Monday, June 30, 2014

Hands, Feet, Eyes, and Teeth

It started as an almost imperceptible pinch each time I closed my teeth together while chewing my meal.  Three weeks later, the discomfort was becoming more persistent to the point where I could no longer chalk it up to my imagination; there was a problem with my lower back molar.

In my mind, a cracked tooth doesn't happen to thirty-seven-year olds who take good care of their teeth; eat healthily; and avoid chewing ice or hard candy.  Yet, there I was in the dentist's chair with that very problem.

My usual jolly dentist leaned back and tightened his jaw before speaking, those lines creeping outward from the corners of his mouth in a classic "this is bad news" kind of way. If the crack were vertical, a crown would take care of it. If it were horizontal, I'd need a root canal.  Wear the temporary for six weeks and see. Just wait.

By week four, the problem had only worsened.  At times, it felt like my mouth was in labor, the pulsing waves ever-dull in the background, cresting whenever I tried to chew near that tooth.  Shoulders slumped in defeat, I contacted the endodontist only to discover she was on a family vacation!  It would be another week and a half until I could have the root canal, then another week of "recuperating" agony before the ligaments calmed down and the permanent crown was in place.

Her diagnosis was a "small crack deep inside the tooth and situated right on top of the nerve."  One tiny crack had inflamed the ligaments surrounding the tooth to the point where even a week after the root canal, just clinking my teeth together could send me to my knees.

Small.  Tiny.

Tomorrow marks eleven weeks since I felt the first sharp pain, and I'm beginning to feel whole again.  Through it all, though, I have been devastated at how one small part of a person's body can have such a monumental impact on the remaining members and, what's more, how one small part can impact everyone else around.

It's a lesson I thought I had learned last August when witnessing my husband suffering through his first root canal.   Obviously not.  There's just something about suffering first-hand that gives more clarity, puts the flesh of experience on bare bones of theory.

Less than a year ago, I looked at Paul's warning in 1 Corinthians to the body of Christ, exhorting them to consider each member of the body as equally important to the health of the whole.  That definitely is a life lesson we could learn from a little tooth pain.  And yet, this time around, my mind has kept settling on the gospels and body parts that cause you problems!

Jesus told His disciples, "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell" (Matt. 18:8-9). 

A hand, foot, or an eye--definitely not a tooth.  Definitely something I would miss if I cut it off or plucked it out. What's more, it's something others would surely notice.

If one tooth could alter the course of my life for eleven weeks, imagine the trouble a foot could cause?  By using this metaphor of a hand, foot, or eye (versus a tooth), Jesus demonstrated several things.  

1.  Even useful body parts that are integral to who we are as a person can be instruments of our own destruction and, yes, our own damnation. 

2.  Every part of our body or "life" affects our walk with Christ.  It could be that we have a "hand" we've used for our entire lives, but that hand is now causing us to stumble in our Christian walk. Just because we've always lived with two metaphorical hands, feet, or eyes isn't a reason to keep them in our lives. 

And yes, sometimes, those parts of our lives that are the most deeply entrenched--those people, habits, and traditions we've known for what seems like forever--those are the most difficult to cast off, which is likely why Jesus chose such an extreme analogy. 

In a sense, cutting those things out of our lives that cause us to stumble feels like cutting off an appendage.

3.  Jesus doesn't say change will be easy. In fact, the analogy implies just the opposite--that of much pain, agony, and a lasting sense of "loss" that you do not forget once that hand or foot is gone from our lives--but He does say it's better to cut it off than to live with the other eternal consequences.

4.  Jesus also doesn't say change is private.  If I cut off a hand or foot or even pluck out an eye, everyone around will know it.  It is reasonable to assume that many actions a Christian must take to keep himself from stumbling will be very public to those around him.

Perhaps it is that you cannot socialize with a best friend anymore or that you must distance yourself from a close family member because she causes you to stumble.  Or perhaps it is a place you have frequented or an activity you have participated in your entire life but you now find it causing you to waver in your devotion to Jesus.

Hand, foot, eye, or (yes) even tooth--a single part of our lives affects the entirety.  No matter how large or small, how painful, or how public, we are called to leave behind whatever entangles us so that we can run the race God has set before us...completely unhindered, so we can walk without stumbling.


  1. Wisdom. (teeth- had to go there). :) Very good point on a subject not embraced as it should be.

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