Amid the enjoyment of my favorite snack of popcorn, I bit down on something hard. Unbearable pain shot through my jaw and up toward my ear. Unfortunately, it was a tooth that already had a resorption problem. In case you’ve never heard of this rare occurrence, it’s a troublesome condition where the body’s own cells eat away at the tooth’s root system.
This painful moment happened the day before we left for five weeks of vacation in Georgia and Florida. Being the optimistic person that I am, I assumed it would go away in a few days without interfering with my fun in the sun. Not so. Lest I bore you with details, I’ll give you the shortened version. “Ouch!”
A call to the dentist informed me that the culprit would probably require a specialist. If it couldn’t wait until we returned to the Washington area, I’d have to find a dentist in Florida. Determined to grin and bear it, I endured with a few adjustments. The normally delicious fried shrimp at Miller’s Ale House became tasteless. My tongue worked overtime to maneuver the food away from the right side of my mouth where the deceptive tooth took exception to even a small amount of pressure.
Yes, deceptive. From the inside, the resorption ate away at my tooth, while on the outside, it looked perfect. Not a sign of the disintegration going on beneath the surface.
As I thought about my beautiful offensive tooth, I’m reminded of another deception that can so easily creep into our lives. Bitterness, anger and hate, like tooth resorption, destroys us from the inside out. We might appear well and happy, but deep down, we’re holding a grudge.
Our anger comes to the surface occasionally when our politician doesn’t win; someone makes a remark that reminds of us past offenses against us; life isn’t fair and we look around for someone else to blame. Regardless of the trigger, the root cause is embedded deep within our hearts. Our past hurts and mistreatments raise their ugly little heads and we lash out at the next person who gets in our way. Often, it’s the ones we love the most who must bear the brunt of our anger and unforgiveness.
I recently watched the movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” which tells the true story of lead singer and songwriter, Bart Millard, of the contemporary Christian band MercyMe. Bart functioned only from the surface, until he discovered the power of forgiveness. He grew up with an abusive father he referred to as a “Monster.” Until the roots of bitterness and hate were rooted out, he wasn’t free to fully express himself through song. All the hurts from the past hindered him from writing and singing from his heart. Though Bart probably aches at times for the life that could have been, he’s been set free to use his gifts to fully glorify God.
This morning I read a reprint from an article in “Ebony” magazine on Facebook. Katrina Adams serves as Chairman, CEO and President of the U. S. Tennis Association. She is noted for being the first black, the first former pro player and the youngest person ever to serve in this position. When Ebony asked her what obstacles she had to overcome to get where she was today, her reply stuck with me. “I don’t look at my challenges as obstacles, but learning platforms.”
I’m certain Ms. Adams had many opportunities to wallow in self-pity, bitterness and disappointment, but she chose to see those challenges as stepping stones toward success for herself and inspiration for others.
When Bart Millard chose to return home and deal with the roots of unforgiveness, God met him there and helped him rise above the past. The father he called a “monster” was transformed by the grace of God into someone he considered a friend. Those hurts and disappointments became a catalyst for success as he wrote the award winning song for his father, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Though I still suffer from the pain caused by the surgeon when he extracted the offending root, I’m confident it will soon heal and I’ll be able to chew again. In a few months, I’ll be given an implant and a brand new crown unaffected by resorption.
Rooting out bitterness, hurt and anger is also painful. Our church’s Lenten devotion this week deals with letting go of the past and walking in the freedom of forgiveness. Is unforgiveness preventing you from moving forward with the plan God has for you. Allow his love and forgiveness to wash over you and give you the grace to forgive others. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31,32.(NIV)