Blessings of the new birth
In her article “The New Birth,” Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “The new birth is not the work of a moment. It begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 15).
Through the process of “the new birth,” what had been the greatest obstacle of my life was turned into a wonderful blessing. This healing unfolded over many years and shows unmistakably the power of Christian Science to transform and uplift our lives.
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I attended Christian Science Sunday School for several years at the branch Church of Christ, Scientist, where my dad was a member. And when I was still very young, I had a significant experience that had a lasting influence on me. I was quickly healed of a severe burn to my hand through prayerful treatment from a Christian Science practitioner.
I had grabbed hold of a heating element for an outdoor grill—the heater had appeared to not be working but was actually extremely hot. Almost immediately I lost consciousness, but I later awoke in my bed to see a loving expression on my dad’s face, which gave me comfort. I then slept through the night without any suffering, and when I rose in the morning, the burn was completely healed, with only a small, fully formed scab on the little finger remaining. I knew something wonderful had occurred.
As years passed, I departed completely from Christian Science, but I believe that childhood healing kept me from losing touch with God altogether, because I could never deny what had happened. And then, in a difficult time I instinctively turned to God for guidance.
Substance abuse has been a dominant part of my family experience. My mother was an alcoholic. My older brother became a heavy drug user and died shortly after finishing high school. And my younger brother has struggled with addiction for most of his life. Addiction tried to take me down its ruinous path as well, but a hunger and thirst for God’s goodness led me to freedom.
My drug and alcohol use began in middle school and fairly quickly became a serious problem. It’s the main reason I attended four different high schools and also had some encounters with the police. In my third year of high school, I felt lost and miserable, desperately wanting a better life and seeking God’s help. But I wasn’t sure how to pray. A lot of my attempts to pray were simply pleading for help, but sometimes I would ask God questions and listen for the answers. One of these times I heard that I needed to follow the Ten Commandments if I was going to find my way. That was a turning point.
There was resistance to overcome, so it was another two years before I was ready to make a commitment, but I began straightening up. I finished high school and stopped getting in trouble, and not long after that I began investigating Christian Science. Life quickly started changing for the better.
I was reading the Bible along with Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Studying was difficult because I didn’t understand much of what I was reading, but it made me feel better, so I kept coming back. At first, simple concepts meant the most, such as the comforting idea of “Immanuel, or ‘God with us’ ” (Science and Health, p. xi). When I read the words “Desire is prayer;…” (p. 1), it floored me, because I realized my turning to God and desire for a better life was prayer that was having an effect. It was as though the author spoke to me directly and said, “Your desires were heard and now are being answered.”
The most important thing, though, was the spiritual truth I was finding. As I was reading Science and Health, inspiration would sometimes break through in startling ways. Awareness of my surroundings and the passage of time would melt away while I worked to understand a single page or a few paragraphs. A holy sense of calm I hadn’t known before would settle over me, so that when I finally turned away from the book, I would look around with surprise as if I had suddenly returned from far away to find that everything had changed. But the changes were actually going on in my own thought.
Within a year, I was free from cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol—having lost any taste for them—and was attending college. Truth was lifting me out of the dark place where I had been living and up into the sunlight, and for this I am forever indebted to God. But Christ requires our whole heart, and I came to learn that my new birth had really just begun. Saint Paul wrote about it this way: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
A lot remained to be corrected and made new. For a long time I tried to stay as far as possible from the pain and chaos of my previous family life. The biggest issue was with my mom. My attitude toward her was unkind and unforgiving, and at one point I didn’t speak with her for over two years. But I finally accepted the demand on me to be reformed.
I needed to purify my own heart and stop waiting for someone else to change. Addressing sinful traits of pride, anger, impatience, reaction, stubborn will, despair, and resentment took a lot of prayer and effort. Slowly and steadily, though, progress came. In Science and Health we read, “In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error,—self-will, self-justification, and self-love,—which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death” (p. 242). That’s what was happening in my life.
An important milestone was reached one evening when a lifetime of bitter conflict between my mom and me came to a peaceful end. An argument had started one evening while we were having dinner together, but a calm sense of clarity suddenly came over me, and I immediately stopped talking. I mentally withdrew from the battle with the thought, “I’m just going to love.” I smiled and went on eating my dinner, and it was done. That was many years ago, and there was never another argument.
I also learned how to honor my father and mother by honoring all that was worthy and true in them instead of focusing on what I thought needed redemption. Rebellion faded away, and I came to cherish every opportunity to support my mom.
After I moved to live near her, I realized she was making her own progress. She drank less when I was with her, and sometimes not at all. And her attitude toward Christian Science changed from deep animosity to support. Earlier, I couldn’t talk about my faith, but instead worked to quietly let my life express that faith’s true value. More recently, though, at different times she spoke well of Christian Science to me and others and showed an interest in my church work. She even asked to attend the Thanksgiving Day service during my last year as First Reader of my branch church, and drove thirty minutes in pouring rain to be there.
Mom passed away recently. In my last time with her, I helped her get to bed, and just before she fell asleep, she said that I made her feel safe. It was an unexpected moment that could have been written in a movie script or novel where everything comes together at the end of the story.
Speaking in her church a week later, I was able to honor her once more in a way I couldn’t have dreamed of previously. In my eulogy I said: “Earlier our relationship had been a mess. But that changed over time, and what had been complicated and painful became something simple and very sweet. I have to confess, though, that we didn’t do it alone. There was another party involved. The other party at work in our lives is identified in Colossians as ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (1:27), and is also defined in the same letter as ‘the image of the invisible God’ (1:15). Now we know that the spirit of God is always working for us, guiding, supporting, blessing, and uplifting us if we allow it. So, looking back, I can see this silent hand of God’s power at work in both our lives, bringing us back together after a long separation, not so much to reclaim what had been lost, but to discover something new.”
A long chapter of my new birth has concluded, and it has left my heart filled with thanksgiving and love, where before there was only an aching void. My gratitude for God and Christian Science is boundless.