It had gotten to the point where I couldn't even eat meals with other students. I'd entered college bearing the scars of an emotionally abusive childhood. The uncontrolled anger and condemnation that my parents often expressed had left me with very low self-esteem. So although I was intelligent and attractive enough, I didn't feel intelligent or attractive. Not long after I arrived at college, I began to withdraw and avoid contact with others—hiding out in my dorm room and eating only meals I'd bought from vending machines. Feeling inadequate to meet the demands of a very competitive school, I frequently called my parents, sobbing in misery.
Although my father could get incredibly angry, he could also be wise and loving, and during one of these phone calls he gave me the most important advice of my life: "Why don't you turn to God?" Although God hadn't played a big role in my family's life, my parents had allowed my brother and me to attend the Sunday School of our choice when we were growing up. So as a college student, I decided to return to the Christian Science Sunday School to learn more about God. It proved to be a life-changing decision.
In Sunday School, I began to discover my real worth as one of God's precious children to understand more fully that God is my true Mother and Father, and that God always loves me and everyone. I started to question my childhood concept of myself and realized that I didn't have to live with the limitations of shyness, fearfulness, and self-loathing imposed by poor self-esteem. I could overcome them through prayer.
After my sophomore year in college, I decided to take Christian Science class instruction—a 12-session course on spiritual healing that taught me more about how to pray for myself and others. Among other ideas, I explored this statement from Science and Health: "The Christlike understanding of scientific being and divine healing includes a perfect Principle and idea,—perfect God and perfect man,—as the basis of thought and demonstration." Science and Health, p. 259.
I learned that everyone was created in the image and likeness of this perfect God—who is Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Mind, Principle—and that means we reflect all of His attributes. Instead of being a flawed and anxious mortal, I was really what God had made me to be: an expression of spiritual qualities. God was the source of my identity, and He was constantly providing me with opportunities to express the unique, spiritual nature He was always unfolding in me.
I didn't have to live with the limitations of shyness, fearfulness, and self-loathing imposed by poor self-esteem.
I could overcome them through prayer.
Little by little, I learned to differentiate this true, spiritual identity from my false, material ego. I began to challenge ego, the false concept of myself that felt it had to compete for status and was discouraged by setbacks. The ego that battled to be successful and well-thought-of. That turned to the world for validation. I saw that my value really came from God, from being His loved child. That value didn't rise and fall based on human achievements or other people's opinions of me.
I also discovered that everyone is equal in God's sight. God loves me as much as He loves anyone else, and He loves everyone in the world as much as He loves me. An all-good God's will for every one of His beloved children couldn't be anything but abundant good. This meant that I was good and able to achieve good, because God made me that way.
A test of my growing self-worth came shortly after I graduated from college, when I was staying with a friend while waiting for a job to open up. My parents were continuing to support me financially during this transition period. One day my father called, extremely angry with me. He told me—both through his words and his tone—that I was a stupid and irresponsible person because I had overdrawn my checking account. After we hung up, I began to pray, affirming that God was there with me and that He loved me.
When I felt calm enough, I looked at my checkbook to see if I'd made a mistake. I couldn't find one, so I continued to pray and soon felt a tangible sense of God's love for me and for my father. Not long afterward, my father called back to apologize. He'd contacted his bank and was told that a check he'd deposited in my account had actually been put into his account by mistake. This experience showed me that I was making progress. Four years earlier, I would have been devastated by my father's anger and would have dissolved into tears. But now I was able to think clearly, and even pray—for both of us.
Over the years, as I continued to deepen my understanding of my spiritual identity, I found I was able to stop standing outside of myself mentally, observing and judging how I was doing, and start focusing on expressing Godlike qualities in everything I did. I learned to be kind and supportive of myself, instead of being harsh and critical as my parents had been. As I did this, nervous tendencies like nail biting dropped away. I realized that another bad habit—compulsive eating—was really an effort to comfort myself whenever I felt hurt, anxious, or afraid. Through prayer, I learned to comfort myself spiritually by feeling full of God's love, I found that I no longer needed food to console me.
I didn't just pray for myself, though. I also prayed to forgive my parents, and ultimately found myself feeling compassion for them. I realized that they had done their best to overcome the difficult challenges facing them. And while my spiritual transformation didn't happen overnight, it did come eventually.
Recently I realized that I no longer bear any scars from the traumas of my childhood. I now feel only love and gratitude for all of the good that God has always given me. I feel deep love for God, my parents, and myself.
Kathryn Dunton is a Christian Science practitioner in Wellesley, Massachusetts.