“It was the closest thing to a root canal gone bad that I’ve ever experienced.”
That was my friend’s summary as he regaled us with his MRI experience earlier in the day.
“You see,” he told, “they put you in this tube and then, they start jack-hammers right next to your ears---this drum beat of noise that makes you feel crazy.”
He continued rolling, with a straight face, “So I laid there for thirty to forty-five minutes, and I prayed, and I counted to 1000, and then I prayed for everybody I knew...and mainly, I prayed for myself.”
And we laughed.
Because we all understood.
Anyone who has endured an awkwardly positioned 45 minutes in a suffocating 18 inch high cylinder while her shoulder screeches with a protesting pain which does not harmonize well with the grating menace of the machine’s own noise can undoubtedly relate.
“Root canal gone wrong” about sums it up perfectly.
Of course, you whole life can come to feel like a root canal gone bad as well...you know, those seasons when the taxes are due, you’re stuck in traffic, and you’ve got tick bites? When your boss is livid at you, but at least your 32 year old daughter is too....When your best friend is getting chewed up both by the cancer and the pungent poison seeking to eradicate it, and you’re wondering, in your own gloomy melancholy, how you might make it through the day, yourself---root canals gone wrong, indeed.
The Poison of Deep Grief
At such times, it may appear that Shakespeare was not only an architect of elegant prose but a prophet as well. For it was he who placed in the mouth of Claudius the recognition of the “poison of deep grief” and the bullying multiplication of it when he says to Gertrude in Hamlet:
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!”
Battalions of trouble march aggressively into these errant root canal lives of ours. And for those actively submitting themselves to the benevolent rule of King Jesus, these armies of affliction raise all manner of disquieting questions, and can begin to make us feel awfully wobbly and ill-considered.
It may be that those wobbly moments aren’t vain ones though. Nor is our instinctual interpretation of those sorrow inciting forces always accurate.
Dreaded Desert Weanings
In fact, it’s possible that the dreaded desert conditions that are ushered in when the bold and unbidden batalions of sorrow and trouble march so rudely on the front lawn of our lives, that a sturdy deepening is being etched into us.
Eugene Peterson who recently completed his “Long Obedience in the Same Direction” once said something like “ordinarily, the best way to wean us off ourselves is through deprivations.”
It does certainly appear that God has a fond method of permitting deprivations to crash in through the living room of our lives so that he might do things akin to what he did in the literal desert that the Israelites wandered through with seeming aimlessness through those plodding four decades!
“He humbled you,” explained Moses, “causing you to hunger, and then feeding you manna, which ain’t none of ya’ll ever caught wind of before, to teach you that you cain't live on Golden Corral buffets, kale smoothies, fancy Ramen noodles or elegant paninis alone. You, instead were meant to live on God’s breath, those words of Scripture, the sturdy, nutritious, formative, freeing words that come out from the mouth of Him you were made to please.” (inexpert adaptation of Deuteronomy 8:3 by author!)
So on a water-logged day of dreariness, it might be worth recollecting, that probably (and unfortunately) the best way we’ve got and are given to stay adhered to our soul’s true nutrition are these demoralizing stabs of dull and achy disappointment that make our life feel like a “root canal gone bad.”
What Only Makes Sense in Reverse
Of course, we have to take such notions on faith. And faith, as Philip Yancey once wisely concluded, “means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
As we “believe in advance” what may only, and most assuredly, “make sense in reverse,” we may start to anticipate that root canal moments are peculiar invitations for folks of our peculiar disposition to come empty to the Fullness we crave.
And this provides a spiritual secret that you won’t always hear from the most advanced spiritual writers.
You may have run across those mature mystics who’ll urge that we all need to love God for his own sake and not for his gifts to us. And of course, it’s a lovely sentiment. I like the sound of it. God isn’t, after all, our celestial Amazon Prime account, or our spoiling grandparent, but Supremely Magnificent and Holy, and therefore worthy of our deepest devotion and admiration.
He’s to be loved and praised for who he is.
I hope to get to that point some day.
But thankfully, in the middle of root canals gone wrong, we have redirecting reassurances from saints who’ve wrestled long with God, like Soren Kierkegaard, for instance (and the whole Bible really, but let’s not overdo it) who’d settle us with a happy bit of fanger-waggin’:
“Woe to the presumptuous, who would dare to love God, without needing him! You are NOT to presume to love god for God’s sake, you are humbly to understand that your own welfare eternally depends on this need.” (Christian Discourses)
That there is a novocaine to a smarting molar.
Our “own eternal welfare depends” on our need of God. And what heightens our sense of need more than these danged deprivations that we hate and try so much to avoid?
Our love of god and need of God will always be Gorilla-glued together.
And so maybe, in root canals gone awry, God is increasing our capacity for refreshing familiarity with Him as battalions of trouble come our way.
That sure seems to have happened for the Psalmist reflecting on the Lord’s kingship in Psalm 13:
“The LORD is king forever and ever...
You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted, you encourage them and you listen to their cry.”
What if there are deep, sustaining consolations that our King with perked ears means to encourage us with as we moan, whimper, and plead in the middle of root canals gone bad?
Whether angrily, sorrowfully, eagerly, or reluctantly, need can thrust us into the healing presence of Christ who himself is no stranger to the battalions of sorrow that mow over our lives like a bush-hog chews up weeds on an East Tennessee field.
If he is what we’re made for, then the intensity of our hungers and thirsts, and the wounds from our skirmishes with all the battalions of sorrow are putting us in position to receive what we may not have wanted without them.
These root canals gone wrong that are wearing us down, may just wean us off ourselves, and in the process, help us find Him who grants us the privilege of an indestructible life which leans on a love that cannot be lost, will always be present, and “will not let us go.”
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com