What a dentist taught me about pain, death, and the love of God.

Creative Commons: Azlan DuPree, September 2010 "Suffering Is Permanent"

Creative Commons: Azlan DuPree, September 2010 “Suffering Is Permanent”

I have a daughter whom I love more than life itself. She’s wildly intelligent, talented, passionate about life, and has a smile that can melt my heart, even at it’s hardest.

I’m crazy about her.

Recently, my daughter had an accident. She tripped, hitting her front two teeth on a piece of furniture.

They bled.

She cried.

Her blood staining the shoulder and chest of my shirt. Noticing this, she looked up at me and said “daddy, I’m getting blood on your shirt.”

“Baby,” I said, “I don’t care about my shirt.”

I held her for a long time in the waiting room of our dentist; waiting for the inevitable to come- the news that her teeth would need to come out.

The teeth extraction appointment was scheduled, we drove to the nearest pedodontist (who was an hour and a half away), and we entered the room.

The hygienists were there, the table was reclined and realizing what was to come, my little girl sobbed.

Because they couldn’t risk her moving during the procedure, they had to restrain her.

As they tightened the restraints around her little wrists, my little girl sobbed, “Daddy, hold me! Please, daddy, hold me!”

I sat next to her head. Kissing her forehead. “I can’t baby, but it will all be over soon, I promise.”

“This is what’s best for you, and I’m here. I won’t leave you. I promise”

Her 3-year-old mind couldn’t understand. How could it? All she knew were her wrists being bound, and pain like she never knew before.

And her daddy watching it happen.

As it happened, as she cried for me, I muttered, through a throat constricted by tears, a promise that I loved her and would never leave her.

***

As the Church, we’re concluding our journey through the season of Lent. Lent is a season of pain and of restriction; a season of extraction. A season where we mirror Christ’s death on a cross by surrendering our own lives. A surrender that leads to our own death to self.

A death to pride.

A death to arrogance.

A death to anger.

A death to self.

We want the outcome of this death- the Life that follows- but we don’t want the pain that comes from dying.

It’s in this season of silence, pain, extraction, many of us (like my daughter) don’t understand what’s happening to us.

Maybe its physical sickness. Maybe is divine silence during our time of prayer. Maybe its physical, emotional or spiritual pain unlike we’ve ever known before.

No matter what it happens to be, the truth is it hurts. In our pain, silence and confusion, with tear-stained faces, we call out to God with a desperation we’ve never known before.

“Please, Daddy, take me off this table!” we beg.

Yet, He doesn’t.

And we weep, not understanding why.

***

The church doesn’t know what to do with this sort of pain, this kind of anger, this depth of sorrow. We gather together on Sundays, paint on faces of hope and happiness, sing songs of joy, and “amen” sermons on the love of God.

Yet, during the week, our experience is anything BUT joyful, hopeful or filled with divine peace.

The most painful part of these moments are, however, not that we feel this depth of sadness, anger, or pain, rather it’s that the church isn’t often willing (or unsure of how) to invite this pain into the light.

And so, in our uncertainty or unwilling, our services are filled with songs that say,

“Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Yet, on the inside we’re actually singing the songs of the Psalmist,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Ps 22:1-2)

***

After the dentist pulled that final tooth, they un-strapped my little girl from that table. Once the final strap was released, she jumped into my arms- burying her head in my chest, sobbing.

I held my daughter in that corner of the dentist exam room as tightly as I had ever held her before. I kissed her, stroked her hair, and tried to soothe her rapidly beating heart. She didn’t understand what just happened, she didn’t understand why.

And so I just held her, kissed her, and sang quietly in her ear.

***

The most painful part of the Christian experience can be those moments when we’re in the deepest reaches of darkness, sadness and despair; when the pain is at its greatest, we cannot feel the presence of our Father, and when we cannot hear the soothing songs he sings, nor the warmth of his touch on our forehead.

In those moments we feel so alone.  And we don’t know how to move forward.

In our mind, we know God will never leave us nor forsake us, however that is little consolation to our hearts in the midst of the emptiness.

The truth is, one will never know why God behaves as he does, and I’m not here to explain his movements. It’s beyond my understanding.

However, I believe, deeply, that in those moments, God is pleading with his Church to be that soft touch, that warm voice, and that loving kiss which reminds people they are not alone in the midst of their pain.

I wondered, as I cuddled my baby girl, if maybe God quiets his own voice in order to allow his Church to speak love into the hearts of those around them; allowing them to be the voice of love and compassion people are desperately looking for.

I have a dream that the church will live into this invitation to mourn/doubt/grieve/suffer with others.

To do this, though, we must be willing to embrace people at their messiest. We must be willing to sit in their pain, let their blood stain our shirts, and their doubt about God and faith linger in the air around us like cigarette smoke.

I want to be that kind of pastor, and want to be part of that kind of Church community.  Mostly, though, I want to be the church that allows people to bleed on their shoulder while assuring them that it’s okay.

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4 thoughts on “What a dentist taught me about pain, death, and the love of God.

  1. Michael, I could feel this all the way from CA
    I know it was so hard for both of you. I”m so glad you’re the loving,caring daddy you are and your message was precious! Love you all.
    grm h

  2. As always, a very well-written and thought-provoking post. It was at KNU Church that I first really learned what it meant to pray through the Psalms, and indeed, sometimes the refrain of our lives is “My God, my God, why…?” And we don’t always know why, but we do have a good “Daddy” who we can trust anyway. Experiencing something like that with your own precious daughter must really bring into relief what our God experienced with His own Son so many years ago. May we become the kind of church that allows people to bleed on our shoulders as we speak words of comfort and empathy.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read, Nikki! KNU Church taught me so many things, as well. It was an important church for us all. Glad we share a common point that was so beautiful!

      Hope you are well, Nikki!

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