Among the miracles that pave the road of my life I have to list the circumstances surrounding the loss of my upper right bicuspid this morning. This is the tooth that bothered me all Summer. By the time I got my student dentist at the College of Dentistry to look at it, its pulp was necrotic and called for root-canal work. Dr. A (a pseudonymous initial) had started the endodontia a couple of weeks ago and this was the first free morning she had to finish it in. But within the past two weeks I was fool enough to bite down on a hard piece of crispbread with that side of my mouth, and that seems to have cracked the tooth, though I never suspected it till I got the news.
Dr. A got me settled into the chair in the clinic, and went off to do whatever student dentists have to do to get set up. While I waited, I pulled my Bible out of my bag and opened it at random to read. It opened to the third chapter of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. On the page I read the first half of verse 16: “He hath broken my teeth with gravel stones.” It didn’t seem significant until Dr. A had a faculty advisor confirm for her that I had a fracture.
I soon took an opportunity to ask Dr. A if she’d ever “had a book talk to her.” I showed her the passage. She had an associate working with her, and the two discussed it with animated interest. I mean, what are the chances that a patient with a broken tooth would open the Bible to its only applicable mention of broken teeth? (There are a small handful of other passages that speak of breaking the teeth of the ungodly, or of the young lions, but nothing else about the narrator’s teeth.)
I love to find my attention drawn to scripture that comments on my own situation. It reminds me that my Lord is watching over me, with the tenderest concern, at every moment. There was another reason why the coincidence about Lamentations 3:16 felt like a kiss from God to me, though, and that’s because, for the first time, I sensed the importance of the two sweet jewels that brighten all the bitterness and darkness of the book. The first sweet jewel is Lamentations 3:32-33 — “For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” A marginal gloss on the word “willingly” notes that the original Hebrew reads, “from His heart.”
The second is Lamentations 3:57: “Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.” The importance? These two jewels remind me that God, who is Love Itself, is always saying “Fear not” to us. Dreadful though the experiences are that God allows the children of men to have, — and Lamentations speaks of just about all of them — none can destroy us.
Eventually a faculty advisor seemed to have confirmed for Dr. A that the tooth could not be restored, but would have to be pulled. Before sending me down to the Oral Surgery Clinic three floors down, Dr. A put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said “I’m sorry. I really feel bad about it.” I could tell that she felt bad, and my heart opened. My words just started to pour out — much like this, though perhaps not quite so clearly put:
“Please don’t be hard on yourself over my tooth! You did no wrong! I love you — your intentions are all good, and I know that, and that’s all that’s important! I can feel your goodness of heart, and God knows it too. At sixty-six years old, I can afford to lose a tooth. I could lose my whole body and it would be OK, because I know that life goes on forever, and I’m safe no matter what, so how much less should I be troubled over a tooth! Really — I’m at peace about it, and I hope you could be, too.
“You may be beating yourself up inside, thinking ‘if only I’d reduced the occlusion more,’ or ‘if only I’d warned the patient not to bite on anything hard,’ but please stop yourself if these thoughts come into your mind! Because we can’t change the past, and anyway, if you think about it, this is a blessed occasion: today God sent you a patient with a fractured tooth who not only wasn’t unhappy about it, but showed you an amazing coincidence with a mention of broken teeth in the Bible, and even wanted to share his peace about the loss of a tooth with you! If that’s not a sign of God smiling on you, and telling you that God supports your determination to be a good dentist, what is?”
I saw tears come into her eyes briefly, and she turned her gaze away. Then she turned her eyes back to meet mine, and our hands met, and she said, “Thank you very much.” And then we talked about the next steps in my treatment plan before I went downstairs to have the tooth pulled.
It was worth losing a tooth to have such an experience.