I still remember the stern look on my wife's grandfather as we talked. He was quite skeptical about my choice of career. He asked, "Can you make a living as a practitioner?"
Now that I look back on it, I can understand why he was concerned. He was a self-made businessman who founded his own printing company. I had a career as a recording engineer, but after one year I quit and began preparations to work professionally as a Christian Science practitioner. He didn't know much about Christian Science, and he could not understand why I would give up a paying job to do something that, to him, looked highly questionable as an income maker. I knew he was really asking, "How are you going to support my granddaughter?"
Before making this decision, I had completed class instruction with an authorized teacher of Christian Science, and I just loved the idea of spending my time in the healing practice. I could truly say that I was the happiest I had ever been. I was enjoying the in-depth study of the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's writings and the uninterrupted time to pray, ponder, and grow. It was a time of humility, of self-examination, of gaining a greater understanding of Christian Science as the Comforter Christ Jesus promised us. I was realizing that a devotion to spiritual healing based on a deepening love for God and mankind was the most important thing I could do with my life.
My practice—actually receiving requests to pray for others—was growing slowly. It was nowhere near becoming an income to live on. In fact, my wife was the one earning the most money in our family.
Now that I look back on it, my awkward discussion with the family patriarch was really a wake-up call to honestly consider what it means to establish and maintain a professional healing practice. I realized that anyone who was successful at establishing a business had to work very hard at it and take it seriously. It became obvious to me that I needed that same work ethic. Being in love with the idea of the practice was not enough. If I was to be truly successful in my healing practice I had to treat it as profession as well as a ministry. And as such, my goal had to be more than an inspired, spiritual ideal. My healing practice would have to be practical, responsible, and viable as well as effective.
I was already spending much time in prayer and study, but now I was praying, studying, and striving to demonstrate every aspect of a full-time, professional practice. I began to view several aspects of the practice differently.
Obviously, the goal of the healing practice is effective healing, not making money. However, often one of the first issues in establishing a professional healing practice is how to deal with receiving money from patients.
I noticed that more than a few practitioners I knew had a reluctance to charge or charged very little for their work. I, too, was initially reluctant to charge much. It felt like I was somehow diminishing the spiritual purity of my practice. Yet I knew my teacher and some others were making comfortable livings from their practice income alone. As I thought about it, it seemed to me that this wasn't so much about money as it was about value and identity. What did my practice represent to the public? If I didn't honor it for all it was worth, why would I expect others to do so?
I've heard some say, "Your supply comes from God, not your patients." That may be true, but it almost makes it sound like we should not expect a full income from patients who are healed! And yet, I discovered that Mary Baker Eddy did expect this. In the Manual of the Mother Church she wrote: "Members of this Church who practise other professions or pursue other vocations, shall not advertise as healers, excepting those members who are officially engaged in the work of Christian Science, and they must devote ample time for faithful practice" (p. 82). I reasoned that the requirement for practitioners advertising in the Journal to be fully available to the public would not have been made if Mary Baker Eddy did not expect practitioners to make a living from charging patients.
If our healing practice is based on a Christly model then it must radiate dominion, peace, calm, and spiritual regeneration.
I found even stronger confirmation of this conclusion in another book: "Christian Science practitioners should make their charges for treatment equal to those of reputable physicians in their respective localities" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 237). It seemed to me that the expectation here was that practitioners with active practices should be able to make the same kind of income as a "reputable physician." I asked myself, do I really take this seriously today? Is it possible to do that today? So I contacted several clinics and asked what it would cost to sit down and consult with a physician. Although a doctor has additional costs such as equipment, office help, and insurance, this still gave me a general idea of what my charges should be.
I found it interesting that setting a proper charge for my practice didn't reduce the number of patients. Instead, my practice began to grow.
Part of the above quote from the Church Manual says that practitioners who "practise other professions or pursue other vocations" shall not advertise in The Christian Science Journal. Having no other profession or vocation than the healing practice allows one to be fully engaged and available for this work. And yet the one continuing complaint I've heard about practitioners above all others is lack of availability.
As I thought about this standard from the Church Manual, it seemed to me that being available to pray for others is not just about the hours we spend next to a phone. If my practice was truly founded on a Christly, not just a human, love for others, it would come with both a spiritual awareness of and commitment to the needs of others.
Christ Jesus' example is a perfect model when it comes to all aspects of the practice, especially when it comes to availability. He demonstrated such spiritual discernment that he knew exactly where to be, whom to approach, and how to respond, at any time of day or night. He demonstrated not only a 24/7 readiness for healing, but an alertness and awareness of the need in each case—essential in any successful healing practice.
Can such a fully-available practice be a burden? As a mere human career, yes. If our healing practice is based on a Christly model then it must radiate dominion, peace, calm, and spiritual regeneration. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28–30). Isn't a healing practice based on this model the perfect place to prove Mary Baker Eddy's words: "The highest and sweetest rest, even from a human standpoint, is in holy work" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 519–520).
EXPECTING QUICK AND WHOLE HEALING
It may seem strange to think of a Christian Science practitioner as not expecting a quick healing, but subtle temptations are there. One of the biggest is allowing yourself to be on "retainer"— accepting a case for a predetermined time. You might hear statements like the following: "Would you stay with me through the weekend?" "I have a big event coming up next week. Will you keep praying for me until then?" "I have a long standing problem. Could we set up a regular time each week to pray?" In each of these situations the patient is believing in delayed good. And the practitioner must be alert to that belief so he or she can represent and expect the immediacy of God's blessing.
The Church Manual states it best: "I recommend that each member of this Church shall strive to demonstrate by his or her practice, that Christian Science heals the sick quickly and wholly, thus proving this Science to be all that we claim for it" (p. 92).
DEALING WITH OPPOSITION TO THE PRACTICE
Today I consider the question from my wife's grandfather as a constructive criticism. However, there is a criticism towards the practice that is not constructive. While I was establishing my practice I was surprised how many things occurred that had me wondering if it was worth it. I had a string of physical challenges, criticism from others and even good friends, as well as a general sense of unworthiness. At the time, I thought it was just me. Years later, I discovered I wasn't the only one. In fact, I have heard from many practitioners who have told me they have gone through the same challenges and more.
While the tendency is to think these are solely problems of a personal nature, they are not. These challenges represent the opposition of the carnal mind to our full commitment to Christ's healing ministry—to what Mary Baker Eddy called "the highest position in this sphere of being" (L03524, Mary Baker Eddy to James A. Neal, January 29, 1897, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library). Another way to view this is to ask yourself, What would the carnal mind oppose more than a healing practice that follows in the footsteps of Christ Jesus? So why would we underestimate the need to handle an aggressive opposition to it? This is why alert practitioners address this opposition on a daily basis!
One way I did this was to daily affirm my obedience to God's law and my alertness to any subtle belief or error. This became a focus of my study, too. I wanted to be sure I did not gloss over what Mary Baker Eddy said in this area, so I studied all the references to animal magnetism. This was very helpful in not only disarming the carnal mind's so-called influence, but also being alert to the mental nature of these beliefs before they had an impact.
CHOICE OF PATIENTS
Great wisdom and prayer is needed before, during, and after a case. In fact, Mrs. Eddy even wrote that choosing patients is left to the "wisdom of the practitioner" (Church Manual, p. 87). While practitioners never give human advice or counsel to a patient, they do decide how best to treat each case and whether they should continue at all. It is true that every call for help should be answered with love and blessings. Still, there are times, for various reasons, where the highest wisdom is to lovingly step aside. In all cases, we need be sure to see that it is divine wisdom at work and not just human sympathy or cold-hearted reasoning.
I should reemphasize that each person's experience is individual. And how each one establishes his or her own practice will be distinct and unique. And yet the metaphysics, the need to daily defend one's practice, and Mary Baker Eddy's design for the practice, apply to all of us.
Again, it is one's love for God and mankind, and our alertness to the carnal mind's opposition, that really determines success in healing. And these bring the spiritual qualities that are helpful in any business—for example, dedication, orderliness, constancy, and service.
The richness of our own experience helps us fill our distinct niche as modern-day disciples of Jesus. Mary Baker Eddy gave us the model for the practitioner in her Church Manual and in her other writings. Valuing and trusting this model in all ways, guides and protects all aspects of one's practice—sometimes in ways that aren't readily apparent at the time. In this way, the practitioner has the opportunity to make "full proof of [his or her] ministry" (II Tim. 4:5). What more could you ask from any career?
Phil Davis is manager of Committees on Publication. He is also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.