I went to the dentist Wednesday. I dreaded it because I hadn’t been in several years. Actually, I would have felt the same way about it even if I had been the day before.
A lot of things run through your mind when you’re staring up at the ceiling, trying to answer the questions of a person who is spraying water into your mouth. One prevalent thought that kept coming back to me was how being a Christian is sometimes like going to the dentist’s office. I extracted these truths from my time in the chair.
You can’t make up lost time. The night before my appointment, I brushed, flossed, rinsed, polished and did everything to my teeth that I knew the dentist would ask me about. These were things that I should have been doing all along. But I tried to cram them all in right before the test.
One of the reasons time is so valuable is that once you spend it, you can’t get it back. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. If you choose to spend those in a way that you later regret, that is a loss you cannot recover. Paul encouraged the early Christians to appreciate this fact by "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16) and "making the most of the opportunity" (Col. 4:5).
While I can decide to do better and make better use of my time from this day forward, that won’t give me back the days I have misused. That’s why it’s important to not waste one more. "Teach us to number our days," prayed Moses (Psa. 90:12). Just like your teeth, every one of them is important.
Ignoring your problems won’t make them go away. It was easy to put off going to the dentist because I was afraid of what he’d find. The right side of my mouth had become sensitive to cold drinks. I just knew that the diagnosis was going to involve a root canal, oral surgery, and thousands of dollars. So I drank more hot coffee. When I had to have something cold, I tilted my head to the left a little so it wouldn’t hit the sensitive spot. I treated the symptoms, but I still had the problem.
Even for a Christian, life has its difficulties and trying times. You can try to "treat" them by pretending they don’t exist, avoiding certain people, or ignoring phone calls, but when you wake up the next morning, they’ll still be there. Why not take care of what needs to be done and relieve your conscience? "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom. 12:18). You can’t control what other people are saying or doing, but you can do your part. If that means praying for forgiveness or making things right with a brother or seeking help from the church, take care of it. Otherwise, it is a pain that won’t go away on its own.
Things are seldom as bad as you make them out to be. My cold sensitivity was caused by natural "tubules" that form in your teeth over time. No surgery or root canal needed. And the thousands of dollars needed to fix it? "Just switch to a toothpaste for sensitive teeth," the dentist said. "I have some samples you can take home with you." All I could think about in the car on the way home was how much I wished I had gone in sooner. All that discomfort and all that worry over something that never even happened.
Worry is a thief. It not only robs you of time and energy that could be used in productive ways, it often keeps you from doing what is right for fear of the consequences that will come. What if the prodigal had done that? He could have let his imagination run wild and prevented his return from the pig pen. But he would have missed out on the mercy, compassion, and celebration of his father who rejoiced and said, "this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:24). Consequences do follow choices. But don’t listen to the devil and assume the worst in every situation. Do what is right and you’ll say to yourself, "I wish I had done that sooner."
After Wednesday, I made up my mind that I’m going to start getting regular checkups from now on. I’m willing to endure a little discipline along the way to avoid the place at the end of the road where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.