I went to the dentist today. Like the majority of the population out there, visiting the dentist makes me nervous. I don’t like going. I avoided it for years and it ended up not serving me well.
My teeth are gross. There is something about my mouth that just makes my teeth prone to cavities which means I have to be extra diligent in my brushing and flossing. I didn’t do this for years. I would brush once a day and call it “good enough” and just go about my merry way. For years this cycle continued and I avoided the dentist like the plague, anticipating the pain they would inflict upon me.
Then one day the pain got to be just too much. Those of you who know me or know my story know that I have a high pain tolerance so if I couldn’t handle the pain, you know it was bad!
4 years ago I finally broke down and went to the dentist. I had been having pain in my upper right molar for about a year and finally decided to deal with it. My fairy-tale thought of it just magically going away didn’t pan out. And praying for it to go away didn’t work either – God wanted me to deal with this issue.
My co-worker’s father is an amazing dentist and he made room in his schedule to see me that same day. I walked through the office full of fear, having not gone to the dentist for many years – I knew I was in for a world of hurt in order for the problem to be fixed. But more than just the pain, I was afraid of the condemnation that I would receive at the state of my teeth. In my head, I heard the berating that would come about my poor oral hygiene and how I needed to do better. I was not looking forward to the shame that was attached to this visit.
I sat in the chair and was met by a kind, older, white-haired gentleman who looked like your typical grandfather. He was reassuring and, well, kind is the perfect word to describe him. My mouth was disgusting and my pain-causing tooth was rotted. I had left decay go for so long in my mouth that it led to death.
The dentist tried to save the tooth but it was too far gone; he used all of his considerable skill and knowledge but there was simply nothing he could do. The tooth had to come out. Now I have a hole in the back of my mouth where that second molar used to be and, to me, it’s a reminder of grace.
You see, we all have things in our lives like my rotted tooth (what a gross analogy!). In the Bible these are usually called “sins that so easily entangle us” or “stumbling blocks”. These are the things that we have in our lives that aren’t for our benefit but we usually keep around for some reason. Maybe we’re scared of the pain of removing it. Maybe we don’t know what it would be like to not have it in our lives. Maybe we’re dreading the shame that would come with confession. So we hang onto this thing in our lives that’s slowly poisoning us until we hit rock bottom, that place where we just can’t do it any more. Then the tooth has to come out.
After that visit to the dentist I was in a lot of pain. I was out of commission for a couple of days, lying in my bed, wallowing in self-pity, beating myself up for my stupidity, with icepacks on my face. The pain remained for a while but it did indeed go away.
The longer we hang onto those things that don’t serve us, the more painful it will be when they’re forcibly removed. But that sting will go away, it won’t last forever. It doesn’t seem like it at the time but, eventually, that pain diminishes as we embrace our new normal. Thank God for his love that sticks with us in even the darkest and most painful of seasons.
I want to encourage you to do the hard thing today and quit something that’s toxic to your life. Maybe it’s not watching a certain television show or listening to a certain artist. Maybe you need to have a conversation with someone about boundaries. Or maybe you need to join Celebrate Recovery or some other 12 recovery program and admit that you have hurts, habits, and hangups that need to be addressed. Whatever that thing is for you, I encourage you to be courageous today and take your next step. Do what you have to do to remove the toxic and decaying thing from your life. And know that we’re all here cheering you on!