I remember the one time in jr. high I had a cavity. It was not pleasant. It hurt bad. And all I could think about was what I could’ve done differently.
I should have flossed before bed more regularly.
I shouldn’t have drank that Mt.Dew.
I shouldn’t have eaten that Snickers.
But it didn’t end there… I had to return to the dentist’s a few weeks later to get a filling. Many dollars and pain pills later, I had a little piece of gray stuck in the middle of my tooth.
I could no longer brag about my perfect teeth. My mouth was tainted. My pride was brought low.
I haven’t had a cavity since that time in jr. high. Because I’ve learned how to prevent a cavity: electric toothbrush.
I hated the cavity and filling experience. I hated the physical pain. I hated the shame of imperfect teeth. I hated the dentist’s office. So I have done everything to prevent that type of pain from ever happening again: electric toothbrush, floss, anti-cavity toothpaste, and limited amounts of pop and candy. I go to the dentist regularly and pray fervently the night before the appointment. Because I don’t want another cavity.
The cavity and filling experience was not ideal. And though it’s not that big of a deal, it points me to something deeper.
There’s worse pain and struggle in life than a cavity. Unemployment, grief, betrayal, surgeries, moving away, bankruptcy…
When your world is shaken, you begin questioning everything you’ve ever believed in. When it’s dark and you can’t see the way, your safe room is very appealing. When you’ve fallen down, it’s hard to stand back up. It’s hard to move forward. When your heart is heavy, when your eyes are dry of tears, when your head is more confused than ever, what then? Can there be good in the bad?
One of my favorite authors, Shauna Neiquist, has a thing or two to say about this, in her book “Bittersweet.”
“Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.
It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.
This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty… when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”
I don’t want to fight the upcoming changes in my life. I want to grow and change and learn to adapt. I want to give thanks in all things. I want to grab life by the horns and face the challenges head on. I want to live utterly confident in a God who will not fail me. I want to give glory to the only God, who is Sovereign and able to take care of me.
The circumstances in my life may not be perfect. I may be uncertain of many things, but that’s okay. Because what is happening in my life is not the same as my life. I am not defined by how many cavities I have, or my grades, or my job interviews (or lack thereof).
I celebrate the goodness of life and grow from the difficulties.
As I look at my favorite sweater, it is the snag on the sleeve that reminds me of a time in my life, where my character was developed and I was changed. I see the good in spite of the snag. I see past the gray filling and give thanks for the 32 pearly whites.