So this past week I went to the dentist. Bloody gums, check. Sore mouth for few days, check. Look of disappointment from dentist, check. One of my favorite lines from Matt Adair’s brother, Nathan, is when he told me when he said to the dental hygenist when he went to get his teeth cleaned. As his gums were bleeding from the brutual cleaning, the hygenist asked him if he was flossing… and he said, “would you believe me if I said yes?” That makes me laugh. Clearly my bleeding gums showed that I was guilty of this sin of omission, i.e. not flossing or using listerine:) So I really dreaded going to the appointment, but out of fear of a cavity and worse damage later, I got my big girl pants on and went off to the dentist. This may sound funny, but I really did have to pray that I wouldn’t be in “too much trouble” with the dentist because I hadn’t been in a year. I should say on the front end of this that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I created it to be in my head, and the dentist and hygienist were very gracious with my poor habits. I did get a good talking to about not drinking so much coke or coffee with creamer, and after my 3 lashings I said I was sorry and would attempt to drink less coke, more water. Now on to my deeper musings while sitting in a dentist chair…
As I sat there in the super comfortable chair, eyes closed, with some one’s hands in my mouth, I thought about the work of keeping your teeth clean (which I hadn’t done). The hygienist had to first use this scraper to get the plaque or tartar off my teeth. She had to do this for each tooth, scraping around the whole surface. Then the hygienist used that not so great tasting paste to polish each tooth with some motorized device. After that, to get all that paste out, I got a good flossin’. As if my gums weren’t crying enough, more blood tears poured out with further agitation from the waxed string. I knew I had almost made it and would soon be done. I was thinking how much less painful this experience would be if I (a) flossed regulary, and (b) trained my gums to be “strong’ by using the tear producing listerine. <apply dentistry metaphor to life here>
It’s funny how something like teeth cleaning can remind me about big truths of this world, my life, and God. I was thinking as I was sitting there that the condition of our lives are so much like our teeth. We neglect certain areas of life, usually to the point where we realize we need to make some changes but we know those changes will hurt a little bit. It’s just one of the universal principles: the more we let something build up and don’t deal with it, the more work it is to fix in the end. This could apply to so many things (i.e. cleaning the house, work, relationships) but I was thinking specifically in my relationship to God. I go through times where I haven’t prayed or talked with God about life, I haven’t read his promises to me about his love and how he is in control, or just have been to busy to remember who He is and who I am created to be. I get busy, like everyone, and as more time passes, it is easy to see that parts of me have become harder. Like plaque, there are areas of my life that are exposed when I go before God to pray, and graciously God always forgives and leads me into new ways of living, freeing me from plaque life. But like my putting off of the dentist appointment, I often put off that “meeting with God” because of other things demanding my attention, or because I know that God has some things to show me in my heart that may be hard to swallow.
We learned in campus ministry in college about these “quiet times” or as some people call them, “devotions.” I really didn’t know much about that term before college, although I did know that Christians seemed to read their bibles. I am such as “why” person, meaning I usually don’t like to do things unless I know why it is significant. So this quiet time thing was supposed to be a time to go before God, pray, and read his word. Why? There are so many answers to that question based on who you talk to, but for me, at this point in my life, I need to be reminded of the truth of God and life as passed down in the bible. I wake up in the morning and the worries and cares of life can easily begin to take over. I find myself doing great until so one criticizes me for something, and I easily believe lies that I stink at something or over think my failures in a particular area. I know that this is the battle every one of us faces daily, a dilemma about what to believe, who to trust, wondering if our lives are significant, having the strength to handle the different situations that come our way. I know that I need Jesus to remind me of his varied promises from scripture because I will forget them. Promises like he has numbered all my days, that not a hair falls from my head apart from his will, and that he takes care of the birds of the air… how much more so will he take care of me as I am much more valuable in God’s eyes than a bird. Promises that those who trust in the Lord will not be moved or shaken by the surrounding storms. Promises that the Lord will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on the Lord, for he trusts in the Lord. Promises that the man who delights in the words of the Lord will be like a tree planted by streams of water, and whose leaves do not wither and bears fruit. That is what we all desire: peace, stability, blessedness. Yet we often wake up believing that if we could just get the house clean for good, then we would have peace. We think that stability comes when all our finances are set, money in the bank, contributing to an IRA, and refinance our house. We believe that we will be blessed, or happy, if everyone could just approve of our work and when we “arrive” at a place where we can’t be criticized because we are just so great at what we are doing. This is the plaque that builds up on the proverbial teeth of our souls. This plaque can harden and produce cavities in our hearts, holes that cannot be filled by the thing we thought could satisfy us. These cavities must be addressed if further damage is to be prevented. This is the battle we face every day, although like dental care, we don’t realize the damage that daily neglect can do to our souls.
My time with God, preferably quiet and in the morning before the onslaught of activities begins, is a dental care for my heart. It is the work of reminding myself what God has spoken ages ago and is still relevant today to my life. It is bringing my cares before God, knowing that there isn’t anything too small or insignificant that he doesn’t want to hear. I can be reminded of his truths about his world and my life, and ask God for strength to believe where peace, stability, and blessedness can be found. It can free me from the desire to control all my circumstances, and enable me to love people instead of use them for my own controlling purposes. Sometimes, especially when it has been a while, my visits with the Lord are hard to get into. I am praying to someone I can’t see. I am reading a book written at least 2000 years ago. I am fighting to believe in the face of people around me who would say that is absolutely nuts and worthless. But I have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” and that the Lord is a rewarder of those who seek him. Sometimes it just means that I have some plaque that needs to be removed, and it may hurt initially. Sometimes my heart has been busy and hardened by the daily activity of life, so it is a “de-hardening” process that takes awhile to warm up to. But I know that in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore, and this motivates me to put down the computer, the remote, the to do list and invest in lasting joy. Again, this lasting joy doesn’t just “happen” when I open my bible, or start to pray, but as I hear the words of God, the promises, and meditate on the goodness of God and his specific act of love for me on the cross, I notice I am changed. Like rain that erodes a rock, I find the rain of God’s grace forming me, molding me, even though some mornings it looks like me desperately trying to stay awake to read even just one or two verses. Coffee helps that.
I thought about all this because I haven’t been spending great time with the Lord. I have been believing that if I could just clean and reorganize my house, then I would experience peace. I have been trying to get my to do list done for awhile, but find that there is always more to do. I see in me that I really just need to be close to Jesus. I need to follow him, through dirty diapers and dishes, through unanswered emails and unwashed clothes. Not that those things don’t get done, but they are not of first importance. I need to hear the calming words of Christ, and sit at his feet. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If we feel our burdens are great and we are weary, Jesus says to come to him. Yes, in that mysterious way of coming to a person you cannot see, and knowing that it won’t be some 7 steps to success experience. It won’t be 7 steps but worshiping a God who not only runs the universe but also is intimately involved and cares about each of our lives. So I was reminded that I need to be quiet before the Lord this week, even if only for 10 minutes, before the hustle of the day to hear the comfort of Christ. I need a good flossin’ to get some things out of the crevices of my heart, things that get stuck in there and often cause decay.
I wanted to be a dentist for about 2 hours in college. I dropped all my classes one night because I thought I wanted to work on people’s teeth. Then I realized that all I really wanted to do is work with people and that I hate studying biology. So I quickly tried to get all my history and philosophy classes back, but most of them were filled. It was a funny few hours of figuring out my new schedule. But maybe dentistry would have been a good field for me… my bleeding gums think not:)