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RICHES OF THE SPIRIT

A Conversation with EVAN MEHLENBACHER
Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Richland, Washington

From the June 2007 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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If our hopes and affections are spiritual, they come from above, not from beneath, and they bear as of old the fruits of the Spirit.
—Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

Sometimes you plan a trip. Stick to the map. Arrive at the appointed destination. But sometimes you let the spirit move you, and you let the trip just happen—carrying you to an unexpected place that energizes you, even transforms you. Recently, I took just such a spirit-of-the-moment conversational journey with on a spring afternoon here in Boston. Join us, as a comment I made about my daughter's first year in college triggers Evan's flashback to his own college days ...

I got accepted at Stanford. But it was very expensive. My parents said, "Farming is tough now. We can't afford to send you there, but, Evan, if you can pay your own way then you can go." So I went. No aid, no scholarships. I earned my way through Stanford. I ran out of money the first quarter of my senior year, but I had enough credits, so I graduated early. I was ready to get out into the real world anyway!

You had no loans to pay?

No. I grew up on a farm. First a potato farm then we moved and Dad switched to apples. He paid us to work in the fields. Every penny I earned, I saved from day one. We never spent on anything. We didn't know about spending. We only knew about saving. And so I had a good financial start when I began college. But I also played the organ. Played a lot of organ during college, sometimes for two churches at once, plus weddings and funerals. And I sold pianos and organs for a dealer.

So you put yourself through Stanford playing the organ and selling organs. That's a great story.

During my first summer in college I wanted a different experience than working on the farm, so I got this job selling organs and pianos at a store in the mall. And I was very successful, often selling as many as all the other salesmen combined. I had a knack for the job.

And to what do you attribute your success?

Well, I could play the instruments. I'd sit at the entrance of the store playing pop tunes and would draw a crowd. My enthusiasm and love of the music was contagious, and other people wanted the same experience.

You had hands-on, practical knowledge of what you were selling—could demo it for people. And that made all the difference.

It sure did. I'll tell you, when I went off to college, I figured that I would never, ever, come back to the farm again—ever, period. But while attending Stanford, I thought, OK, what am I going to do? I figured it would be something in business, perhaps in retail or in banking. When it came down to actually getting a job, though, I reasoned, Well, I could work for any of these corporations—but I'll start out at the bottom. Dad wanted me to come back and take over the family business, and he was a successful farmer with quite a substantial operation. I knew he would pull me into a top management position. So I thought, Honestly, what's the better option?

Start at the bottom or start at the top.

Right! And so I thought, Be grateful for the opportunity. So I went back home, and my dad was thrilled. But a love of farming wasn't in me. We did well together as a team, and the business was going to prosper as our newly planted trees matured, but the work didn't have genuine meaning for me. I began an intense spiritual search to answer the question What am I going to do with my life? It took me five years to figure the answer out and help get to where I am today.

It was very hard to break away from the farm because of Dad's plan for my future of taking over management of the operation. After about three years, I even told Dad, "Farming isn't for me. I need to do something else." But his reaction was so severe that I retracted my position. I told him, "Forget it. I didn't mean it." I really did mean it, but I didn't know how to break free of the negative reaction.

At that point, where were you on your journey to a full-time Christian Science healing practice? Did you have any kind of practice at all?

I had a part-time practice. About two years after college I made a phone call that changed the course of my life. I was supposed to ask this woman a question about special help she might need for attending church, but when I phoned, she wasn't interested in what I had to say. She was suffering from arthritis in her knees, and she could hardly get around her apartment, let alone drive and get her groceries. She was overwhelmed with grief and fear—terror-stricken for her future. She was in her late 80s, had no friends, no family, and was stuck in her apartment.

When I called, out it came—her whole story. I'm listening to her bitter tale of woe on the phone, and the first thing I'm thinking is, I need to get out of this conversation as fast as possible. Because I didn't know what to do! But then I thought, Are you going to walk on by someone in need like the Levite and the priest? Or are you going to be the Samaritan who gets down and helps? And honestly, I think I debated about what to do for 15 minutes while on the phone, and I was sweating bullets, Jeffrey—thinking, I can't do this. Finally I put my trust in God's help, pushed the fear aside, and asked, "Would you like me to pray with you about this?" And she said, "Oh, would you please? I can't think of anything I need more." I was shocked. She actually wanted my spiritual help, and now I had to help!

And that offer to help was the beginning of my practice. She was my first public patient. I said, "I'll pray for you tonight and come over and visit you as soon as I get off work tomorrow," which was a Saturday. I prayed for her as promised, and I went over to her apartment the next day. She greeted me at the door, and said, "Look, Evan, no walker." She'd walked across the living room on her own, and we sat down and talked for 40 minutes about Christian Science and the healing power of God. And I just loved her. That's really what I was doing, loving her and knowing God's love for her. And the effect was profound. The love of Truth I was sharing with her came right back to me in the form of her love for what I had to share. She was so receptive. It was a holy time for both of us. That visit and prayer marked a major turnaround for her and for me.

She was at church the first time in months the next day. She drove herself in her own car and continued with her independent living. She started telling her friends, "Evan and I prayed together, and now I can walk again." And they started calling me, too.

Word got around.

Oh, yes. I had probably one to three patients call per day after that one visit. And I was very hard to get hold of, because I was working long days on the farm—10–12 hours, average. So they'd reach me early in the morning or at lunch or at night. And that was the birth of my practice.

But all the while I was struggling with my dad's expectations and the question, "What do I do with the rest of my life?" I would have loved to have gone into the full-time healing practice, but I was terrified about having no money. I was young—24, 25—and I had no extra money. Every penny I saved I was using to plant apple trees on a piece of orchard ground. But that was a ten-year project. You don't earn money off of fruit trees until they grow up, and that takes years.

But then I got married. Kathy moved from Denver to the farm. I had a practice going, was working long hours on the farm, and was a newlywed. I'd come home from work and have to call my patients. And I was a Reader, too, at church, and Kathy was asking, "Where do I fit in here?" I wasn't doing a good job of bringing her into this busy, busy life that I had. Something had to give. And of course it wasn't going to be the marriage, and I wasn't going to give the practice up, so the farm had to go.

Kathy was like an angel sent from God into my life. She was a huge source of encouragement, because I would say, "How are we going to support ourselves if I go into the practice?" And she would say, "Don't worry about it, we'll be OK. God is taking care of us." Her faith was the push that got me over my fear of lack.

So I told Dad, "I have to go." It was a heart-wrenching conversation with tears and remorse. But it had to happen. I told him, "I'll stay with you till the end of the year, while you figure out what to do next." And I did. That fall, Kathy and I moved back to Denver to give Dad and ourselves space to figure out our futures. He kept the orchard for two years, and then sold out for a good price, which was the right thing to do. At the time I left, you couldn't sell an apple orchard for much because the price of apples was very depressed. In time, I knew the price of apples would rise and give the land I owned value again, enabling me to recoup my investment. But I was learning to value spiritual riches over the material, and was more than ready to let my orchard go with no return. I wasn't going to wait for material gain. And I didn't want to suffer in the wrong job anymore. So we put all of our worldly belongings in the back of Kathy's Toyota pickup and my little Dodge Colt, and with a little money in the bank, headed off to Denver. Three years later, Dad had sold the farm, and we moved back home to Washington.

Was Kathy employed?

She worked in irrigation on country club golf courses. She earned a modest wage, but it kept us going the first couple of years. We moved into a one-bedroom apartment, and we were as happy as could be. We could buy food and put gas in the car. That was enough for us. We had no expensive tastes.

And the calls kept coming in for Christian Science help?

They did. I had a small practice in the early years, but it was a time of learning how to leave all for Christ. There were major shifts in thought I had to make progress spiritually, like leaving an overconcern about money behind. See, my earlier goal had been to be a millionaire. I was going to be rich—and at a young age. That's what my dad taught: You make money. And I would have become a millionaire in time if I had stayed with the family business. But I was seeing clearly that happiness does not come from money. It comes from God, and can only be found in Spirit, not in the ownership of things.

When you say, "leave all for Christ," I know you don't mean Jesus. So let's pause for a moment and throw light on the meaning of the word Christ.

Christ is the truth about God manifest in the human experience for our healing benefit. It's the spiritual power and presence of God always at work on our behalf. You don't find this power in matter. You don't find it in material medicine or pills. You don't find it in money or things. You don't find it in fame, popularity, status, prestige, or position. The Christ is pure Spirit in action. And Spirit is where the healing power comes from. The Christ-consciousness is a consciousness of spiritual life, and it's a consciousness that heals. But to have that consciousness, your thinking can't be filled with love and desire for material things.

OK. And how do we view the man Jesus?

Well, I think Jesus has demonstrated the Christ better than anyone.

He was in touch with the power of divine Truth better than anyone's ever been.

Yes, and even more than just being in touch, he was so at-one with the Christ in his thinking that the Christ ruled his actions, his career, his destiny. He was totally unselfish and constantly yielding to the Christ influence. He lived for God, not for himself.

And healing brings out that true Christ-element—that true Christ identity—in everyone, doesn't it?

Yes, we're looking for the Christ in everyone, in our patients and in ourselves.

And when we recognize anyone's true Christ nature, including our own, that view brings healing. Mary Baker Eddy zeroes in on this idea in Science and Health when she says, "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick" (pp. 475–76).

And this is where "leave all for Christ" enters the healing practice. To "leave all for Christ" you have to drop any limited material viewpoint that denies the presence of spiritual perfection here and now. To see your neighbors as the perfect children of God, you have to let go of the physical view of them, of the belief that they are mortal and prone to imperfection. You have to drop any disease-belief that appears attached to them. You have to forsake all fears and doubts that deny they are the perfect children of God.

Beautiful. Now, let's pick up where we left off. What did you major in at Stanford?

Economics. Much of my study was focused on money—how to earn it, how to keep it and how to spend it. Most of my dorm mates were concerned about earning money. I highly treasure my experience at Stanford, for it is an outstanding educational institution but the mental climate was success oriented and I bought into it as much as anyone. It was a mindset I had been immersed in for years. The mesmeric hold on my thinking at the time was quite strong.

Before I was ready to go into the healing practice, I had to give that love of money up. And through five years of often severe struggle after graduation, I successfully made the shift from wanting to be a millionaire to desiring the riches of Spirit above all else. I asked myself, "What has value and worth in life—is it money or is it Truth?" As a youngster and in high school, I accumulated many trophies and awards, and I had this big trophy shelf in my bedroom to display them. During my search for Truth in college I began to glimpse that there was more to life than fame and worldly success. I just hadn't figured it all out yet. In my pursuit of spiritually satisfying answers I pored through Ecclesiastes and the Sermon on the Mount to understand better the difference between true spiritual riches and monetary vainglory. And I seriously took to heart what I read. "Vanity upon vanity," the Preacher said about the accumulation of material wealth. "You cannot serve God and mammon," Jesus preached. One day, I looked at all these awards on my trophy shelf, and I thought, I don't want to be identified with this type of display anymore. I studied where Mrs. Eddy wrote, "State honors perish, and their gain is loss to the Christian Scientist" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 358). I wanted spiritual gain in my life, not temporal applause. So I boxed up all my trophies, even my high-school Valedictorian award. All of it—bags of stuff. Took it all out to the dump, threw it as far as I could, and that was the end of my wanting to pursue worldly acclaim. A deep spiritual peace swept over me, and I have never regretted the action. It symbolized a massive purging of materialism from my thought. Whoa ... what a cleansing ...

So you graduate from college, and you suddenly decide to restructure your whole point of view.

Absolutely! My whole point of view. That five-year period after college amounted to a seismic shift in my thinking from wanting to be materially rich and worldly successful to wanting a genuine, meaningful spiritual life. I wanted to know Truth more than anything. The Christ purged me of the desire for material success. And it culminated in my ability to walk away from the family business, which was extremely hard for my dad, family, and friends to understand because the financial future of the business was so promising. But making that transition from matter to Spirit was necessary to prepare me for the practice.

Prosperity is fine if one's heart is right. So when someone says, "Leave all for Christ," I can relate to the theme in a very practical way. It's not just a theoretical, intellectual exercise. It means leave ALL for Christ—leave your love of the world, leave your attachment to things, leave your pursuit of money, leave your love of temporal glories behind, in whatever forms they take. And devote your heart, mind, energy, and soul to Truth—to pursuing divine Love, to pursuing God. You cannot be mentally focused on a pursuit of worldly riches and a pursuit of spiritual riches at the same time. You can't do it. Jesus was literal when he said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth ... where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6:19–21).

Very few, if any, of us are ready to take the radical position Jesus took of walking around with just the garment on his back. You have to be practical about what you're ready to demonstrate. But Jesus still was literal. "Follow me," means follow me to Spirit. And that means, let go of your attachment to the world. I think about the simple life he lived and that he did not spend his time seeking position or power for himself. He didn't spend his time, energies, and resources building a social, economic or political position in the world, and saying, Look at what I've done. His thought, time, and energy were focused on Spirit, on being obedient to God.

So how has this concept played out in your life—in your healing practice, in becoming a Christian Science teacher, and being able to support Kathy and your three children?

Well, that's a short easy question!

You have me on the edge of my seat because you've taken a radical stand. You successfully restructured your thinking. You were put to the test, and you chose the marriage and the practice. You got out of the family business and settled up with your dad. Then what?

I have to say I was still dealing with a fear of lack the first two years in the practice. We were never in a crisis. Our needs were met day to day. But I started worrying about the future. We can never have kids—think about putting them through college! Forget it. Or, What do we do when our car wears out and we have to buy a new one? I was starting to worry about big picture expenses. So much so that at one point I lost hope. This was another "leave all for Christ" moment. And even though the practice was going OK, it was very modest, and I thought, I don't think I'm going to make it, I don't think I'm going to succeed.

I actually picked up the phone and dialed my dad. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was going to tell him I was going to come back to the farm. I hadn't told Kathy. I called him and the phone rang and rang and rang. I thought, There's a message here. And I hung up the phone and said to myself, "You're never going back—God's not going to let you." I would have made the worst decision of my life if my dad had answered the phone. But it did not happen. That, to me, was proof that God was going to protect me no matter what. God wasn't going to let me make a mistake. Feeling that protection was a major turning point in my faith for our future. I knew we were okay.

"God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof."—Job 28:23

So I had this growing sense that when I serve God, He'll take care of me. The Bible says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). Don't outline your future in human terms. It was a major eye-opening day when I realized that I didn't have to earn a living. Life is a gift. It's a gift from God. We don't earn it. It's given to us. And that's what we're doing in the practice—acknowledging the life God has already given us. And it's full and it's complete. It's already supplied, and it's only what Science and Health calls "mortal mind" that wants to dictate that life's good comes in small or limited quantities. But mortal mind is wrong. God is the supplier of all good, and it comes abundantly, not first in the form of money, but in the form of ideas. God doesn't hand out money, but He does supply wisdom, truth and love. The ideas of truth and love are the "supply thoughts" that manifest themselves humanly as bills paid and needs met. And God is an unlimited supplier of these "supply thoughts."

I think over the years that as my love of God kept growing along with my commitment to doing the best I could at the healing work, God continued to bless my practice more and more along the way. I was learning to be more prepared to respond to the demand for healing that had been there all along. And so things started to happen. At one point I was a representative for the church's Christian Science Organizations for colleges. Later, I worked at The Mother Church for a year.

Through all of these experiences I've learned something about economics that I didn't learn at Stanford. I've learned that we live in the universe of divine Mind, where true substance takes the form of ideas. And sure enough, economics is the management of your resources, but in the healing practice you realize your resources are not physical. They're not even human concepts. They're divine ideas, and you're in the business of expressing those divine ideas. That's what you have to offer, and as you successfully share those assets with your clientele, that exchange in turn meets your own human needs. And your divine resources are infinite.

Today my practice keeps moving ahead. If there's ever a worry now, it's not about having enough patients, but having too many patients.

You've been experiencing abundance.

It's interesting. You know, I gave public lectures on Christian Science for ten years. I did over 500 lectures. I traveled 120,000 miles a year around North America. I went overseas a couple of times, and then I worked again at The Mother Church a few years ago, this time for two years. I didn't do so much traveling those two years, but all the other years were very busy. (I have an amazing wife who put up with that!) I was gone 100 days a year, and we had two young kids at home, But then it came time to let others do the job at The Mother Church, and I was a little bit concerned at first. Oh, I'm just going to be at home—I wonder what's going to happen to my practice? I wasn't sure. But honest to goodness, my practice grew exponentially because I was home. Patients could reach me. And it's quadrupled since that time. It kept getting so busy that I would come home from the office and say to my wife, "I don't how I can keep up." I was getting calls constantly, and visits and e-mail all day. I have about 40–50 percent of my practice by e-mail. After saying this several times to Kathy, she looked at me one day and said "Isn't this what you wanted?" And my answer was, "Yes it is!"

Life is much different today than it was 20 years ago. I feared a lack of money in the early days, now it's a lack of time I contend with. But that's just a lie, too. We don't live in a universe of time and space. In Spirit there are no limits, no boundaries, and the practice is not about dividing your life into segments of time, but about expressing infinite Love where there is no time. And the demand on the practitioner is to do that better, to express more of the one infinite Love that meets all needs at once. And what a joy it is!

♦

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