The EFM Feature

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re really thankful for something small?
Or — more accurately — when you’re thankful for something that would seem small for someone who isn’t in your shoes, but really isn’t?
I had one of those moments this week.
On Monday, I had a root canal. I’d never had one before — frankly, I didn’t really know what it was. In fact, I had never even had a cavity until just recently, so I’m very new to the realm of dental discomfort.
When I was initially told I might need a root canal, all I knew about it was that I should be afraid. When I told my boss I might need to miss a day to have one done, she cringed. That’s the second thing I learned about root canals — everyone cringes at the thought of one.
Men being curious, and this man being part of the Internet Age, I decided to find out a little more. Where, you ask? Wikipedia, of course. But one glance at the relevant entry — which features a rather gruesome picture — and my curiosity went the way of the dodo.
So, I walked into the doctor’s office on Monday pretty clueless. And to this day, all I really know about root canals is what I read — mostly inadvertently — on a diagram that happened to be sitting in the corner of the room. And that I’m thankful for the little black plastic thing.
Yes, the little black plastic thing. Not the yellow plastic thing — the thing that got in the way of my breathing that they used to make a “tunnel” to my tooth. That was kind of lame. And not the drill, certainly. No, it was this thing they put between my top and bottom teeth on the opposite side of my mouth from the “unhappy” tooth. (That’s the word the doctor used. I told him my tooth was actually relatively happy, except for the fact that it had to have a root canal — it didn’t hurt or anything, left alone — but he seemed unconvinced.) I think the idea is that they can’t trust you to affirmatively hold your mouth open when they start doing whatever they do, but they can trust you to bite something. So they told me to bite this thing.
At first, it seemed wrong. You want me to push my mouth shut? The dentist always tells me to keep it open! But I did as they said.
And you know what? It didn’t take long before I was thanking God for that little black plastic thing. Why? Because like I said, I really didn’t want to know what they were doing to my tooth. But left to my own devices, I’d think about it. Are they drilling through the top? Are they extracting the pulp? Is it going to look like that Wikipedia picture? That looks painful. Are they putting metal posts in the root cavities? Why does he keep telling me my roots are long? Is that a compliment? Am I in trouble? Should I have dyed them like that lady at work? Wait…
The little black plastic thing delivered me from such unproductive thoughts. All I had to think about was chomping down on it. Was I chomping? Was I retreating? Chomp, Charles. You can handle it, really.
Sorry if this is strange, but it really was comforting. And in some ways, I wonder if it doesn’t point — in a tiny, tiny way — to what Christians are given through the cross.
Do you know what I mean? I may be crazy, but I think it makes sense.
Think about it. When things aren’t going well, God calls us to focus our thoughts on the cross — the thing by which he delivered us. The thing that makes it true that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28), even painful things. The thing that makes it true that our trials are temporary and necessary for the refining of our faith, to the glory of God (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Just so with the little black plastic thing. Maybe God gave me that — so I could focus my thoughts on something other than the drill and the blood and the pulp and the What in the world is going on over there. That’s what I did — and I thanked him for it. Seriously.
Of course, this begs the question — in the face of a trial like a root canal, why didn’t I cling to the cross itself, rather than the little black plastic thing? Why didn’t I think of how much greater was the pain Jesus bore — and that that pain was as much my fault as this stinking root canal? Why didn’t I think of the fact that because he did that, I’m okay — no matter what befalls me in this world?
I guess that’s why I need the cross in the first place.
Father, thank you for the little black plastic thing — a tiny emblem of your love for me. And Lord Jesus, forgive me for not thinking nearly often enough about your cross — the real proof.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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