I’m not the prodigal son.
It’s a beautiful story of grace, redemption, and scandal. A son spits in the face of his father, wishes him dead, and cashes out his portion of the inheritance, taking it away to a far country where he proceeds to spend it all on vice, sin, and lasciviousness. When he is broke, broken, and destitute, he finally decides to return to his father and beg to be taken back as a hired hand. What he doesn’t know is that the father has been waiting, wanting, watching for the son to return. When he sees the son off in the distance, he girds his loins, gathering his robes, and runs without dignity to meet the son. He embraces the prodigal, restoring him to the status of a son. Graciously, he throws a lavish party in order to welcome the once-dead son back to life.
It’s a beautiful parable.
At some level, this is a story we can relate to. Some of us know what it is to walk away from a father figure that is supposed to be loving us. Others of us know what it is to live only for our base desires and come up empty in the end. I think we all either know or long for lavish grace and love and being welcomed back to life. Some of us resonate with the older brother who stayed but was indignant at the return of his younger brother. This is a story that resonates with so many of us and our spiritual journeys in one way or another.
But I’m, not the prodigal son. I’m not the younger son, the older brother, or the gracious father. I’m not the one who walked away. I’m not the one who finds themselves in pig shit longing for something of substance. I’m not the one who is coming home in shame. I’m not the one being welcomed home. This isn’t the parable I find myself in.
I’m more like the lost coin misplaced in the dark corner.
I’m more like the wandering sheep, untethered from my flock.
I grew up going to evangelical church. My first memories are of Spirit filled, tongue speaking believers singing praise choruses and dancing in the isles. I remember being slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues myself, and being devoted to scripture. I remember the biblical teaching about what the Bible was saying, about cultures far removed from us, and word studies to help us really understand the truth.
I also remember being afraid. I was afraid of liberal, democratic, mainline denominations that had forsaken the word of God in favor of keeping culturally relevant. I was afraid of the “homosexual agenda” that was determined to get the youth to choose a lifestyle of destruction. I remember being afraid of the rapture, of being left behind to see the antichrist rising and the persecution and death that undoubtedly awaited any truly faithful believer. Fear of hell and the godless “times of Noah” we were living in decorated my young heart and mind with tapestries of worry, resolve, and (to be honest) lies that shaped my faith.
But I was an evangelical. Even as I branched out and found my own church, my own beliefs, my own faith, I determined to stay under the evangelical umbrella, because I knew (as had been engrained into me) that there I would find the truth.
True doctrine was the object of my faith. I didn’t realize it but instead of trust and hope in Christ, I was relying on dogma, answers, and true understanding to save me. If I believed correctly God would save me. If I didn’t believe correctly on the key issues I would find myself an apostate.
Church feels clumsy in my mouth.
I used to speak the language fluently. I used to sing the songs with passion. I used to glean from the sermon something that applied to my life, my position, my situation. I was a native, growing up in the pews. Now I feel like a foreigner.
The evangelical church is no longer my spiritual tribe, no longer my home.
This realization makes me feel adrift, cut off from the moors. I feel out to sea, all alone, drifting. I feel untethered. The place I have had for my entire life is no longer comfortable to this skin. It is a disorienting feeling to have the place you grew up finding God no longer be the place God speaks to you.
So I don’t feel like the prodigal son. I’m not turning my back on and spitting in the face of the church tradition I grew up in. I feel much more like the lost sheep and the missing coin. Out of place and wandering, I am in the dark, I am alone, and God is seeking after me.
See, just because the evangelical church isn’t my spiritual place anymore doesn’t mean that I am cut off from the church. There are other traditions, wider streams, other places where God can find a spiritual home for me.
On Sunday I heard God speak to me in the liturgy of an Episcopalian church. Grace was given to me in the prayers of the people, in the confession and absolution, and most of all in the receiving of the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.
I don’t know if this Episcopal tribe is going to be my home but I do know that I feel God searching for me, not leaving me in the dark corners or wandering in the wilderness all alone. I feel the good shepherd searching for me. I hear the woman turning over her home to find the coin. I’m waiting to be found and for the celebration that what once was lost has been found again.
I don’t have the faith of my youth.
I still trust in Jesus for my salvation and redemption, but I’m just not that convinced anymore that I have to get all my doctrine exactly right in order for Jesus to show mercy on me. I don’t take all the bible literally, don’t believe in inerrancy, am a universalist most days (except when I’m not), and in general am much more theologically rowdy than I ever have been. I don’t operate from the fears of my youth as much as I used to (it’s a process to learn to be unafraid). Younger I would look at me now and call me a liberal, progressive, and question the validity of my salvation.
Honestly, I don’t care about labels much today. I still want to find my tribe, my spiritual home where I can again grow roots. But I don’t care about being evangelical, conservative or radical, fundamental or progressive. I care that God is searching for me even when I feel so lost. I care that I do actually have a place in the Church invisible.
You have a place too. We aren’t completely unmoored or untethered from the elect. No matter how lost you feel in the wilderness, no matter how dark the dusty corner you find yourself in, you have a God who seeks and saves the lost, who loves to seek and save even you and me. We may not have the faith we used to, we may not care about what once was sacred to us, but we still have Jesus.
And Jesus is more than enough.