Chrystal’s Story – Becoming a Christian Science Practitioner
This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.
A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme.
I found a Christian Science Teacher up in Canada and almost went through Class Instruction with him. He called me suddenly out of the blue. I had a mouth full of peanut butter, but I felt I should take the call, since it was my soon-to-be Teacher. We laughed together that I had a mouth full of peanut butter. He said he was being led not to teach Class any more, so I couldn’t go through Class with him that summer as I had planned. Time to continue searching for a Teacher…
Mary Baker Eddy wrote something about a net we must get through. I felt as if the net had been thrown, for sure, and I was supposed to ‘get through it’; rather than listen to the Universe shouting at me,“get out of that religion! Save yourself while you still can!” So, I marched on, trying to find another Teacher.
“Students who are ready for this step should beware the net that is craftily laid and cunningly concealed to prevent their advancement in this direction.”
The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 241.
I went to our annual trek to a Christian Science camp that summer; we had gone for two decades or more throughout my life; and I met a Teacher there. I went through Class with her the next year. On the first day of Class Instruction, my Teacher said to all of us in what was probably the second sentence out of her mouth on day one: “I have never had a class full of so many people having such animal magnetism to get through in order to be here.” I knew that I had jumped through hoops and all sorts of things in order to be there. But, it turned out that everyone else had too. Of course, all those road blocks and things I had to hurdle to get there, was probably The Universe telling me, “don’t do it!” And in Christian Science, I was taught, “kiss those crosses! Then you’ll get the crown!” I was just getting started with too many crosses to come.
The last day of Class Instruction (a two-week course taught so that people are able to become Christian Science Practitioners and they feel they can ‘heal any ailment’), my Teacher sat me down alone and told me I needed to “heal this emotionalism.” She told me I was too emotional. In Christian Science, we are allowed to feel joy, happiness, and gratitude. Nothing else, as far as I can tell, is acceptable. I grew up without words for my own emotions. I stifled my emotions to the best of my ability, and my emotions only grew stronger and stronger as a result, because they were squashed instead of identified and moved through. It is exhausting to constantly squash your own emotions and not have words to express how you’re feeling. The more you deny a human part of yourself like emotions, the more pronounced they become, and they are harder to stifle. I would have outbursts, cry for reasons I couldn’t identify, I felt like a failure and I beat myself up constantly for not “thinking only good thoughts from God.”
A few years after Class Instruction, I became a bona-fide Journal-isted Christian Science Practitioner. Then, I set my sights on becoming a Christian Science Teacher. The way things work in Christian Science, everything is completely secret. The only people who knew I had gone to Class Instruction were my step mom, my dad, and my husband. I didn’t even tell my kids. (Though they were very young anyway, one was out of diapers by then and the other was still in diapers.) Then, when I was working towards becoming a Journal-listed Practitioner, I didn’t tell anyone. I applied, and it took them 18 months to accept me. It was the weirdest thing. I think they lost my application, because when I hadn’t heard from them in 12 months and finally called them up to say, “how is my application proceeding?” They said, “oh, for getting re-listed in the Journal?” I said, “no, I was never listed yet.” That surprised them, then they proceeded on my application. It took another few months after that for my listing to appear. Another hoop for me to jump through? Another cross to kiss? Another message from ‘The Universe’ saying: “don’t do it!”? Who knows.
When I went through the approval process, I was interviewed by someone; another Christian Science Teacher. At one point, she told me, “if a child case goes on for more than three days, be sure to give them the opportunity to go to a doctor if they want to. We don’t want any more deaths. Parents need to take care of their children.” I tried to prepare myself to tell people “go see a doctor” if need be. That was a hard thing to be prepared to do. (Going to a doctor is so completely opposite from what we learn in Christian Science, though more modern Christian Scientists may say the opposite to your face, but behind your back, they would nod in agreement with what I said.)
I had that come up a few times in my head–preparing myself to tell people to go to a doctor. I never did point anyone toward a doctor, but I came close a few times. (A Christian Science nurse at a local sanatorium suggested that my dad go to a doctor, and it made my step-mom angry–for years–that she would dare suggest such a thing.) Historically, there is a very strong vibe in the Christian Science legacy “we don’t go to doctors!” And it is such a strong viewpoint! Christian Scientists generally don’t immunize their kids. They may or may not go get a broken bone set They don’t take vitamins. They don’t even believe in germs! They call it ‘germ theory’. (Do YOU call it ‘germ theory’? Who outside of people from the 18th century calls it ‘germ theory’?) We are taught to definitely wash and stay clean. (Mary Baker Eddy even mentions that we should not even use flannel to heal. Flannel of all things. Christian Scientists interpret this to mean: ‘no material remedies’.) But that’s about it. No sanitizing if you fall down and get a cut. Even band-aids are frowned upon, as if even those are acknowledging that we have blood in our bodies. A snide comment is often made like, “this is just to cover it up so I won’t see it and believe that this cut is real.” One time, I actually heard a testimony at Wednesday evening service about a woman who overcame the suggestion to buy band-aids at the grocery store because that might suggest that she might get cut in the future, and she didn’t believe in getting cut accidentally. (Christian Scientists don’t believe in accidents, either: “Accidents are unknown to God.” Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 424.)
Meanwhile, I was seriously committed to my branch church. A Journal-listed Christian Science Practitioner can have no other job, no other source of income, and I had worked hard not to have any other employment (I had quit a few home-based businesses that did bring in reliable income). I never made any money as a Practitioner. In fact, I lost money. I bought a computer so I could have Concord (a computer program that is a concordance to The Bible, and other books by Mary Baker Eddy, and the Christian Science Hymnal) installed on it. Concord is expensive. Computers are expensive. I paid money to fly every year for my Association, hotels, meals, and extra days in the hotel because unlike most Teachers who have Association in one day and students can fly in and out on the same day, my Teacher had it span three whole days. It starts Friday night and ends Sunday afternoon. I bought at least two new sets of very expensive Lesson Books (one was the new vivella set that I really loved), and I subscribed to ALL of the periodicals, and the full text Quarterly, and I had subscriptions to CSMonitor.com, eBibleLesson.com, and myBibleLesson.com. Things add up. I believe that the membership’s wallets are one of the reasons the church stays in business. Did you know that each Board of Directors Member makes $200,000/year now? They come up with endless things for members to spend money on, and as a Practitioner, I felt obligated to buy everything. My husband’s salary paid for everything. I sure as hell didn’t make any money from people who would call me at all hours and never pay the bill. I had three or four patients who did reliably pay their bills to me. Other than that, it was like pulling teeth, and I was supposed to be gracious about their non-payment.
I had so many people badger me about why they shouldn’t need to pay someone for prayer. And I didn’t feel at liberty to enlighten them and say, “I’m not allowed to have any other job, don’t you want me to be able to give food to my family and have a roof over my head? Don’t you value the work I do for you?” I did witness what I thought were healings at the time. I don’t feel like I had any serious cases come to me. I had a bronchitis case, and a first degree burn case, and I had some other dog cases.
I had one person call me a lot who clearly had mental issues, but she wasn’t calling me as a Practitioner. She called me to help her because I was a church member who was home all the time and we lived near each other. She wanted me to drive her to a Christian Science nursing home that takes care of mental patients, several states away. I would have done it, too, and done her laundry and cleaned her house and taken care of her pets, but she was so nasty and refused to pay me anything, so even though I would stand in her bedroom, I was paying as little mental attention to her as possible. She did have another Practitioner working for her also, and would jerk me around telling me to pray for her, stop praying for her, no pray again, STOP praying…it was exhausting so I just didn’t pray for her any more anyway, and just wanted to help her pack her clothes so we could take her to the mental wing at a Christian Science Sanatorium. She got quite upset at me when I stopped letting her jerk me around anymore, and she finally dismissed me. I didn’t need to be abused by church members who weren’t even paying me.
I had another patient who called me every 20 minutes around the clock, with a four hour window in the middle of the night when she wouldn’t call. She would never tell me her last name or where she lived. I had a baby boy who also didn’t sleep through the night, and this woman was abusing me and refusing to let me even bill her. I finally dismissed her and blocked her calls. It took me a long time to stop feeling guilty for blocking her calls, but it was abuse, and I couldn’t take it and be a good mom. So, I chose to be a good mom.
One of my cases was maybe a sprained ankle, and I had cases for a cold or other small things. I never got cases where someone was “on the verge of dying and needed a radical healing right now!” I did have one elderly man come to me for prayer, and I think he has a strong fighting spirit now too. It’s been a number of years since I was a praying Journal listed practitioner, but he is now bed-ridden. I don’t think he ever had a healing while I worked for him. But his wife paid me dutifully, and she and I had worked together with their insurance company to get her reimbursed for paying me. That was interesting. The insurance policy covered it, but no one knew how to mark it in a code. Christian Science Practitioners don’t have billing codes. It took maybe 18 months of back and forth with the insurance company to get her reimbursed for a bill that was less than $200.