have been tentative and uncertain, and others have rejected me outright. Each response, while different, is exactly that — a response, a reaction of another person.
At first, I took the negative responses really personally. For example, I still haven’t read the four-page handwritten letter a close family member sent me after I came out to them. After each conversation, I would agonize over what I had said and ask myself what I could have done to make them feel more comfortable. How could I have made them understand more and be accepting?
Processing some of these experiences with my counselor, I poured out my sorrow over these crumbling relationships. “What can you control in these experiences?” my counselor asked.
I had to admit the only control I possess is over the words I say and when I say them. As hard as it is to accept, I have no control over how people react to my reality. Further, I am not even responsible for their responses.
When I’m faced with a less–than–positive response from someone, I am learning to give myself permission to walk away and press pause if needed. It’s important to protect my mental health by choosing when and where to engage with others‘ opinions.
Eventually, I felt ready to dive into the deep end with my dear friend and read their letter. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew what I do and don’t own in this situation. Their angst and rejection over my sexuality is something outside of my control.
I pulled out the letter, sat down in my home office and began to read. As my initial scan had indicated, the letter was not light reading. It clearly outlined my friend’s position. The letter said I am choosing to live in sin simply by acknowledging I am gay. It went on to say that “if we choose to continue to do wrong when we know it is wrong, there will be no place for us in God’s Kingdom.”
My friend closed their letter by quoting Isaiah 26:3. “If we do not have peace, God is speaking to us and trying to get us to assess why.”
As I folded the letter and put it away, I gave my heart permission to grieve. This relationship will be stunted, at best, going forward.
I cannot change my friend’s perspective, nor am I responsible for how they choose to interpret scripture. I can continue to love them and appreciate how God created them, but I will not own or feel guilty for their rejection.
The ironic twist to this story is this: As I lean into who God created me to be and seek honesty and authenticity, I am receiving that perfect peace Isaiah wrote about. For the first time in my life, I can truly say it is well with my soul.