The Gift of Massive Empathy

By Monica Johns – Our son came out to us just after high school graduation in 2014. It’s remarkable to me how much change can happen in such a short amount of time. Our family had been raised with the traditional perspective that living a life outside of the gospel standards would compromise our reward in heaven and potentially separate us as a family. Every spiritual question I had regarding his future and happiness was completely unresolved. I find it fascinating that after sitting in the newness and adjusting to the reality of embracing who your child is, that almost every parent of an LGBTQ child I’ve met says they would not go back and reverse the situation if they could. Why? Wouldn’t it be better and easier if everything fit nice and neatly back into the box?

On a particularly difficult day early in my struggle to try and make all of the answers in my brain fit, a friend who was sensing my grief texted to check in on me. Aren’t friends wonderful? After I unloaded my heart and shared all the reasons I had to be worried, angry, confused and frustrated she shared this thought with me… “You are grieving. And you have to deal with the many people who don’t understand and never will. But Monica… the hard fact is this… nobody gets to grow the gift of massive empathy without blood, grief and tears. It’s one of the most beautiful traits available to humans, but it comes at an almost insufferable cost. I know you have what this takes. But I also know that there are many moments when you don’t believe that.”

Truly, I will never be the same. She was right. This “gift” of being able to see and hear the world through the eyes and ears of my gay son is something I could only gain through the experience of being his mother. I’m ashamed that I had earlier been unaware of the misinformation and prejudices that now were aimed directly at my child who I love more than life itself. Because of this, not only has my heart expanded to a place where it feels like I’m hemorrhaging love, but my perspective on the worth of ALL of God’s marginalized children has increased infinitely. Prior to my son coming out I would’ve told you I loved everyone equally and I believed I did. But now I can’t prevent myself from putting this love into action.

I cannot be silent when “othering” occurs in my presence. I’m training myself to listen in new and unfamiliar LGBTQ spaces where my job is to be quiet and support in the position of an ally. I’m speaking up in Sunday School classrooms and in public conversations as someone who has been personally touched and has benefited significantly from my connection to the LGBTQ community. I’m doing what I can within my sphere of influence to create a space of safety and understanding. I’ve physically held people I would’ve kept at a distance and made space for their story to become a part of mine. I’ve been able to forgive myself for things I said and thought that are now incongruent with the quality of love I practice now.

No. I would not go back to the way things were if it meant I had to surrender this gift. I am so thankful to be the mother of a gay child!! Ask any supportive parent if they would turn back the clock! This journey is filled with heartache so acute that it takes your breath away – but what follows is an elevated compassion unlike any you knew you were capable of. And that gift is priceless.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

I’m so grateful to the Mama Dragons who allowed me the room to ask naive questions and gave me a forum to collectively empathize with thousands of other mothers who know exactly how I feel. Everyday they demonstrate ferocious love for their freaking awesome children. And mine.

That’s the thing with massive empathy; it’s meant to be shared. There are very few things more spiritual to me than the times I’ve been invited into someone’s story and been given the privilege to understand them. Love is a form of understanding. It is my hope to never waste this gift or take it for granted. Our son is thriving. He no longer has to worry if his parents will stop loving him. He has brought our family closer together. He is my hero. I so look forward to his many milestones, including marriage and family if he chooses. The future for us does not look anything like I thought it would five years ago. But I’ve found comfort in the uncertainty of some things and love in the growth of my heart.