I do not believe I am prodigal. To proclaim me as such would mean assuming that I left the churches I attended or questioned my beliefs because I thought I knew better. You’d have to believe that I’m arrogant and need desperately to be humbled. You’d have to say that, even though I’ve asked Christ to redeem me, one or more of my actions thereafter have voided that redemption.

Though I adore Jesus’ parable, I cannot say that I relate to the son who demanded an early inheritance and swaggered boastfully off to destroy himself. I am not penniless in a pig’s trough and neither are any of my wandering, currently churchless friends. I’m confused and broken and spent, to be sure, and on occasion, I long for the days of old when the tufts of wool adorning my eyes still felt warm and comforting.

Now that I examine everything I hear with a discriminating ear, now that my eyes are subject to adulthood’s full, abrasive light, I find myself altered, but not prodigal. It is true that I may not deny myself enough for many a church’s liking. Some days, I find myself making very little distinction between the intentions of the spirit and the desires of the flesh. But you needn’t paint me as a wildchild, who tossed aside all your teaching and tipped into The World to do “anything I was big and bad enough to do.” I was quite wary of disbelieving what I’d been told, quite reluctant to give up on trying to obey the letter of the Christian law.

It isn’t fair (or accurate) to say that I’m lost now, and that upon becoming a regular attendee at a church-any church-I’ll be found. And it isn’t fair to say that I’ve squandered my purity and willfully ridded myself of righteousness. I was never pure. I was never righteous. I was only told I was. There were insinuations that I was better than the next woman because of my abstinence or my church attendance or the fact that I was Saved, that I was part of a club called The Body and anyone who wasn’t should be accosted with the Hard Sell of Hell as an alternative or ignored and written off as reprobate.

God knows I still believed in his Son and the Holy Spirit when I stopped attending church regularly. So I’d be really grateful if, when I return, everyone resists the urge to mortify me by slipping an arm through mine and dragging me to the altar to repent or by having a loud, public celebration because I’ve come back from my Place of Rebellion. I was in no great rush to leave the gentle, soft-lit sanctuaries that reared me in the first place. I just felt I had to when little I was told there matched all the scriptures I’d read there.

It makes no sense to label me a backslider or prodigal with one breath, then insist God never abandoned me with another.

I never once felt that He did.

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