Recently, a large gay man in head-to-toe black leather gave me one of the best hugs I’ve ever received. It was a hug I had been postponing for several years.
Because I am, I have come to realize, a very big coward.
Pastor Rowland shared this week about bravery and about tables. He shared how the gospel and God demand that we lengthen our table to welcome all in. He shared how so very often what holds us back is fear. The fear of man, just like Peter displayed when he stopped eating with Gentiles, afraid of what important men would think of him if he crossed this cultural taboo.
For several years, I have been feeling compelled to revisit my approach to the LGBT+ community. Far from being swept away by the secular culture, it has been the result of a lot of thought, study, prayer and soul searching. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it has been excruciating — mostly due to my fear of personal rejection I was sure would come from my Christian community.
I have hidden my shifting understanding of whom God is calling me to welcome because of fear. Like Peter avoiding eating with Gentiles for fear of his reputation, I have hidden my own thoughts for fear of rejection.
I had become paralyzed by the fear of man.
Several years ago, I heard of a group of moms who attend gay pride parades holding signs saying, “Free Mom Hugs,” offering just a moment of love to LGBT+ people. A lot of younger people who come out to their parents, especially to religious parents, find themselves disowned, rejected and kicked out. I work as a storyteller for an organization* that helps children, many of whom lack the love of a parent. Nothing can tear my heart in two like the story of a child denied the love of a parent, especially with the fierce Mama Love that lives in my soul.
So when I heard of Free Mom Hugs, it spoke to me. It was a small way, a small moment, in which I could physically offer the love of a parent to those who might have been denied it. But my overwhelming fear of man had left me afraid to even broach the topic for several years. Finally this year, I got up the courage to ask a friend to attend with me.
I bought my poster and carefully lettered the words on it with a little heart. When I explained to my 5-year-old daughter why I was making this poster – that I was going to offer hugs to people who might not have a mom who gives them hugs – she was very concerned this meant I wouldn’t be her mom anymore. I explained to her that love isn’t finite. There’s enough to go around.
I felt extremely sheepish at the parade. I’m not the most effusively affectionate person in the world.
But all I had to do was hold my sign, and people came running.
One young woman spotted me and dashed for me, calling out, “I need this so bad!”
I hugged her tightly, trying to pass on just an ounce of my motherly love through hug osmosis, whispering in her ear that she is valuable.
I was so glad to pass on to her just a small bit of love, but it also broke me to realize that a stranger holding a sign could be so profoundly meaningful to those who have been denied the love of a parent.
That Sunday, I gave hug after hug, including one to the large man in head-to-toe black leather who knew the true meaning of a bear hug. (I had to wonder what my mother would think if she could see me!) I whispered what I hoped would be life-giving messages in their ears: “You are loved”; “you are valuable.”
As I left the parade, covered in sweat and glitter, the overwhelming feeling I had was love. How much God loves each of us. How inherently beautiful and valuable each one of us is. How much each of us is just longing for a personal connection and acceptance. To be bestowed with dignity and worth by another.
I know my actions that day were small. I don’t know if any of those I hugged will remember it. I hope they will. But what I did leave with that day was a renewed desire to expand and offer love to all. To not live a life of crouching fear, worried about what others will think of me. But to live a life compelled by love.
I know this is a difficult and contentious topic. The majority of my friends and family hold different viewpoints from my own. As Jonathan said recently, there will be people at church who have differing beliefs than we do on a variety of topics, and that’s OK. I believe hopefully in a church in which we are able to live in that tension of not always agreeing with one another on all topics, but still being united in our love of Christ.
Christ’s love is wide and it defies boundaries. It will be risky. And it may even feel scary. But leaning into that scariness with love has felt a lot better than crouching in fear.
*The opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my workplace.