We had dentist appointments today. I don’t usually mind them. You know, it is what it is. Not comfortable, but necessary. Even the terrible stuff, like the wisdom teeth I have to get surgically removed sometime this year, is not generally a life-long trauma.
Other things are. I get that. But I learned something about pain and spiritual growth at the dentist’s office today.
Invisible sounds good, they say. Wireless sounds good, they say.
It won’t work, says my dentist.
The Invisalign system is a series of computer casted, clear retainers. The idea is that you wear one set for a certain amount of time and then after your teeth have shifted you switch to a new set. Sounds easy. But my dentist says the problem is patient cooperation.
Our natural reaction to pain is to get away from it. Run. Hide. Whatever. With Invisalign you have to be committed to the process and force yourself to wear the retainer even when your teeth hurt so bad you can’t chew your tacos.
Traditional braces are better, my dentist says, because you can’t get away from them. You can’t pop them in the drawer for a night of relief or a weekend break. They’re on. The pain is yours to deal with. And so they get the work done of transforming your smile into something straight and beautiful.
This excerpt is from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted:
I was recently involved in a survey in which hundreds of people were asked to identify the factors that were most formative in their spiritual growth. The number one response overwhelmingly involved times of suffering and pain. Ironically, the role of suffering is one of the most neglected issues in spiritual growth, because we do not arrange for it to happen as we might Bible study or prayer. Instead, life inevitably arranges it for us. So if we are going to be transformed, we must look at how suffering benefits us, or at least how to respond to it.
Ortberg then shares a compelling account of Abraham’s life and how, while far from handling every instance of suffering or pain perfectly, he did endure. He hung on. He stayed in the conversation with God even when he didn’t understand.
And that seems to be all God asks. That we endure. That we persevere. We don’t have to do it with fireworks or with religious declarations.
In conclusion, Ortberg transitions to the story of Jesus, comparing it to Abraham’s suffering when asked to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice:
When Jesus was bound, no voice cried out to stay the ropes. When the blade went to pierce his body, no power held it back. This time, no other sacrifice was provided. This time, the Son died. This time, the Father grieved.
But then the third day came. As it will come someday for you and me. In the meanwhile, just don’t quit.
I guess what I learned today in the dentist’s chair is that life sometimes gives us braces and that’s OK. If life gave us Invisalign, we’d probably take off the suffering, put off the pain for another day when we don’t have anything else going on. But God isn’t asking us to pretend those braces don’t hurt. He knows He can get us through. He knows in the end He can make it better.
He can make it straight.