Thursday, May 17, 2007

Q: Prayer and medicine?

This question came in awhile back:

One of your posters (Emily, I think) had reported that a practitioner had explained (in essence) that the reason the practitioner couldn't prayerfully support a patient who was also using a doctor was because then neither method would work. I've had practitioners tell me the same thing (not you, obviously!): that combining prayer with medicine renders both methods to be ineffective.

So here's my question: if using medicine renders prayer (God) to be ineffective in healing, doesn't that mean that medicine is more powerful than God? Is God all-powerful, or isn't He? Isn't the Truth true? It's sure not too reassuring to know that "omnipotence" can fail in some circumstances! And how does that jibe with the first commandment?

I have never understood this, and I was so interested to read that the same argument had been used to others—almost word-for-word with what had been "explained" to me. (Maybe it was the same practitioner!)

I'll just share here my approach to this issue, and see if that clarifies. There are probably a million different answers depending on the practitioner.

First of all, to my mind you won't see God engaging in battle with medicine to see who's stronger. It's not a fight between the two. It's important to remember that whatever it is that needs healing exists only in belief. There is no "real" sickness that God or medicine is fixing. It's not a contest to see which one is more effective at eradicating that which is not real to begin with. To God, sickness is non-existent. Period.

Medicine takes the opposite view, of course. Sickness or disease is something real to be fought and conquered. Medicine doesn't render God ineffective by any means. It is, however, using a different strategy for fixing the problem.

When I'm working with a patient who is also seeing a doctor, I consider several things.

First, is the doctor's treatment intended to heal the problem? Or is it rather providing the ability for the patient to cope while the healing occurs outside of the doctor's influence? If it's the latter, I feel completely comfortable giving the prayer assist because there's no conflict with where healing is actually happening—within thought.

Next, is the medical procedure simply adjusting something mechanically (i.e., surgery)? Mary Baker Eddy talks about surgery being the "branch of [Christian Science] healing which will be last acknowledged," and she talks about confining the spiritual healing work then to reconstruction and inflammation, etc. To my mind, if the patient feels the mechanical fix of surgery is the best option for them at this time, then I'm right there with them supporting harmonious action and quick recovery.

Finally, is there an understanding that the drugs involved are not the true source of the relief the patient might be feeling? This is where things get tricky. What I haven't been able to do as a prayerful practitioner is pray for drugs to work. I'd rather see the patient off the drugs and understanding that harmony comes from their divine connection to Spirit. I wouldn't want to interfere with the patient's chosen healing process, however, so if ongoing drug use to cure a problem is involved, I'd most likely opt out.

But remember, if combining prayerful treatment with medicine renders both ineffective, that's not a statement on either God or medicine. It's a statement about the conflict within the patient's thought. It's like a tug-of-war game where the sides are pulling the person in two different directions. In that scenario, you can see how the person would wind up standing still.

Would love to know anyone else's thoughts on this!

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 5/17/2007 07:59:00 AM, Anonymous Dennis R said...

Thank you for addressing this issue. It is the one thing that held me back in my study of Christian Science. I am not a big believer in medicine, but have been kind of forced into taking it, especially so-called maintenance drugs.

I had asked a practitioner to pray for me last fall, but asked her to stop after I ended up in the hospital because I thought I could not use Christian Science anymore. The doctor put me on a couple of these drugs. For me to stop taking them would cause problems in that my wife would be very upset. Also, to abruptly stop at this stage of my understanding might cause physical problems as well.

I figure that these medicines do not heal anyway; they just are temporary measures until my healing is manifested, kind of like glasses or hearing aids.

Also, since I was not raised in Christian Science, I am not sure I am applying it correctly. I do not want to be presumptuous.

It is my understanding right now that Christian Science will not work with medicine if one believes it will not work with medicine.

I feel that we have to take people where they are in their spiritual path and hopefully help them to take a step higher.

At 5/17/2007 09:10:00 AM, Anonymous chris said...

I like Dennis R's view -- it is all about what you believe in or trust MORE. Trust is what tips the scale in the healing method, IMHO. I also like what Dennis said about taking people where they are...the understanding of metaphysical healing (Christian Science) as a powerful healing agent is a step-by-step learning process. Situation by situation each person learns what method to trust more.

At 5/17/2007 11:04:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

Dennis R: I think you are on the right track, and what you are doing falls into the category of "emerg[ing] gently from matter into Spirit," as Mrs. Eddy puts it.

Taking a step for which you are unprepared will NOT accelerate your progress; rather, it will set you back, because you are expecting negative consequences, and matter pretty much lives up to your expectations. CS is basically about getting out of God's way and letting Him bless you. If you think you'll be sick if you quit taking medicine, then your experience is going to reflect that -- not because God can't heal you all by Himself, but because your fear is keeping you from recognizing that you're already healed. Don't try to force it. Just be honest to where you are right now, work prayerfully to move forward from that point, and eventually the moment will come when you find you no longer need the medicine.

It's particularly tricky when your spouse is not a Scientist. There have been times in the past when I was prepared to use CS to the exclusion of all else, but the idea frightened my husband so much that it would have been cruel to refuse medical treatment. You have to let Love be your guide.

As for balancing medicine with Science: I like Laura's explanation. The way my practitioner explained it to me was basically this: CS is about refusing to assign any power whatsoever to matter -- you don't believe matter can hurt you, and you don't believe matter can help you. Medicine is about using matter to cure a material problem. Since the efficacy of either method depends on your belief, you don't want two people working simultaneously in your thought to reinforce opposing beliefs. It's just not productive to have two caregivers working at cross-purposes.

At 5/17/2007 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous Marc said...

Great comments. Here is a related question regarding CS treatment and medical treatment going on at the same time. If you read the healings in the periodicals and elsewhere including Fruitage in S&H, you will find many healings where people came to know of CS by being healed. Many of these healings experienced these people came at a time when they turned to CS as a last resort or upon the recommendation of a friend etc. Many of those healings took place while people were under the care of medical treatment and this is what brought them to CS. Even Mrs. Eddy went to the bedside of ill people who were under the care of a doctor and in some cases pronounced incurable and she healed them. So it begs the question how have all these hundreds of people through the ages been healed at those times which brought them to CS? for many were under medical care when this "new" treatment CS was brought to them or that they sought. I have known of people who were healed in a hospital....

At 5/17/2007 02:28:00 PM, Anonymous Julian said...

Laura, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say it's about the conflict within the patient's thought. Using medicine doesn't "render prayer ineffective". It's that you can't think the problem can be solved by applying chemicals to cells in the body (medical treatment) while at the same time trying to see that the solution has nothing at all to do with chemicals and cells (prayerful treatment). Regarding marc's comment, people who were healed by prayer "while under medical treatment" were obviously not being healed by the medical treatment and presumably did not have much of a belief (based on the evidence) that it was working.

At 5/17/2007 06:02:00 PM, Anonymous Emily said...

Julian: Yes ... and keep in mind that we are not talking about whether it is possible to use CS to heal someone who is undergoing medical treatment, but rather, whether it is appropriate or productive to give CS treatment to someone undergoing medical treatment. That sounds like splitting hairs, but there is a big difference between treatment and prayer.

As I understand it, there are two ways healing can occur:

1. By correcting the patient's beliefs about himself (giving a treatment).
2. By correcting our own beliefs about the patient.

The first approach requires the patient's permission, and as a matter of professional courtesy (as well as practicality, for reasons mentioned above) should not be done in conjunction with medical treatment.

The second approach does not require anyone's permission, as we are not mucking about with the patient's thoughts -- only our own. We are always free to correct our own beliefs about any situation.

Case in point: A close friend of mine was hospitalized for some pretty scary physical claims earlier this year. I could not have given her treatment without coming into conflict with her doctors' efforts. I could, however, work to understand the unreality of this claim and to appreciate the love and kindness being expressed by the medical professionals who were attending to her needs. I was able to complement their efforts -- rather than conflicting with them -- while supporting my friend by simply praying to understand certain truths about my friend, her family, and the people caring for her. I didn't treat her; I simply prayed for myself in a way that would support her healing.

It came as no surprise to me that shortly after I broke through my own fears concerning her condition, her health took a dramatic turn for the better. Not saying my prayers healed her, but it certainly didn't hurt for me to get myself out of the way instead of throwing more fear into the mix.

I think a lot of Mrs. Eddy's healings occurred in a similar manner: Rather than treating the patient, she simply treated herself, correcting her own thoughts about the patient, and that was sufficient to heal the claim. In other cases, it's clear that the doctors had given up on the case and were just trying to keep the patient comfortable, rather than actually trying to treat the condition. In such cases, it is certainly appropriate to give CS treatment (with the patient's permisson, of course).

At 5/18/2007 01:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This past January I made the decision to go off of ALL my medications. I was taking medications for depression, anxiety disorder, high blood pressure, anemia, eczema, allergies and insomnia. Many of these I had been on for years. For example, I had been taking sleeping pills nightly for 10 years and was never able to sleep without them.

I talked to a practitioner and made the decision to go "cold turkey" on a Thursday. On Friday I got sick as a dog and was in bed all weekend. The reaction was quite dramatic and nasty, but I was determined to make the change. I am so glad that I did!

I feel better than I have in years! I am blisfully free of the depression and insomnia. It turned out the medications were causing my eczema; so that problem has cleared up after a few weeks. I have had a few bouts with anxiety, but that too yielded. My only remaining problem is the allergies; I am still working on them.

Going off my meds was something that I had thought of doing for at least a year. I'd wanted to become a Christian Scientist for over a year and knew that the meds were standing in my way. Once I decided to make the change, I determined that I was not going to give in no matter what. It was a very frightening prospect and I wasn't completely sure I could tough it out, but my practitioner was a continual encouragement; and believe me, I called her at all hours of the day and night.

The important thing to me is that I am more than ever committed to my spirituality, and resolved to draw closer to God every day. I'm still not a Scientist due to some responsibilities that I'm trying to wind down at another church, but I know what I want and where I'm going; and I'm glad I finally found the courage to make the change.


At 5/18/2007 05:26:00 PM, Anonymous Emily said...

John: Good for you. Your story reminds me of the experience I had in trying to break a longtime caffeine addiction several years ago when I first came back to Science.

The struggle is mighty, but the payoff is so very worth it.


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