I don’t understand why everyone hates going to the dentist so much. I went just a couple of weeks ago for a general cleaning and had a delightful experience. They even had a massager in the chair. It was all really quite relaxing. I guess I don’t mind it so much because I’ve never had a cavity or any other major tooth related issues (except the time I fell off my bike and broke one of my front teeth in half). But, even in that case, the dentist didn’t cause the pain. My face hitting the asphalt did that. He just fixed the damage. So, overall I don’t have many negative associations with the dentist. I actually find them to be quite encouraging. They always say things like, “Wow. You have really strong teeth. Did they have fluoride in the water where you grew up?” And I try to answer, “Thank you. I try to excercise them regularly. But I’m unsure of the chemical make-up of my chlldhood tap water.” But my mouth is being held wide open and I’m too busy concentrating on keeping my tongue away from that sucker thing to try and speak. Which really makes you wonder why a dentist would ask you questions anyway? I guess they’re rhetorical?
There is one thing about the dentist that I find to be a little unsettling though. It’s the apparent gift of omniscience that every dentist seems to have. I can’t seem to hide anything from them. They will inevitably, with one glance in my mouth, be able to tell whether or not I have been flossing, how many times a day I brush, what kind of tooth paste I use and whether or not I have been moving the brush in little circles like I’m supposed to. It’s uncanny. They have got to be the most perceptive people on the planet. This past visit, I felt the need to confess everything before I ever sat in the chair. I told the hygienist, “I just want to be honest here up front. I have not been flossing as much as I usually do.” Which is not completely honest because I had in fact been flossing just as much as I usually do, which isn’t very much.
I remember thinking while I was lying back in the massaging dental chair with that unnecessarily bright light shining in my eyes, I bet people do that a lot. You know that you are going to be exposed and that your teeth are about to speak volumes about your behavior and priorities and that there is nothing that you can do to stop it. Everything will be laid bare and you can’t hide it. It’s quite awkward. And I guess we feel that if we say it out loud than we can break the tension and just get it out there and move on.
Sometimes I struggle to pray for the same reasons. I’m not talking about a quick, little “I’m about to eat” prayer or a “we’re about to start the meeting” prayer because those are not so difficult. They don’t have the same intimacy and introspection that real, authentic, private prayer does. It’s hard to engage in a conversation with someone who knows everything. Especially when any given day is a seemingly endless string of choices to disobey or simply disregard what I know God would want from me. I guess that’s why confession is such an important part of prayer. Sometimes I wonder why we would need to innumerate to God the things that are lacking in our character and the ways that we have wronged Him and others in our lives. I mean, He already knows about all of it. It’s all out there on the table for Him to see. Why would I need to say it out loud? I know that the Bible teaches that if we confess our sins that God will forgive them. But I also know that there are ways that I have sinned that I am completely unaware of and I know that He forgives those as well. And I know that He can see the state of my heart and that He is far more interested in that than whatever words come out of my mouth. So, can’t He just see into my heart and know that I am sorry and that I want to do better and just forgive? Why go through the motions of confessing in prayer. Maybe it’s for the same reasons that I felt the need to confess to the dental hygienist.
It’s an act of humility. It’s an acknowledgment that I have failed and that I know that He knows it. It’s a way for me to come to terms with my condition and accept the forgiveness that He has already provided. It breaks the tension that exists in my heart that causes me to avoid speaking to Him. In the end, I believe that the scriptures teach that God desires repentance, which is about behavior, and brokenness, which is about your heart. But maybe the spoken part, the part where we give words to what’s going on inside, is more for our benefit. Maybe we need to call things as they are, as a way of recognizing that He truly does forgive us and believe that we can let it go and move on. I don’t think I do that enough. And I probably carry around a lot of unnecessary baggage because of it.