Prodigal Daughter: The Loneliness Of Independent Womanhood

religious

Leaving Christianity wasn’t a mere political move or religious rejection—it was an entire severing of a part of myself. A part that I still long for.

“We’re closer than most families. This isn’t the normal American family”—I lost count of the number of times my father would tell us this. If our family was a football team, this would be our cheer-out. But I didn’t need to my father to tell me we were different, I knew we were different.

Growing up in the mountains in North Idaho with three brothers, two dogs, and 10 acres wasn’t exactly your typical primetime family sitcom: The closest we got to that was Promised Landa “wholesome” late ’90s drama about a Christian family that traveled across the country in a trailer in search of work (a.k.a. “The Promised Land”?). Like the show’s family, my brothers and I were also homeschooled. We were also deeply religious.

Unlike the show’s family, we didn’t all end up in one spot and of all one (religious) mind. At the age of 14, the year the show was cancelled, I began to embark on a journey in search of my own “Promised Land”—one that didn’t include the rigid Christianity I was raised with.

I became an apostate.

The term apostasy is derived from Greek ἀποστάτης, meaning “political rebel,” which sounds kind of cool. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all speak of apostates or, the more fun, “heretics.” But none take too kindly to us.

Google “why people leave the church” and you’ll get pages of results of religious peoples’ ideas about why individuals such as myself choose a different path: Pastors blaming everything from the church itself (“people inside the church can be cruel”) to its members (me) who are “running from the truth” (“You can’t handle the Truth!”). None of which consider that perhaps we outgrew the ideology or evolved.

But regardless of the why we left the church, we rarely talk about the what, as in: What does it feel like to be separated, of your own volition, from such an integral part of your community and identity?

It’s no accident that the church, I’m speaking now of the American Christian church, likes to talk so much about the “church family” and the larger “family in Christ.” Truth be told, it is a family—and not just a religious one.

For me and so many others, religion is just one branch on an entire tree that represents our deepest selves. In my life that “tree” included Christianity, our local Christian community, our current church/church family, the local homeschooler community, my brothers, my mother and father, basically everyone I knew. It looked like homeschooler skates, church potlucks, weddings, and baby showers.

Leaving Christianity wasn’t a mere political move or religious rejection—it was an entire severing of a part of myself. A part that I still long for.

When people “leave” a religion it is not often, if ever, an overnight decision or impulse. Rather, it is a slow moving away from, or growing out of, one’s old self.

As I slowly grew out of Christianity, I also grew out of my more conservative rigid political views. I literally grew out of (as in moved away from) my beloved small-town North Idaho and my family. It was painful. It was lonely.

This is what is often lost among those who choose to remain a part of a certain community, religious or otherwise. Namely, the incredible loneliness and sense of loss that escorts those who leave. This is what I wish my family, and those I grew up with, understood: That it is hard—not cool, selfish, or rebellious—to be a prodigal son or daughter.

The intense loss of my old self and community will never go away, though it subsides. But in its place is a sense of honesty and vulnerability that I wouldn’t trade for all the communion crackers and grape juice in the world. Conformity is comforting, but nothing compares to being true to oneself.

My father still teasingly but earnestly asks me when am I “coming home.” The answer, regardless of where I call home, is never. Both he and I unspokenly understand that “home” is so much more than a dot on a map.

Jessica Schreindl is a freelance writer and TV producer in Seattle, Washington. She is a contributing writer for Mic.com and has been published on Feministing.com. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.

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