In God’s Perfect Child, Caroline Fraser writes a few sentences that carry a lot of weight in my life. In a section about Ex Christian Science authors who have published accounts of their experiences, she calls out
“the hypochondria and narcissism that are characteristic of the Christian Science way of life: when you have no way of knowing what’s wrong with you, particularly when you’re a child, you fear the worst, becoming more obsessed with your body the more you try to repress any thoughts about it. Exaggerated fears can arise from the simplest symptoms, or even from no symptoms at all.” (Fraser, 1999, p. 325)
This was me. I was plagued by fears for my health. Sometimes the fears were fleeting: “What if that’s an ingrown toenail?” The next day, I’d be fine and forget about it. Other times, fears gathered into dread that spanned weeks, months, or years: “Why is my breathing shallow? Do I have a heart condition?” Some fears were not put to rest until I left Christian Science and began medical checkups.
So I’d like to list them. Here are all the health scares I can remember having in my life as a Christian Scientist. There were more, I’m sure, now fortunately forgotten. I’ll start the list with Lyme disease because I distinctly remember, as a girl of 14, lying awake one school night, tossing and turning in fear that I had this disease, because I’d seen news reports about it.
Lyme disease appendicitis tonsillitis scabies diabetes pink eye thrombosis heart disease internal bleeding various kinds of infection an ingrown toenail a broken toe a stroke
Without knowledge of the body, I could think that I had appendicitis because I felt a pain on my left side. Without knowledge of the health care system, I could be overcome with dread at the thought of pink eye: How do I heal it? Fears common to the human experience (“Is something wrong with me? Am I going to die?”) blew up even bigger in my mind because I knew I would have to heal myself alone, with only my thoughts, with no ability to discuss what I was going through.
I’m actually a fairly healthy person, and now I realize that I always have been. The tragedy is that instead of enjoying my health, I spent decades magnifying the smallest symptoms into something disastrous. My physical health was fine; my mental health quivered and quaked and tore itself down over and over again.
Another tragedy, more difficult for me to articulate, lies in the narcissism that Fraser mentions. People in this world actually do experience diabetes, thrombosis, and other serious conditions for which a cure is challenging or nonexistent. And I think that all my crawling fears prevented me from feeling sympathy for those afflicted. It was all about me: If symptoms persisted, I was afraid. If they did not, then I could assure myself that the condition wasn’t real because disease is unreal because God didn’t make it. A person in the real world who accepted the reality of disease might learn about a condition, rally to bring awareness to it, give to a cause to find a cure, become a healthcare professional, or do something else real and practical.
I’ll conclude with a story about my life since leaving CS: Last year, I was the support person for a friend who underwent surgery. I was to take him to and from the hospital and stay with him for a week afterward. The night before surgery, my throat felt sore. Then the thought: “Oh no. What if I’ve caught the flu! What if I pass it along to him!” Thoughts spiraled; panic grew. But I went to bed anyway. As I lay there, trying to sleep, I told myself, “Let’s be realistic: I did get my flu shot two weeks ago. And now, either I have something or I don’t. Time will tell. The best thing for me to do is get plenty of rest.” I slept, and I woke up feeling fine. And the surgery went smoothly.
It’s a vulnerable existence, knowing that an illness or accident could come and knock me over at any time, and even if I did muster an army of “God-like thoughts,” it would make no difference. But unforeseen events are part of life. Frankly, it’s much, much better to accept reality than to live in ignorance and fear.
Work Cited: Fraser, C. (1999). God’s perfect child: Living and dying in the Christian Science church. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.
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.
My second chance at life — time to move.
And: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 1)
Early in the spring of 2014, it became clear that our house no longer worked for us, and that we needed to move. My dad’s Parkinson’s had advanced so much that he could no longer come into our small house. The house was laid out in such a way that there were too many stairs. And our main level bathroom was way too small and could only hold 1 person at a time, so no one could be in there, helping my dad, which he needed at that point. Also, the 2 flights of stairs were tearing up my husband’s knees and my knees. (We took care of my dad several weekends per year, to give his wife a break from the constant care. It was my idea, and I was glad she took us up on the offer.)
The front and back yards at this house were non-existent, and my kids had to play in the parking lot which had a surprisingly constant flow of cars. There were other issues too, but all of it added up to “we don’t belong here anymore.” So we started house shopping. We did finally move to the town where my parents lived. Now I was closer to my dad, and I could help take care of him 5 days a week at his house. Our new home was laid out in such a way that family members could carry my dad to the main level of the house, and then he wouldn’t have to do any more stairs, and the bathroom was nice and roomy. We had my dad over one time only. He died a few months after we moved here. We do still love our house. It’s perfect for us. I am glad we got to have him over the one time.
We moved here in late spring, 2014. At this point in my church search, I had visited a few churches between leaving the Christian Science branch church, and hadn’t found a sense of harmony at any of them. I still felt like a rebellious person bucking everyone around me. Other churches weren’t working for me yet. I attended 1 that my husband had expressed interest in, but then he didn’t want to go, and they ignored Christians, belittling their thoughts. I wasn’t yet ready to give up Christianity, so it felt painful to attend that church. I attended another church which I had been taught “that’s an off-shoot of Christian Science.” And there were lots of similarities. The biggest and most important difference, though, was that the members clearly went to doctors and didn’t begrudge anyone needing or seeking medical care. I had a misunderstanding at that church with a member over whether or not I could teach The Bible to children (even though it was a Christian church whose minister talked about Jesus and Bible stories every week to the congregation), and I left without looking back.
I had, the previous week, bought a little journal with a tree on it at the church gift shop. And I turned to this paper journal as my “new church.” Any insight I had, I would write in the journal. I loved that little journal, and I felt like I could exist in this “in between” state of not having a church. I could write whatever felt inspiring to me. Now, I have many journals. Some are day to day recordings. Some are “I need to get this anger out of my body, so I will write it here and it won’t hurt anyone.” Some are just thoughts and ideas, and some are book ideas or article ideas I want to write. But this journal was special. I only wrote my best, most spiritual ideas in this journal.
All of a sudden, one day in August, after we had moved to our new town, I woke up to a bright sunny morning and realized, out of nowhere, “there is a Quaker church in the town where we live now!” (I have since learned it’s called “Meeting House” instead of “Church.”) Oh, I was so excited. I found their service times on their website, and showed up on the following Sunday.
I walked in the door, sat down, and had a wonderful experience sitting in Silence with these people. Afterward, everyone at this particular Meeting stands up and says their name and shares a joy or a sorrow (mostly, they are joys being shared). This was specifically started to benefit the one person in the congregation who is blind, as she wants to know who all is there. It is such a loving gesture. One woman stood up and talked about her bee ministry. She was biking all over her neighborhood and having wonderful talks with her neighbors about not using neonicotinoids. These are common pesticides that are killing off the bees in our country in alarming rates. I immediately knew that this was my new church. I knew I was home. I have attended regularly ever since, and asked for a Clearness Committee to help me get clear on joining.
I went through the Clearness Committee process and joined the church about a year after I started attending.
One thing I have loved about the Quaker Meeting is sitting in Silence. I thought I had done that during Wednesday evening testimony meetings at the Christian Science church, but the Quaker experience of Silence is nothing like the Christian Science Wednesday evening testimony meeting “silence.” At the Christian Science church, there is a yearning from members to fill the silence with testimonies. The silence drags on so long at those meetings, or a member will stand up and ramble for 15-20 minutes, which feels like such a drag. Often, the testimonies are about praying about a cold that went away, or a set of lost keys or a lost book that got found. (I once gave a testimony that I had lost a particular Bible and I had yelled at God then found it within 45 seconds.) There are other testimonies too, where someone shares ideas they just gleaned from reading a Bible story or a passage in “Science and Health.” I remember someone once giving a “testimony” about being freed from the desire to buy bandaids. She referenced the quote: “accidents are unknown to god,” from Science and Health.
“Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony.” – Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, page 424
One time, I gave a “testimony” about a concussion I had after a severe fall on ice in a parking lot, and how I had forgotten so much, I couldn’t even remember my own phone number to tell the practitioner how to call me back. The Reader that Wednesday cut me off and said, “how about if you get to the spiritual truths you prayed, and don’t tell any more symptoms.” She was pretty rude. I had been trying to lay the groundwork for the serious problem I had, and then share the prayer of the practitioner, since I was in no state to pray myself. But I closed the testimony with the same old, same old, “the practitioner prayed, and then I took a nap, and I woke up, and I was fine, and I want to thank The Desk for the Readings.” (If matter isn’t real, why do we thank an inanimate object for reading to us?) (Note to any Christian Scientists who are reading this: that Reader behind the desk did a lot of work to bring those readings to the congregation. Don’t thank a desk. Thank a human being for working hard and trying to do good!)
Sitting in the silence at Christian Science services feels like torture to me. I was always trying to figure out some dramatic testimony to give, to fill the silence. Sitting in Silence at the Quaker Meeting feels wonderful. One of the first things I spoke about “out of The Silence” was, “I was sort of begging God for a break in my life, things are too busy. I need a pause button! And I realized: this Meeting, right here, is my pause button.”
I always leave Quaker Meeting feeling like I have had a mental rest. This feeling lasts for several days for me, and is starting to permeate my life. I was feeling rather hectic a few days ago in the morning, so I quietly sat down on my bed, and just sat “in The Silence.” It’s sort of like meditating. Maybe some people meditate, and maybe others do not. I think it’s an individual’s choice how they spend the Silence at Quaker Meeting. The goal is not to fill the space. The goal is to sit and hold the light, and if you are called to speak, then speak only the right amount of words, using not too many, and not too few. Use just the right amount, then sit down. Then, it’s important for this thought to be given time for those who are there to absorb this message. So there should never be a “popcorn effect” of people jumping up and talking one right after another. It is good to have time for Messages to be placed into our consciousness before the next Message is given. I love the time in between messages, because it lets me really listen and think about it before the next one comes.
Historically, Quaker Meetings are Christian. However, nowadays, people can believe whatever they want to believe. Everyone is honored and appreciated on a whole level I never experienced at the Christian Science church. When I first walked in the door, the whole experience was so foreign to me. I wasn’t being judged or chastised for anything. It felt like a foreign language. It was an alien culture to me. I knew it must be a good thing, but I couldn’t understand it, so I stayed to see if I could figure it out over time. (I have been attending 2 years now, and every time I show up, the members are so supportive.
I am so used to being criticized, that this support often brings tears to my eyes. THIS is what love is supposed to feel like. Not the unceasing judgement I grew up with. The concept of judgement is completely foreign to the members of my Quaker Meeting, as far as I can tell. They don’t have the concept. They only have love in their hearts. It’s a phenomenal gift to be in this atmosphere.
By Susanna, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. Susanna is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.
I had my first panic attack at the age of 28. It came on out of the blue, in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday at work. I drove myself to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack. I had never been admitted to a hospital before. Once the intake nurse took my blood pressure and determined that I wasn’t dying, she hooked me up to IV and I laid there quietly for about an hour.
A doctor came in, and she was exactly my age. She told me that what had happened to me was not ‘nothing.’ It was a cardiac event, but it was brought on by anxiety, not heart disease. She guessed, correctly, that I was about 30, single, and working in a demanding job where it was hard to keep my work/life balance. She said she saw women in exactly the same condition at least once a week.
I began crying immediately, which didn’t surprise her, until I told her that I was crying from relief, not fear. It felt like after thirty years of striving to look and be perfect, I was convulsing under the pressure, and here was someone telling me that it was normal to feel that way, that it was okay, and that she would help. I could walk out of the hospital and things could never be the same again. I didn’t have to just say, “Hallelujah, I’ve been healed!” and move on. I could acknowledge the challenge as both physical and mental, and use all the resources available—therapy, medication, self-care—to manage and ultimately overcome this.
The doctor prescribed me some anti anxiety medication. I took it several times in the next year or so, maybe before a big meeting when I felt myself getting anxious. At some point I threw the rest away and haven’t needed it since.