In the Preface of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which sets forth the divine Science of Mind-healing that Jesus practiced, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Future ages must declare what the pioneer has accomplished” (p. vii). This occasional “Mary Baker Eddy and . . .” series looks at how the life and ideas of this extraordinary woman have pointed the way, and continue to point the way, to individual and collective spiritual progress.
It felt as though the mantle of motherhood was crushing me.
It was a right move to stay home with my two kids under the age of two and leave my career in the automotive industry. It had been clear for some time that this wasn’t the career for me. But now at home alone with the babies, I missed the respect, the order of my day, and the independence I had enjoyed. A stark realization was dawning of the sacrifices and patience required as a parent, and of my apparent shortcomings in this new role.
Yearning to stretch my mind beyond the latest episode of Sesame Street and kick this feeling of discouragement, I began to read through a biography about Mary Baker Eddy, which highlighted her achievements in the 19th and 20th centuries and her place in history as one of the only women to found a global religion.
Growing up in a family that practiced Christian Science, I had learned in Sunday School of this scientific, spiritual approach to healing that Christ Jesus taught, and that Eddy rediscovered and codified. But I didn’t know much about her journey, and how she came to be one of the most recognized and accomplished women of her time. As I read, I felt strengthened by the courageous example of her paradigm-breaking life, redefining what a woman could be. And as I journeyed along with Eddy, I began to feel a growing sisterhood with her.
Soon I was reading any biography of her life I could find, seeing how she overcame challenges of chronic illness, motherhood, marriage difficulties, poverty, and the career limitations of being a woman back then. Despite the many obstacles, she was always certain that God must have the answers. Her principal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes her quest: “For three years after my discovery, I sought the solution of this problem of Mind-healing, searched the Scriptures and read little else, kept aloof from society, and devoted time and energies to discovering a positive rule. The search was sweet, calm, and buoyant with hope, not selfish nor depressing” (p. 109).
My journey, though, was feeling a bit selfish and depressing. While I had always wanted to be a mother and be present to care for my children, I watched my husband and friends seem to enjoy more autonomy and career satisfaction. But it was comforting to know that while Eddy, too, was discouraged at times, she never gave up her quest to find health and security. And she didn’t see her difficult circumstances as standing in the way, but as opportunities that graciously prepared her for her life’s work.
The qualities of motherhood are qualities of God.
Growth in Grace
Through the wider lens of her life’s story, the words in her published works—which had long been familiar to me—took on a whole new meaning. One passage in particular from Science and Health really spoke to me. “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (p. 4). As I read, I imagined her writing these words from the fount of her own experience. Having been unable to earn a steady income as a woman struggling with illness, and having been abandoned by her husband, grace was essential for her. During her years of searching, she must have realized that she would need to cultivate selflessness and lovingkindness to accomplish all that God intended for her.
While my every human need was met, I too knew that my need was for more “patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.” That passage about grace became a mission statement to me, as I began to embrace day-to-day challenges. It goes without saying that my sweet and growing family benefited greatly from this as well.
God as Mother
One of Eddy’s most profound contributions to humanity was her elucidation of God’s nature as Mother as well as Father. She had a great love for God and had been taught in the church where she grew up to view God as more of an all-powerful Judge, but she learned from her mother the nature of God as Love, to whom we can turn for comfort and healing.
Poring over her Bible in her youth, she also must have discovered the words in John’s First Epistle describing God as Love: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (4:16). She would later say in one of her writings: “To me God is All. He is best understood as Supreme Being, as infinite and conscious Life, as the affectionate Father and Mother of all He creates; . . .” (Unity of Good, p. 48). As I thought about this, my new role as a mother began to feel more natural and innate. The qualities of motherhood were qualities of God, and so as God’s spiritual offspring I naturally reflected grace, compassion, patience, and kindness.
Motherhood was not a mantle that was crushing me—motherhood was what was needed for this precious family that God had set me in. As I continued to learn from Eddy’s example, I felt a growing sense of purpose and fulfillment even in the most mundane tasks, as every moment became a chance to uplift thought.
No Timetable for Achievement
I also learned from Eddy that there is no timetable to realize one’s purpose in life. She didn’t even begin the career she is known for as the Discoverer, Founder, and Leader of Christian Science until her mid-forties. In fact, while many men and women (even today) wind down by their sixties, she was ramping up, with the most active years of her career still ahead and taking her well into her eighties.
As a much fuller and grander notion of womanhood began to take shape for me, I became aware of many other women who lived purposeful lives as mothers as well as vibrant thinkers and leaders: suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who was a mother of seven) and Lucretia Mott (who had six children), who were contemporaries of Eddy; and modern-day leaders like former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was a dedicated working mother who took calls from her three daughters no matter where she was, and former United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose husband at a certain point took a greater role in caring for their children so she was free to pursue her remarkable career. It felt to me as though Eddy’s firm stand for both grace and strength was filtering down through the ages, raising up the standard of womanhood.
Through the greater spiritual understanding that Christian Science has given me, I now see that this time of growth provided a foundation—a hands-on “practicum”—for my future career, teaching me the patience and selflessness that would be required years later to enter the profession of a Christian Science practitioner. Eddy once stated, “For the world to understand me in my true light, and life, would do more for our Cause than aught else could” (see Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, Amplified Edition, p. 175). Learning from her example as a woman of faith, a mother, a spiritual healer, a writer, and the Leader of the Christian Science movement, I have found fresh meaning in her published words, and I understand more of the years of experience that went into every sentence she wrote.
Now 25 years (and one more child) into motherhood, still moved each day by Eddy’s guidance in following Jesus’ example, I realize that no one is typecast into a limited set of traits or gender-specific roles. We are all made by God, already complete and purposeful. Eddy believed and proved that each of us has the ability to express the motherhood and fatherhood of God—the grace, strength, patience, lovingkindness, and spiritual understanding to accomplish whatever God inspires us to do, and to fulfill our life’s work.