Chrystal’s Story: My Second Lump (Part 2)

Chrystal's Story header image

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 Lump (Part 2)

The following is a flashback to when I was nearing the end of my branch church membership, with a problem that had spanned more than a decade of my life:

The growing lipoma on my back was now causing so much pain to my neck, that I couldn’t straighten my head for a few days at times. And, of course, being in Christian Science, I couldn’t take Advil to even relieve the pain. I remember walking around with tears in my eyes over the amount of pain I was in, and hiding in my house. I was raised to hide in my house when I was in pain. How can a community reach out to help you, when you’re hiding in your house? I remember a Mormon woman who lived in my neighborhood, and for some reason socially, she stopped by my house and we had a little visit, and I couldn’t straighten my head up that day. She so lovingly said to me, “that looks really painful.” I assured her I was fine, that it had happened before, and I would be fine soon. I was NOT fine! I couldn’t straighten my head, I had tears in my eyes, and if I tried to move my head in any way, I would cry out in incredible pain! I remember the love in her eyes. She was genuinely concerned for my well-being, and she was only a neighbor; I know now that if I ever needed someone to help me, and I called her, I know she would be there for me, even though I wouldn’t consider us “friends.” She was my neighbor and she has genuine love in her heart for humanity.

After a decade of praying with various practitioners (including my Teacher) about the lump, I remember feeling discouraged. I was so discouraged. I would rally myself and pray again. Because Christian Scientists are supposed to “yield not to discouragement.”

Individuals are consistent who, watching and praying, can “run, and not be weary; . . .walk, and not faint,” who gain good rapidly and hold their position, or attain slowly and yield not to discouragement. God requires perfection, but not until the battle between Spirit and flesh is fought and the victory won. – “Science and Health,” p. 254

Christian Scientists are taught that “discouragement makes the problem worse, and makes it harder to heal.” So I prayed. I payed practitioners to pray. I payed my Teacher to pray.  

I would see the 2 ladies at my second branch church who had the growths on them that were more pronounced, and I didn’t want to end up like that. Mine, at least, I could hide by wearing a patterned shirt. They couldn’t hide theirs any longer, no matter how they tried. I felt so sorry for them, to not be able to hide their problem any longer. And then I would chastise myself for thinking such things. I wanted to hug them and say, “I have a lump too, but I can hide mine,” but for someone to speak up & say, “I see your problem and I want to support you and share love with you” is verboten in the Christian Science culture. Speaking up about it makes it “more real.” Because by not speaking, it’s “not real.”

Our voice is given so much power in Christian Science. Apparently, just talking can do many things – it can make lumps grow, it can cause fevers, poison ivy, infectious diseases. It can ruin vacations, it can rain fire and brimstone on a bad church member. I am positive they believe words can kill, so they won’t speak unless it is cheerful, superficial, happy nonsense. I am wondering if I believe it is this sort of thing that drives people completely insane. (Denying our very existence, to our core. How can it keep us sane and normal if we deny 100% of our humanity?)

At some point, probably a year after my wonderful success with the “Church Alive” experience, I decided it was time to get this lump removed from my shoulder, by a medical doctor. It had gone on long enough. My arm would go to sleep for 45 minutes at a time, and I couldn’t wake it up. And that didn’t feel good to me. (It scares me a lot now that I am out of Christian Science and someone pointed out that this was pushing on a nerve, and it’s a good thing I didn’t have to lose my whole arm!) I voluntarily pulled my name out of “The Christian Science Journal.” (This means I was no longer a Journal Listed Christian Science Practitioner. I wasn’t kicked out or anything; I chose to do this for my own reasons. I left on good terms and was told I could come back within 6 months if I wanted, if it was longer than that, I would have to apply from scratch again.)

Then, began the guilt. Oh, the guilt. And I had no one to talk to about it. I had to suffer with my guilt at having “failed.” I had failed to heal it. I had failed to have enough faith. I had failed to pray enough. I had failed all the Practitioners that had prayed for me over the last 5+ years.

I know all the words to victim blame myself, and I made liberal use of all of them. Then, of course, I probably entered the depression that had probably started but been bulldozed over by “Knowing the Truth” and “Getting on with things I had to do anyway.” So I dealt with depression and guilt with the only way I knew how: by denying them. For months. I think it took me about 8 months to get over the guilt, and I finally started trying to find a doctor. (At this point, I was now a Sunday School teacher at the Unity Church.)

Now, someone who grew up going to doctors, might know where to start when looking for a doctor. But this was all brand new to me. I didn’t know how to find a doctor. (The doctor who removed my first lump, wasn’t covered by our new insurance.) I didn’t know what kind of doctor I wanted. It took me many months to find one. And of course, you can’t just walk in and say, “remove this please.” They had to send me to another doctor for a sonogram to look at it. Then results had to be done up. Then I had to have a consultation. Then I had to go to the operation. I was put under for the procedure (that was my choice – because the pain of the much smaller lump had been unbearable to me, and I couldn’t go through that again). I think this was in 2011. Then I had so many follow up appointments. The lump was far bigger than I had anticipated, and than he had anticipated. I have keloids in my back with basically means, “aggressive scar tissue,” and this scar on my back continues to grow and cause me pain years later. I consider this scar to be my “scar of leaving Christian Science.” Maybe someday I will wear it proudly. At this point, I still hide it under clothing. (I know of people getting tattoos to symbolize leaving the Christian Science church. I didn’t have to get a tattoo. I have my very real scar on my material body.)

I wish that was the end of my story of leaving Christian Science. That would wrap it all up, neat and tidy. But, of course, a 44 year story and it doesn’t just end there. And it’s now 2016 as I type this.

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6 Weeks to a Quaker (the first go-round)

I grew up as a church goer, and when I don’t attend, it feels like I have a “void” in my life. So I tried a local Quaker church. It was about 10 miles away, but traffic made it take about 40 minutes to get there on a Sunday morning. I took my oldest son with me to the Meetings, and I enjoyed them immensely. Here were people who cared about the environment. One person was a beekeeper and I loved that! Several were gardeners, and some were activists or worked as volunteers either in Peace Corps or in Africa, setting up a school to teach children. I loved everything about this church. I made my homemade applesauce for potluck, and I was instantly accepted as one of these people.

After about 4 weeks of attending, I called up my family and told them, “I am a Quaker now!” I think my own family thinks I am changeable and whack-a-doo, so they took it in stride. I also called a gal from my Association who completely and lovingly supported me (she left our Association the following year & converted to Judaism), and I called our Teacher who asked me, “what’s appealing about the Quaker church?” I told her I liked sitting in the Silence, and how that brought me peace and calm for several days after in my life. After that, she told our Association (an Association is an annual meeting of the students taught by the Teacher, and guests the Teacher welcomes too) to try to meditate for 20 minutes every day.

My 6th Sunday in a row attending at The Quaker Meeting was potluck Sunday. I asked the lady next to me what it took to join the church. She told me, “well, you’re assigned some people to make sure you are spiritually growing.” I hadn’t yet felt like I was leaving Christian Science; I was just leaving the branch church, and I still wanted my own Bible and my copy of Science and Health. Her comment made me so uncomfortable, I couldn’t return to the church. I blamed the traffic. It was so far away, even though it really wasn’t; traffic just made it feel so much more far away. I started visiting other kinds of churches.

Chrystal’s Story – Becoming a Christian Science Practitioner

Chrystal's Story header image

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.

Five Questions: L’s Answers


When people leave Christian Science there are five questions that pop up again and again. We can only answer these questions for ourselves. By sharing these answers, we hope to shed a little light into the murky depths of Christian Science. Find all the answers to the Five Questions on the FiveQuestions tag.

The following answers are from L, a member of the Ex-Christian Science Facebook community.


How did you get into Christian Science?

I was born into a Christian Scientist family (on my mother’s side). My sibling and cousins and I made the fourth generation. The fourth generation has now all escaped from Christian Science. Hallelujah!

Why did you stay in it for so long?

By the time I was ready to leave home for college, I had doubts. My mother told me that as soon as I finished high school, I could decide if I wanted to continue in Sunday School. I think she thought I would keep going, but the Sunday before I graduated was the last time I ever attended. So, that whole summer before I left for college, I slept late on Sunday mornings with no guilt. But four years later, after I married and moved across the state, I began, for the first time, to have health issues that didn’t go away quickly. I still didn’t want to attend church, but my husband and I sometimes went to Wednesday evening services. I struggled. I was half in and half out. Christian Science treatment wasn’t helping me, but I had no experience whatsoever with medical services, and I was away from home and family. I had no idea what to do. Radical reliance in Christian Science had been the only option I had ever had, but now I was an adult and I realized I could make choices.

What made you decide to leave?

I left for good in my late twenties with my first-ever doctor’s visit. Thankfully, that was in time for my first childbirth, in which a C-section and the NICU and modern medicine saved my baby’s and my life. I can’t stand to think about what would have been had I remained, doggedly, in Christian Science, trying to demonstrate my and my children’s way to perfection. Shudder.

I had struggled and attempted to ‘work out a problem’ in Christian Science for several years with the help of various practitioners. One visit to a family practice doctor who prescribed medication and lifestyle suggestions finally cured the problem once and for all. That was enough for me. During this period, I watched my practitioner mother treat her malignant melanoma through radical reliance on Christian Science…and die. To watch this happen, to know what was coming, to attempt to care for her without causing her to believe that my unbelief was hindering her healing, was pure torture. By the time she died, after lying six days in a coma in her home with just her immediate family caring for her (after a Christian Science nurse disappeared without a word), I hated Christian Science with a white-hot passion. Every remaining family member still in Christian Science had seen enough at that point. My mother, the strongest Christian Scientist in the family, had not been able to ‘prove’ that matter was unreal, or that there was no sensation in matter, or that pain and sickness were illusions. Every supposed healing we had had in our family up until that point was easily explained as natural bodily healing…because the body really is quite as remarkable as it is REAL. And there were many other healings that had never come at all. We all stopped pretending and faced life. We embraced humanity. And my sibling and I were traumatized and would face years of undoing the damage Christian Science had done in our lives.

Why would anyone join?

I don’t know why both of my mother’s grandmothers joined Christian Science. I can imagine the appeal back then though, in the early days of the movement, more than I can understand it now. In the nineteenth century, there was much that could not be understood about the human body and the process of illness, and much that could not be fixed medically. Today, I suppose people are attracted to the promise of goodness and light and freedom from pain and suffering. Christian Science is an illusion though. All is not perfect or good, and practitioners cannot metaphysically obliterate the very real disease processes or other ills of humanity. When mortals are confronted with unpleasant reality and turn to it for relief, Christian Science does not deliver in any way.

Did you really believe? 

I think I really believed in the lessons I was taught in Sunday School and at home when I was very young. But by the time I was in middle school, I could easily see that not all of the testimonies my mother told in church on Wednesday evenings were accurate. It wasn’t hard to see either, that my supposedly ‘healed’ stomach virus lasted the same 24 hours as my best friend’s and caused the same symptoms. It wasn’t hard to see that my non-Christian Scientist friend got relief from her sore throats and headaches by turning to her pediatrician and her medicine cabinet, and I just suffered until my body healed itself. By the time I was in my late teens, I could also see that, despite my usually happy childhood, I suffered way more from health-related anxiety and phobias than my friends; and I do to this day.


If you would like to contribute your experiences to The Ex-Christian Scientist, you can email us at [email protected]