Saturday, November 3, 2007

Exchanging Real Life for Decay

I re-worked the wisdom tooth extraction experience for my column today. I'm copying it here because you can only link to the articles on line free for 7 days, so instead I'll to link to this post for the archive. The last thing I want to do is pay to get to my own words!

Twenty-two years ago, I had two wisdom teeth pulled. Because the whole ordeal wasn't a picnic, I decided to wait a while to have the others removed.

"A while" became 22 years.

In spite of meticulous brushing, flossing and even whitening, the remaining "wizzies" had to go. My dentist said there was nothing I could've done to avoid the surgery; the very nature of these nonessential, problematic teeth demanded that they go.

Driving home, I remembered his words, "It's the nature of the tooth, its anatomy, its physiology. It's just naturally bad."

Something being naturally bad made me think of sin.

I remembered a time when I hid sin similar to these teeth, keeping my secrets tucked so far back into the recesses of who I was that there was no danger of people seeing my misery. I practiced all of the spiritual disciplines -- reading scripture, attending church and serving others, but still, I hid my pain, thinking, "I'll take care of this at some point-just not yet."

Eventually, I realized as long as I harbored one unrepented sin, all the "whitening" in the world was either just for show or a half-hearted, prideful attempt to patch a serious problem. Living in denial about the state of my heart became a way of life. It hurt to expose flaws and release long-held anger, but it was necessary. And in the end, it was the best thing for me.

Although I knew I would feel some discomfort after this extraction, I trusted this surgeon -- unlike my father-in-law, who continually offers to perform all kinds of medical procedures fast and cheap for his family, and no, he's not a doctor! This surgeon didn't appear to have a sadistic bone in his body. He listened to all my fears and reassured me. I was in good hands.

Likewise, I know that when I release my grip on an ancient grudge or heartache, at first, it won't feel good. I might feel like I've "lost" somehow. But that's not so. The truth is, being set free from decaying forces in my life is the best thing for me.

And I trust my God. He wants to excise whatever harms me and drives a wedge between us. When I'm scared to turn over my hang-ups to him, he listens to my fears and reassures me. When life hurts, I could resort to all sorts of crazy methods to treat myself, but the truth is, he is the only one who can truly set me free. I cannot help myself. I will always need a savior.

Right now, my front teeth look great, but don't come too close! The inside of my mouth looks and smells like walking death. I'm reminded of Matthew 23:27, where Jesus warned, "You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You're like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth." Yet I am comforted by Isaiah 1:18: "I, the Lord, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow."

To be human is to be naturally inclined to disobey, even though we know we are digging our own graves. When God says, "It's time for this rot to go," I have to remember to trust in his mercy and unfailing kindness toward me. Even though there's much value in doing good, no regiment of noble behaviors or charitable endeavors can purify my inner self. Therefore, to kick off this month of thanksgiving, I'm declaring my thanks to God for exchanging real life for my decay, for trading his joy for my sorrow. Great is your faithfulness, O God!

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at
Originally published November 3, 2007

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