It is root canal morning. I hate root canals. I’ve got teeth that crumble like coffee cake. I climb into the dental chair and the hygienist reclines it. I try to relax, and I rate. I do this a lot in my mind. I’m pretty sure it isn’t normal. Would I rather be a teacher or a dentist? Teacher. A musician or a dentist? Musician. I do this in particularly unpleasant situations which validate how much I dislike something.
The technician puts what she calls a “block” in my mouth. It feels like the Duplos my grandson leaves about my basement, wedged in the recesses between upper and lower teeth.
“We’ll take that out anytime you decide you don’t want it,” she says. I don’t want it. I wonder how I will communicate that.
The dentist enters.
“How are you today?”
I can’t answer so I make a noise from somewhere in my throat.
They ask some questions to which I grunt again. How am I supposed to respond, and why do they do that? I wonder what dentists do to each other when one of them is in the dental chair, all tied up in blocks and dams.
In the chair, with the needle hovering over me, and my mouth salivating like Cooper, our grandkid’s dog, I rate the job of a dentist on par with the job of mortician.
The technician stretches something in my mouth that’s like a rubber sheet stretched from side to side. I bite the block to make sure it’s still stable. How do I swallow the lake at the back of my mouth? If I swallow, will the Duplo charge down my throat like a raft over the Hoover Dam? Can I drown like this? I bite like my life depends on it, I’m not sure but it might.
The dentist leans his face right into mine. He’s inches away. It’s disconcerting. I try not to cough, but the more I think about it, the more I need to. I’m not sure how that might end. In the reflection of his goggles, my mouth looks like a cave. My eyes close so I can’t see his blue eyes too close to mine or the mirrored gaping hole with the white rubber trampoline.
Above my head like a ping-pong round, the technician and dentist discuss life over the cavern of my mouth. They pitch back and forth last week’s baseball game, the nurse in quarantine for ebola, and the dentist’s dog who just had an operation for hemorrhoids. They pause now and then, purple latex fingers wave little pointy instruments in the air like exclamation marks, then dig and drill some more.
In spite of about 1,000 injections that numbed my lips to the thickness of a mattress, I can feel somewhere deep into my jaw a tugging. I would prefer to be put out cold, I don’t want to feel anything, especially a spiraling niggling. I wander into thoughts about pulling roots. I imagine 20 foot long spindly weed looking strands, and then for some reason out of the blue, I remember yesterday. An incident.
Lord, really here? I talk to God inside my imposed silence.
An overhaul of the heart along with the tooth?
But this is the beauty of the Holy Spirit and His relentless pursuit.
There’s a root job of the heart that needs to take place. I remember the scene. Why did what she say hurt so much?
The conversation above my head grows distant, mere backdrop noise, and I ask myself, Why did I have that reflex response? What’s at the root?
Mouth pried open, drool on my chin, the surgeon’s hands hard against my cheek, I feel at a tactical disadvantage. Why do I feel a drop in my stomach remembering the person, the circumstance?
I recognize the feeling. It’s that uncomfortable “I did something wrong” conviction.
My posture of defiance against all root canals and surgeons is moot. Yesterday drills inside my head like the instruments in my mouth.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit…”
As I feel that desensitized digging inside my jaw, I feel the Holy Spirit’s needle within my heart.
“…but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil. 2:3 NKJV)
It’s a difficult place from which to argue with dignity and control gone. Extraction is in process.
Bad roots fester. My trapped thoughts trace down the gnarled relationship and find the root. Unforgiveness lies at the base.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing.” (Phil 2:7 NIV) Made Himself nothing? Can I do that? Is it even possible?
I move my focus from water spray to Christ, to what He did, and to Who He is. That unlikely spot of a dental chair, becomes the altar for my heart.
“Ya, it’s me again, Jesus. Remove the root. Help me forgive.”
The dentist does his work, and though it’s not pleasant, it is something good for me.
I exit. Rootless and free.