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I’m currently having root canal treatment on a wisdom tooth. Because of the location of wisdom teeth (back of mouth, for any of you non-scientist types), it’s extremely difficult to get to and, therefore, isn’t something my dentist is able to do. For this reason I’m having the treatment done in Leeds…the main advantage of this, aside from the more specialised equipment and experienced staff, is that it costs me nothing. As a training establishment, the Leeds Dental Institute does not charge its patients a penny, saving me hundreds of pounds in this instance.
But there are costs involved. I’ve had five visits to Leeds, and am due two more. Seven appointments add up to nearly 400 car miles, considerable parking fees, and numerous hours Al’s had to take off work in order to look after the kids when I’m gone – not to mention the uncomfortable root canal procedure itself.
Last July, when I first saw my dentist, the choice was root canal or extraction. “What would you recommend?” I asked.
Her answer took the frustrating not-being-able-to-advise-a-patient-not-ever-for-fear-of-a-law-suit approach. “It’s entirely your choice.”
“Well…” I stall as I search for a sneaky way to get some advice. “What would you do?”
It doesn’t work. My dentist simply repeats back to me the two options available, with the textbook pros and cons of each.
Only now, five-sevenths of the way into my treatment, do I wonder whether extraction might have been the easier option. If they’d said, last July “You can either have the tooth extracted now, or you can go to Leeds seven times, an hour and a half per appointment, and have a root canal, which may or may not work” then I might have made a different decision.
When I first became a Christian, if someone had told me what it was going to entail – perhaps listing some of the difficult decisions I’ve made over recent years, or some of the sacrifices – I might not have signed up. But of course I wasn’t expected to make those decisions as a baby Christian, when I might have stumbled and become disillusioned with it all. God, in his perfectly-timed wisdom and abundant grace, does not make demands which are so burdensome they draw us away from Him. Just as I don’t demand that my 1-year-old dress herself, or my 3-year-old read his own stories, God doesn’t expect more of me than I’m able to cope with right now. Gradually – not all at once – does he teach us to become more dependent on Him, illuminating areas of our lives which require His Lordship.
But God does make demands – in fact, He makes the toughest demands I’ve ever heard. Jesus told a religious, law-abiding man to sell all of his possessions. He told a devoted family man to let others bury his father. And, when Peter was trying to be a loyal and supportive friend, Jesus had the gall to rebuke him, saying:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
(Matthew 16:24-27, NIV)
Would I change my decision to follow Christ? Of course not…but it hasn’t been the easier of the two options. Having my tooth extracted, in hindsight, would have been a lot simpler than the complex procedure I’m now tangled up in. But I’m pleased I’m getting to keep my tooth.
Just right now I feel pretty tangled up in Christ. He’s challenging me on so many issues that I’m not sure which way to turn, or what it will end up meaning for me and my family. God is making demands. But I know this: His demands are not ones I cannot deal with. They are ones which will bring my lopsided life slightly more in accordance with His will. This has an implication for how I respond to my fellow believers too, extending grace to them and fighting my natural impatience to see their lives changed for God overnight.
I am learning to hold the two sides of this in balance: the side that recognises God’s gentle and constant nurturing of us, not feeling guilty about sin but bringing it all before Him, with the side that doesn’t shy away from His demands. As I allow God’s light to shine more brightly, the decisions that once seemed difficult begin to fade away by comparison.