By Sue Laramore
Christian Scientists thought our family life was harmonious. Most everyone else thought we were odd. On looking back, I think “most everyone else” was right. Very little about my childhood was as it should have been, but I didn’t see it until much later. About forty years after I left Christian Science, I found a group of people connected by the internet who had also given up the religion, some of whom had also had repercussions for months, even years after renouncing that belief system. I believe finding Christian Way was a God-ordained revelation for me.
I wanted and needed to write down the facts about growing up in Christian Science as I remember them. Yes, they are the facts as I remember them, but isn’t all autobiographical writing just that? Even the Gospels came from differing viewpoints, but all are Truth. Matthew emphasized genealogy because it was so important to the Jews. Mark was inspired to emphasize Jesus’ acts. John deals more with faith, and the words and prayers of Jesus. And so on. That they had their individual niches makes their inspired words even more valuable. I don’t pretend that my words are inspired, but they are my truth. I simply want to share my story in the hopes that I can help former Christian Scientists, as I have been helped, to know that they are not alone in their experiences. And if, per chance, someone who is currently reliant on Christian Science reads my story, my hope is that he or she will be led to read the Scriptures as they were intended – without any “key” other than the precious Holy Spirit.
Backing up a few generations, my father came from a wealthy Jewish family. His father converted to Christian Science, which wasn’t terribly unusual because both stress the Ten Commandments, that is, the Law, rather than Grace. My father’s father was class taught, was a practitioner in Chicago, and had a cousin who was in Mrs. Eddy’s Normal Class. Christian Science was as much a part of his family in those days as eating. I do not exaggerate. Yet my father’s mother died in a flu epidemic early in the twentieth century. (That was told to me by one of his siblings who had long since left the family religion. My father never mentioned it.) When my grandfather married again, his second wife also died prematurely of an unexplained illness. He married a third time, then he, himself, died at still a fairly young age, of what was an apparent heart attack. His third wife, who was also a practitioner, lived a long life, the last decade of which was spent in a Christian Science nursing facility. No one said, but I am guessing that she had Alzheimer’s disease. I guess I loved the grandparents that I knew, but they were emotionally distant.
My mother came from a Baptist background. She was baptized when she was ten and very active in a Chicago Baptist church. Her father left the family after making a very bad business deal, losing what little money they had. Also, according to one of my mother’s siblings, he was nagged incessantly by his wife, my mother’s mother. By all accounts (except, of course, that of my mother), my grandmother was not a nurturer. My mother never said a negative thing about her parents. She told me two nice things about her father, and they were repeated over and over all my life, perhaps for her own comfort, but also because there didn’t seem to be any other positive things to say about him. Apparently my maternal grandmother was not much of a wife, either. I was told by my aunt that when my grandmother didn’t want to sleep with my grandfather, she put one of her daughters in the marriage bed in her place. I was told no more than that, but my mind has wandered and wondered. During the depression, my mother, then a young girl, took empty plates to other apartments in the building, asking for food. Sometime in the nineteen thirties, the family was introduced to Christian Science. I heard for years how my grandmother had been healed of tuberculosis in Christian Science. I always wondered why, then, she never became a Christian Scientist. She remained Baptist until her death.
My mother and father were introduced on a blind date, and by that time, my mother was firmly entrenched in Christian Science, which was the only way my father would have taken her home to meet “the family.” They married, and according to my mother, lived happily ever after. And in all fairness, she truly thought they did. But I came along, and I was not a part of the happiness equation they had worked out for themselves. To begin with, my birth was terrible on my mother. She hemorrhaged, but refused to take any medicine at all, even though she was a patient in a hospital. After she came home, she became ill again and had to return to the hospital, only to refuse any and all treatment for the second time. Neighbors told me that she almost died. She never again went near a doctor or a hospital, with the usual Christian Science exceptions of dentists and optometrists, but those only rarely.
From my earliest memory, she was very often in bed. I never knew why. Many, many days, when I came home from school, she would be lying in her darkened bedroom and a Christian Science friend would meet me at the door with a finger to her mouth and a loud shhhhhhh. I would just go to my room and brood. Then my dad would come home from work, the friend would leave, he would fix a little supper (or my mother would literally drag herself out of the bed to perform her wifely duty). I can still feel what I felt then. I wondered then and I wonder now why I was never told what was wrong, why I was never in on the secret, and why it was a secret. Was she going to die? Would I dare ask to go out and play? Those days, for me, were as dark as her bedroom.
Christian Science is a religion of secrets, and secrets are toxic.
But eventually, she would “receive her healing,” as she said, and things would go along “normally,” for a while. Today, when I think of Christian Science healing, I am reminded of Matthew 7:22 and 23. The NIV says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” It makes me very sad to think that so many of my relatives believed Mary Baker Eddy over Jesus Christ. Christian Scientists do not believe that Jesus truly bore our sins on the cross on which He died, then lay dead in the tomb, and was resurrected three day later. Who performed the healings which Christian Scientists claim? Truthfully, I am afraid of the answer.
Two things governed my mother’s life – her faith in Christian Science, and what others would think of this or that behavior. (Almost always mine.)
My mother told me to remove my glasses for what I now think was every photograph I ever had taken in her presence. I guess I was a poor example of radical reliance on the “truth” if I wore glasses. However, she wore them, too… She told me to always wear my hair over my ears, because my ears looked like cabbages. She chose who cut my hair, how, and when, until I was well into high school. And of course, my ears were always covered by my hair. (Today, it is pulled back, with those cabbages emphasized by pierced earrings! Perhaps, lo these many years later, I am rebelling!) I think she desperately wanted me to submit to her way of thinking, especially where Christian Science was concerned, but in every facet of life, really, because she was always certain she was right. She would resort to any means, even insult and hurt, to make me see things her way. I don’t remember any apologies from her, my entire life. Even though I do not support Christian Science, I know that some of her behavior was inconsistent with it. I now feel sure that she was seriously depressed. If I had only known earlier.
Compliments and support from my father were rare. (Maybe my mother had trained him. She thought compliments spoiled children.) Once, just before I went off to college, I went shopping and bought a very bright pink dress. When she saw it, of course she commented on how “loud” it was. My dad spoke up and said, with uncharacteristic sarcasm, “Yes, and the neck is cut so low, too.” Which, of course, it wasn’t. That was almost fifty years ago, and I still cling to it as proof that my dad must have thought I was “OK.”
Almost every summer, we went to Northern Minnesota to fish. It was beautiful country, and I can understand why my dad didn’t mind driving like crazy at each end of a week just to enjoy the untouched forests and quiet lakes. It was total relaxation for him. And also for my mother. All meals were served in a lovely communal dining room. Maids came into the cabins each day, tidied them up, made the beds and changed the towels. They loved that week. When I was old enough to consider it, I asked if I could take a friend. (There was always an unused bed in my room.) Year after year, the answer was no. But one year (I think I was around twelve or thirteen) the answer was yes!!! I was thrilled! But the delight was short lived. They had predetermined who my “friend” would be. She was the daughter of Christian Science friends of theirs, who lived far enough away that I had met her twice, at most. So, for two days driving north, six days in the woods, and two days driving south, the back seat of the car, as well as the cabin, was awkwardly quiet. I had wanted to take a friend. Not only did I not know her, but we were both quite shy, at least that week, so no friendship developed. Looking back, I think that week was lonelier than any of the others.
As I grew older, there were scene changes, but the basics remained constant. When my mother was sick, the days were dreary beyond belief, but I never knew anything about her condition. Once, when I was in high school, she went to a Christian Science facility of some sort in the Boston area. All I knew is that she wasn’t “up to par” and wasn’t getting better in our home. Still I was told nothing. And I had no siblings with whom to wonder. So I worried alone. This played out for the rest of her life. Never once did she give me a scrap of information about her or my dad’s physical problems. When I had grown children of my own, I once had the courage to ask her what was wrong one time when she was “down.” By that time, my dad had passed away. She said only, “Some day you will know.”
I do know, now, that she was severely depressed, and to my knowledge it was never addressed. Or maybe it was addressed with a Christian Science practitioner, but to no avail. After she passed on, I found enough articles (secular!!) to fill a giant trash bag, all on the subject of depression. Perhaps, after all, that is what she meant when she said, “Someday you will know.” I find it hard to believe that she would suffer in silence for all those years and not seek relief, even if it meant seeing (horrors) a physician. But she was steadfast in clinging to Christian Science, and often quoted Mary Baker Eddy. (In church and out, Mrs. Eddy’s name was spoken with adoration and absolute reverence.)
But she was not depressed or sick all the time. She had friends, almost all Christian Scientists. She treated them lovingly, and never talked about herself. All they ever seemed to talk about was religion. But Heaven forbid that they should share one another’s burdens. One time when I was home from college on a break, my mother wanted me to dress up like a French maid (I was studying French), and “pretend” for a lady friend who was coming to lunch. The lady arrived, and really didn’t seem overly surprised that my mother would have “help.” I was the one who was surprised. My mother had never told this woman that she had a daughter! On another occasion, my senior year in high school, when I was going to the prom, she invited friends to dinner. I got ready for my big night all by myself. Her mind was on loftier things.
My mother was not alone in her “radical reliance.” My dad never saw a physician. Once he wore a patch over an eye for several months, but, of course, I never knew why. Many Sunday nights he appeared to have a headache. It was his only day to wind down, which I now know can trigger a headache. He would be in bed at those times. An uncle told me after my father was gone that he remembered my dad had had headaches as a boy. (Apparently that problem wasn’t “met,” as they say, either.) There were other times that he was bedridden for long periods of time. I think it is probable that he had had heart attacks. At that time I was an adult, but still I was never told any details. Sometimes, though, I would inadvertently find out that he wasn’t able to work. They would explain, in those cases, that the problem was only a belief, and it was being worked out. (Example of Christian Science terminology)
For many years, I have carried a picture in my mind of how I looked and felt as a child. My parents formed a circle of two. I was constantly running around the outside of their circle, looking for a way to enter, to be a part of their circle. Because of my parents’ radical reliance on Christian Science, my getting hurt or being sick was not my ticket to love and comfort. I was given Mary Baker Eddy platitudes. When I was young they were read to me, and when I was older I was expected to read them myself. I don’t remember ever being coddled or cuddled. I had whooping cough and was out of school for weeks. It was extremely painful, both physically and emotionally, because all I did was lie by myself and cough. No chicken soup (much less antibiotics) in a “radically reliant” household! When I finally got better, after a very long siege, they called it a healing. The same was true when an earache developed into an abscessed ear. I went from bed to couch and back to bed for a few weeks. The same scenario — when I finally got better, it was hailed as a healing. The story repeated itself for measles, chicken pox and the like. I had all the usual childhood diseases, the same as all my school friends, same amount of time, same spots. But when the diseases wound down, I was “healed.”
I was not immunized as a child, never attended a health class (Instead I sat in the hallway in elementary school, alone, embarrassed.), and never had a complete physical examination until I was about to be married, and then only because it was required to obtain birth control pills.
Once in a while, when I was young and it was raining on a Sunday, my dad would take a walk with me. Often he made me laugh. And I believe he appreciated my sense of humor. I loved him. He didn’t make me feel as undesirable as my mother did. But once, when I was going through divorce, I called him on the phone. My mother had said or done something particularly hurtful to me. I was really crying out to him for help. I asked him to come to my house after work, alone. That was the day I realized that I couldn’t count on him for support. He had told my mother of my call, she announced it wouldn’t “look good” to my neighbors if he came to my house alone (my own father!), so he went home, picked her up, and she came along. Naturally, my conversational plans were averted. His allegiance to her, though Biblically sound, went dangerously close to negligence of me. (Not that day, I suppose, because I was an adult, but years earlier, when I lived at home.) I began to see that no matter what she did, he stood by her, maybe for fear she would sink into another depression. I don’t know. But she almost got away with murder. Murder of a spirit. Mine.
Thinking about it now, I think my father’s loyalty to Christian Science was more profound, even, than my mother’s. I remember asking him, when I was maybe a young teenager, why we were here (meaning “on earth”). He told me that one of the attributes for God is Father and he couldn’t be a father without us. There was no mention of Jesus being His Son. And there was no mention of the Scriptural answer, which I now know, that we are here to glorify God.
I graduated from college with a degree in French. My major professor, on meeting my parents during my senior year, told them that I needed to be totally immersed in the French language and culture before I attempted to teach it. She felt that all French majors should go to France. I have always been grateful to her for telling them that. So, as a graduation gift, they actually gave me a trip to France! Of course, all sorts of plans had to be made that I live with a Christian Scientist. But I let them plan away. I was going to France!
Two days before I was to set sail with two college friends on a ship crowded with students, I boarded a train bound for New York. Several hours before my departure, my mother began to lose control. I think she was suddenly very afraid for me to leave. Fear was her constant companion, and Christian Science was no help to her. She was consumed with fear. As a result, my leaving was one of the worst days of my life. She cried and carried on about my going so far away, alone. She warned me of every conceivable danger, apparently assuming I would go eagerly headlong into all of them. As I boarded the train, my father was actually restraining her.
I had an overnight train trip to rehash that day’s incident, and actually, many others that had preceded it. Of course, I was a wreck. How could they have given me the permission and the ticket to go, and then send me off in such a state? Nine days on an Italian student ship temporarily cured me! What a sense of freedom. I was a new person, setting off on an adventure which held more for me than I could ever have known then. Oddly enough, a Christian Science practitioner in Paris, with whom I was to stay, had to change the plans, I learned when I arrived in Paris. She had rented one of her rooms to a young man and she had her rules. Both rooms to the same sex! But she did have another French couple in mind for me.
Staying with this couple turned out to be one of the greatest blessings in my life up to that time. They were an older couple, their children raised. She was a Christian Scientist. Or, she thought she was. Certainly, her Christian Science wasn’t remotely like that of my parents. She mixed in plenty of French traditions and habits. For example, she poured a little water into her wine, assuming a kind of compromise! (Christian Scientists don’t drink alcohol.) She saw a doctor now and then, because the French at that time believed that the liver was the cause of all health problems. Of course, the practitioners didn’t buy it, but she did. She was a loving, generous, happy woman. As the days became weeks, then months, that I lived with them, I grew to love her tremendously. She and her husband made me a full member of their family, although the original intent was that I should be an “au pair”, with certain responsibilities around the house to pay for my keep.
He was not a Christian Scientist. He was a Christian. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that then. But fairly recently, upon re-reading his many letters, I was overjoyed to learn the full extent of that truth. When I had read them years earlier, it didn’t mean anything to me. I am certain he didn’t want to make me uncomfortable while I was in their home because he believed I was a Christian Scientist. If only he had talked to me about his faith. At least he wrote about it later in letters. The love these two people showed me was a new experience. They trusted me. They never criticized me. I was a part of their lives, right there on the inside, not on the outside, looking in. I was included on all occasions, with family, with friends, to concerts, shopping, everything. And, I was speaking French!
Then it was time to go home. I had a job teaching French waiting for me. It was not easy to go back to living in my parents’ home, while remembering how I had lived in Paris. I remained in my parents’ home only six months more. The love and acceptance and nurturing that I had received from my French family were now buried under the same old attitudes I had experienced in the past. My mother had to have acknowledged, somewhere in her innermost self, that I had done something she never could have. I traveled on a ship, I lived in a foreign country, and I flew home. Three things she would never do, though my father always wanted to. I see now that he gave up a part of himself, his own desires, to keep his marriage peaceful. Christian Science never alleviated her many, many fears.
I hold Christian Science guilty for so many things. My mother had trauma in her childhood. She had depression as an adult. She had illness after illness. But it was all entrusted to a practitioner. Never mind that most of the problems never improved. Almost never, in the fifty odd years about which I am writing was she happy, healthy or whole. Rarely did she treat me with respect. Instead, she threatened me, blamed me, and yelled at me. This, when I was a child as well as an adult. Once, after my divorce, I was seeing a Catholic man for a time. She fell into one of her sicknesses about that time, and then informed me that her illness was my fault for dating a Catholic. I had long since left Christian Science, but I believed her. I sought council for that one. (And several years later, for all of it…)
Whenever, as an adult, I had a physical problem, she didn’t hesitate to say, “You don’t have to have [fill in the blank with the appropriate ailment], you know.” Yet, her own problems were ongoing.
When I married my first husband, it was mostly to please my parents. He was a nice enough young man (not a Christian Scientist, however), but they did not approve of one single boy I brought home from college. If they didn’t know the parents, the background, and the reputation of each boyfriend, it was never going to fly. As it was, I had no say whatsoever in my own wedding. The church, the flowers, the minister, the guest list, the date ~ every detail was decided by my mother and my future husband. Even my maid of honor was chosen by my mother. (She was a Christian Scientist, another daughter of family friends. But she was my friend, too. And she is still my friend. She, too, left Christian Science and found the Jesus of the Bible!) My mother hurt family members as well as friends of both families by choosing to have the wedding in another town and to keep the guest list to a bare minimum. She had complete control. I have no idea if my dad ever expressed a viewpoint, other than when he told me how much money he would spend on the wedding. If I didn’t waste it all on one day, I could take the rest into the marriage. As a result (guilt on my part?), my wedding dress cost $25.00, was purchased soiled, and had to be cleaned before I wore it. And I invited only one friend.
The turning point in what little allegiance I still had to Christian Science came when my infant son had one ear infection after another. I would sit on the floor beside his crib and cry because my thinking was making him ill (or so I had been taught in Christian Science), and I was not able to “correct my thinking.” One day, we were both so miserable, I did the unthinkable. I took him to a pediatrician. It’s hard to quibble with success. He got better immediately, and there was no turning back. My mother always suspected that I had been corrupted by my contemporaries – college friends, etc. When she eventually learned that I was using doctors and not Christian Science, she had absolute proof of my corruption. A few years later, after a lengthy search, I found the Jesus of the Bible, and had a newfound security. It was only further proof to my mother of my downward spiral.
When my dad died, my mother’s health and her mental problems grew immeasurably worse. Suddenly she had only me, and I wasn’t to be trusted because I was not a Christian Scientist. She accused me of not caring that my dad had died, because she didn’t see me grieve. And she was right. She didn’t see me grieve. I was consumed with trying to prop her up. There wasn’t a chance to grieve, at least publicly. But grieve, I certainly did. She had no funeral for him, no visitation, no obituary, and no announcement of any kind. We ~ my new husband, my children and I ~ went to the funeral home, without her knowledge, and said our goodbyes. He was buried in the pajamas he died in. But the worst part is that he died in bed in the morning. She didn’t call us (or anyone) until late afternoon. I know she had been praying that he would come back to life. She wouldn’t accept, even then, that it is “appointed unto men once to die.” (Hebrews 9:27 KJV) Had she chosen to forget everything she had learned in her Baptist days?
I have often wondered, if Christian Science were right, and there really were no death, what the world population would look like? Can Mrs. Eddy’s followers really believe that? And can they look at the human condition, the nightly news, terrorism, gangs, pedophiles, corrupt politicians, murders, etc., and say with a straight face that there is no sin? When Jesus healed sickness, did he heal something that didn’t exist? Did my mother simply tell herself that her depression didn’t exist (all the while collecting every article she saw on the subject)? Is that what the practitioners told her all those years? And did she not see how her actions affected those around her, or at least me? Was she acknowledging the “unreality” of her anger, insults, and hurtful remarks, as they came flying out of her mouth?
I know very well that her behavior was not typical of all Christian Scientists. But the fact remains that her depression/anger problem was never “met.” I was the unfortunate recipient of her unmet issues. My father, on the other hand, she nearly worshipped. I never heard her say a cross word to him. He was permanently on the proverbial pedestal. And only once did one of her friends hear her lose her temper at me. Otherwise, she was the image of sweetness and light with friends and strangers alike. If Christian Science gave her the motivation and ability to behave so beautifully in public, why not with me? And what about the all-important teaching that God is Love? She told me that she loved me when I was a child, as in, “You have to wear your boots. I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t love you.” I heard that type of love talk, where all sorts of obedience and behavioral issues were at stake. But if she ever said she loved me with no strings attached, I don’t remember it. And I think I can safely say that my dad never told me that he loved me. Friends have reminded me that people just didn’t say those words in days gone by. But they said those very words to each other! So they knew them. Even though love is proved in action, there isn’t a human being on earth that doesn’t want to hear it.
The inconsistencies between Christian Science and the Bible still astound and annoy me. Christian Science says we are all God’s children, and perfect, at that! The Scripture says we are His creation, and we are adopted into His family – become His children – when we receive Jesus as our Savior. (Ephesians 1:5) And perfect? My Bible says we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Christian Science teaches that His shed blood was not enough for the remission of our sins. The Bible says that a pure blood sacrifice was required for the remission of our sins and Jesus was the perfect lamb. (Hebrews 9:22) He became sin for us. (II Corinthians 5:21) Christian Science denies that Jesus was dead in that tomb. The Bible says He died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. (John 19:30) Christian Science does not allow that Jesus is God. The New Testament says that He is; Jesus Himself said that He is. (John 10:30) I cannot see any eternal Hope in Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy says that when we pass on (that seems like an admission of death, to me), we continue “working it out” on another plain of existence. My Bible doesn’t say anything of the sort. My Bible tells me that my decision about who Jesus really is, and what I am going to do about it here and now, determines where I will spend eternity. (Ephesians 2:6-9) And “…if righteousness could be gained through the law (or behavior [my words]), Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2:21)
I’m not sure that my father ever learned of the discrepancies between Science and Health and the Bible. But my mother had to have known. My grandmother worked to instill it in her, until her (my grandmother’s) death. In my mother’s last weeks, I told her that if, at any time, she wanted to see a doctor, I would take her. She told me that if she went to a doctor she would be leaving God. I find that sad and, at the same time, infuriating. She was as much as telling me that I wasn’t “with God.” I now think what she really meant was that she couldn’t leave Mary Baker Eddy and her teachings because she would then be leaving my dad and his beliefs.
I often think about Jesus’ parable of the workers (Matthew 20:1-16) who were paid equally, even though some worked all day and others worked just a short time at the end of the day. For me, it is a parable of hope. I cannot know what took place in the hearts of my mother or my father in their last moments. But I can have hope that they were paid the full amount even if they came to work at the very end of the day.