August 16, 2009

This Might Hurt a Little

I wrote today's post for Exemplify Online. It's a tough one . . . I'd love to hear your thoughts.

During our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic, our group ran a medical clinic. Hundreds of families waited in line for perhaps their only doctor visit all year. For much of the morning I helped in the dental clinic, ushering patients to the waiting area and running to the pharmacy to get medications. But, most of the time I stood waiting—and watching.

A sweltering classroom served as waiting room, exam room and prep area. School chairs, the kind with the desks attached, became examination chairs. Cardboard boxes collected spit, trash and medical waste. There was no privacy. No running water. No discussion of treatment options.

The three dentists worked tirelessly as they saw an endless stream of patients, who apparently came for one reason. In every case the dentists offered one solution—extract the offending tooth.

The patients had two choices: live with the pain of a rotting tooth—which left untreated could lead to serious infection and, in severe cases, death—or remove the source of decay.

My stomach clenched as person after person, child after child settled into the chair-desk, tipped back their heads, received a shot of novacaine and had a tooth pulled. The waiting patients knew their fate as they watched the dentists work. When their turn came, most bravely endured the procedure, although a few children writhed and screamed. One young man fainted several times.

We gave them antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers, but I can only imagine their pain when the novacaine wore off.

I knew they’d be better off in the end. It just seemed so drastic.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described such a drastic scene. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

Before witnessing the dental clinic these verses left me confused and seemed unnecessarily harsh, but now they make more sense.

Jesus doesn’t want us to literally mutilate ourselves, but He does want us to recognize and take drastic corrective action to remove the things in our lives that cause us to stumble. Because just as untreated cavities rot our teeth, unaddressed sin rots our spirits.

How often do I think I skirt the issue when it comes to my sin? I try to ignore it, Who me? I don’t have a problem with that! Cover it up, I’m not hurting anyone, besides no one will ever know. And rationalize it away. It’s no big deal. Everybody does it.

To me sin often seems grey, but to God it’s black and white. And like the dental patients, we must deal with the decay in our lives decisively—or suffer the consequences. Period. “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

Jesus’ graphic language doesn’t lead me to believe this process is easy or painless. In fact, looking at our lives with such brutal honesty and having the courage to extract parts we’re still intricately attached to may be the most difficult—and important—thing we’ll ever do.

What decay attacks your spirit? What behavior or attitude leads you into sin? What relationships do you need to sever? How are you causing others to stumble? Get real with yourself. Trust God that what He offers is infinitely better than what you’ll give up. Go to the great Healer for He alone offers redemption and restoration.

For now sin is a reality, but we live in hope that one day we’ll free from the decay in this world. And when we receive glorious new bodies in heaven, I bet we’ll get dazzling smiles to match.

Postscript: Thanks for your comments on my last post. I knew I could count on you for some emotional support! My darling husband continues to be enthralled with his surroundings. Over the weekend he visited Aspen, watched the country's premier mountain bike race and was three feet from Lance Armstrong and hiked Rocky Mountain National Park. He swears today it's back to business. In the breathtaking scenery that surrounds him I can see from his pictures, read in his words and hear in his voice, he's experiencing our Creator in a majestic, yet deeply personal way. And that makes me happy.

2 miles into my hike - total silence other than the wind. God is here.

Mile 5. Just hiked through 20 minutes of snow. Now sitting lakeside completely alone watching the cutthroat trout. Wow!...That's all he could say is, wow.


Get Real Girl said...

this is breathtaking. nothing better than being alone with our Creator!

Irritable Mother said...

That was a great story, Kelli. But I cannot imagine being in that room with all those extractions. I think I would've passed out pretty quickly!

Kelly Combs said...

Is that last line from "Lilly's Perfect Plastic Purse" or did you just throw that in there? That is my kid's favorite book and "wow is just about all they can say." If yes, I blogged about another Henkes book at my blog today.

ANYWAY - that was a great story and a wonderful analogy. Good writing!

I got my copy of Fearless today. Did you get yours?

Cheryl Barker said...

Sin is always a tough topic, isn't it, Kelli? Thank goodness we can turn to the Great Physician to help us with it.

Sounds like your hubby is experiencing some amazing times. Nothing like the mountains...

Dan said...

Kelly (the one with the "y"),
Busted! I figured Kelli (with an "i") would be the only one to pick up on that. It is indeed from Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, one of our favorite stories when our kids were young. And, it doesn't end there...guess what we named our company?
P.S. To All: I SWEAR it's nothing but work every day this week. (But, I think I have next weekend's adventure scoped out, so stand by...)

Madison said...

Love that. Total silence other than the wind. God is here. Awesome.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Great post; left a comment at Exemplify.


Teresa @ Grammy Girlfriend said...

Great story. What a great glad that I stopped by today.This summer has been so crazy that I have not visited some of my favorite blogs often enough.

Runner Mom said...

Your presence with those brave souls was a blessing that you gave them. Wow! Kelli, what an experience.

Love you!

Sarah Dawn said...

Such a joy to find you tonight! We serve on the mission field as well. I know the pain of teeth pulling with medical outreaches. Yet today, your post touched something deeper. In my life, there might be something rotting that needs to be pulled, to make me able to serve my Lord and reflect His glory.

Blessings to you from Costa RIca,
Sarah Dawn

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Ouch! I wonder why everyone needed extractions, rather than fillings. Was it because this was a one-time shot at help? (I tend to be one who finds another dentist when my dentist wants to extract and so have held onto all my teeth -- they are not replaceable.) I hope that does not mean, following your parallel (the expansion in Exemplify Online) that I am also holding onto all my sin. I have to think about that one some more!

Anonymous said...

I have had two teeth pulled.
Once there is that kind of pain, you are willing to get it out of your mouth...especially if you cannot afford to 'save' it and get a root canal and all of that.

The dentists were doing great work for those patients. How nice of them.

Your post makes me want to cry. I know what leads me to sin, and if I could cut off a specific part of my body to end the temptation of constantly wanting to reunite and reconnect with my ex (and, thus, stepping into a constant string of drama and anger and hurt and lies), I would do it. Seriously.

My ex does not make me sin, but around him I let my guard down and I step one step away from step WAY too far, as tiny as it may be. My nightly routine (and prayers) are altered, and so on....

Together we (God and I) are working on it, but I bring this team down as I am only human :(