When dentists look in my mouth, they see ski boats and luxury sedans and the chance to finally take that month long tour with their family in Italy. I have what in the periodontal community is known as a “lottery month.” I’ve got fillings to be replaced, cavities from having braces three different times and a gold mine of potential wisdom teeth to remove.
And the day before I spoke at the Off the Blogs event in February, I even had an emergency root canal.
It started at four in the morning. Waves of pain began rocking me every forty minutes. The right side of my face would turn grey, one eye would go red and I would enter a small space in my head where my dying tooth would scream, “There is no pain in this dojo!” But there was pain in that dojo, oh there was. I went to work and tried to tough it out. I scheduled an appointment with a root canal specialist and then set my stop watch to 24 hours because that’s how long I had to make it.
By the time my appointment rolled around, I wanted to hug the dentist I was so happy to be there. I was moments away from freedom, I was on the edge of relief and I was ecstatic.
But it didn’t quite go the way I thought it would.
At minute 90 during the procedure I was still in agonizing pain. Apparently I have roller coaster roots that flip and turn inside my teeth. So the dentist couldn’t use just an electric tool to kill them. Instead he had to also use hand tools and slowly twist his way with some sort of long thin file into my teeth. Imagine someone spinning a titanium needle between their thumb and pointer finger back and forth deep inside your tooth for an hour and a half.
So I asked for more novacaine. Based on the pain I was in, I figured the dentist would say, “Sure, hook up this camelback hydration system and drink it through a straw. Have all you want.” Instead, he said:
“I can’t give you anymore. I’ve already reached the limit of what you can handle. If I give you anymore, your vision will blur.”
My first thought was, “For how long? I’m not reading a book right now. I’ll get a cab to take me home. Are you saying my vision will blur forever or just for a few days? I promise, I don’t need perfect vision for the rest of this week. Give me the novacaine.”
But he wouldn’t and so I sat there with increasing flows of electricity shooting through the nerve highway of my mouth. I thought I had reached the worst point until I felt a hygienist place something in my hand. “Did that really just happen?” I thought to myself? “Did a hygienist just place a ball in my hand to squeeze because it’s about to get even worse? What century am I in? I’m not getting a Pancho Villa bullet removed on a battlefied right now. A ball? Seriously? Is there not a strap of leather I can bite down on too? Just go ahead and give me a shot of bourbon while you’re at it and heat up an iron to cauterize the wound.”
The whole experience was extremely difficult, but within 24 hours after leaving the dentist’s office I felt better. I started to feel good again and realized that I was glad he hadn’t potentially risked my long term eyesight for the instant relief of my very temporary pain. I’d like to say that was the only time in my life I’ve willingly wanted to trade long term consequences for short term gains, but then that would be a lie.
I think God can rattle off 2 billion times when I’ve made the same request to Him. When something in my life has been painful and I’ve tried to find a shortcut out of it. When I couldn’t understand His long term plan for my life and said, “This is too much. Hit me with some God novacaine. I don’t care what kind of lesson you’re teaching me in this. I don’t care about refining. It hurts, let’s get this over with.”
I don’t think I’m the only one that’s done this and I wonder sometimes if that was what Joseph felt like when he got freed from the well. He must have been terrified when his brothers threw him down into that cistern in the desert. He must have thought he was dead, that he was in an inescapable pit. But then, for a brief moment he might have felt like freedom had arrived. His brothers were returning for him, they were lifting him out. He was free. He was rescued.
But in the blink of an eye, his pain went to a different place and he was sold into slavery.
Sometimes, the hardest moments in life are not the initial painful experiences we go through, but the times we think it’s over and it’s not. When we think we’ve escaped an illness but it returns. The times we finally got a job after being unemployed for a year but get laid off in the first month at our new one. The times we think we’ve reconciled with our husbands but things fall apart again.
I don’t know what’s going on in your life. Maybe things are great right now and you’re thinking “oh jeez Serious Wednesday.” That’s awesome that things are good right now, God certainly showers us with greatness. But maybe you just went from a great job to a no job kind of situation. Maybe you’re crying out for novacaine right now. I don’t know your specifics, but what I do know is that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
It’s not in some things, or in most things or in the things that make sense in the moment. It’s all things. And for the ones that hurt, for the moments that don’t make any sense whatsoever, we’re given a great reassurance in Romans 8:26.
“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
I love that.
I love that when we don’t have the right words or the perfect words, the Spirit groans for us. That’s the prayer I pray during life’s root canal moments. I just ask the Spirit to “groan.” It’s not the most elaborate prayer. It’s not that fancy, and it would make perhaps the world’s shortest book. But when I’m in a corner and don’t know what to pray for because the pain doesn’t seem to line up with my plans, that’s all I say to the Holy Spirit. That’s my simple prayer request.