A week ago, years of procrastination came to a head as I finally gave in (or caved in) to the advice of 3 dentists over a 25 year period who assured me that it would be best to have my wisdom teeth extracted.
According to the experts, it was in my best interest to have a man with sharp instruments invade the soft tissue of my gums and cut through bone that had grown over impacted molars in order to avert “problems” in the future. What was described to me as a procedure on friday and back to work on monday routine, became a week long (and counting) relentless pain that has resulted in sleepless nights, multiple missed days at work, and round the clock medicating which itself seems to fall short in its design to numb the throbbing effectively. In spite of having a Florence Nightingale of a wife who was there at every turn, I have not been a beacon of joy this week. I have pushed the boundaries of anyone’s patience for sure.
Healing is coming incrementally but sure. In fact, I hate the word incremental when I come to think of it,because it implies slow and plodding. In fact, It’s hard to imagine a scenario where incremental is a positive adjective. Positives like pay increases, weight loss, Disney trip countdowns are incremental, while layoffs, car wrecks, and general bad news seem to occur in an unexpected instant. Do you know what else is incremental? Learning and sanctification, which I would make a case are two words almost identical in meaning. What I’ve learned at age 48, where I have endured little pain compared to someone who was born with a debilitating disease from birth, is a difference of infinite increments. And though I’ve been down for the count this week, there are others I know who have been down for years and decades from a physical standpoint.
There is much to be learned with the advent of extended pain, and it’s not just about Dick Van Dyke show binge-watching. Pain has taught me much in a short time. Here are a few things.
1. I’m unsympathetic. – Too often, there is pain all around me with friends and family that has left me unfazed. I haven’t in the words of Bill Clinton, “felt their pain”.
2. My stomach is my god – When you have oral surgery, you miss out on the foods you love and your diet becomes a steady stream of soup, oatmeal, and pudding. Paul wrote in Phillipians 3:19 “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” But in the verse preceding, he classifies these belly worshipers as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” The cross of Christ is all about suffering and pain, and when I set my mind on earthly things, like Tex-mex, I devalue the cross and everything it has accomplished for me.
3. I don’t know much. – Yeah, I can quote scripture I learned when I was five, and I can discuss deep theological subjects, and yet as I learned this week, I don’t know anything really. My throbbing gums are miniscule compared to one lash of a whip across the Lord’s back. I really don’t know the Lord I profess to serve all that much because of the next thing I’ve learned.
4. I’m entitled – This week I’ve tried to blame everything for my pain including the entire dental industry which deems it best to disturb the peaceful rest of impacted molars. I’ve blamed the pharmaceutical industry for not creating a suitable alternative to ibuprofen (which I’m allergic to). I’ve yet to blame myself for not having the procedure done when i was in my early twenties where by most accounts, the recovery would be much sooner (not to mention I wasn’t allergic to anti-inflammatories back then). The blame game only serves to reveal the entitlement of the heart. And if you believe that God is sovereign over all as I do, then I essentially shake my fist at Him and blame him. “Who are you Oh Sovereign, that I should suffer like this for 6 days!?”
5. I haven’t seen glory – Paul described his present sufferings, which were far greater and longer than a controlled oral surgery, as nothing to be compared to the glory which will be revealed. God gave Paul enough glimpse of His glory, that he was able to endure great pain, suffering, and persecution for the cause of Christ. His life’s anthem was “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Me? I have either never seen this great glory, or I haven’t been awakened to it at the level of Paul.
6. To truly follow Christ is to share in his sufferings.- Paul went on to say
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
It’s simple really. To get to Christ, we are going to have to follow him which means the path he has forged. His path was suffering and death. Sure, it doesnt mean our suffering and death will be as great, but the only way to truly know the power of the resurrection, truly know it, is to die. And the mile markers that lead to death are the increments of pain and suffering.
One day, those of us who are in Christ, will truly say that none of this compares to the Glory that we will see and experience when we finally get to Christ, when we finally get Christ.
As Paul reminds us, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Every pain from stubbing your toe to dying from cancer, whether physical or emotional
is an incremental removal of the veil that blinds us to His Glory. It is but a loose thread in the fabric of santification that he has woven according to His great counsel. A loose thread he mercifully pulls, one increment at a time.