Friday, January 13, 2012

"A Tooth's Got To Know It's Limitations"

We went to Sears last weekend to buy a new oven. They were having some kind of “after the holidays/ we need to make more money/ friends and family” sale. We’ve needed a new oven for a long time, but we kept putting it off. But we finally grew tired of cutting up wood and building a fire every time we wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. The thrill of Early American cooking was long gone. And we had a very generous gift card that our church had given us for Christmas so we knew that we had a good start on the cost.
Since it was a few weeks after Christmas, we didn’t have to battle that post-Christmas crowd, but instead we were competing with that New Year’s Resolution gang – you know, those people who were still hopeful and hadn’t quite given up on life change in the New Year. I passed by one woman who was carefully caressing a treadmill under the watchful eye of what looked like a 17 year old salesman. I am sure he has had many years of experience in the mechanized exercise machine industry. You could tell that the woman was asking herself: “Is this the one that I have been searching for? The one that will help lead me back to where I used to be and help me get me back into that dress? But am I ready to commit? My heart has been broken before.”
A few aisles over, I walked past a couple who were looking to get a better night’s sleep in 2012. They were listening to a slightly older (19?) sales guy drone on about the litany of benefits that this particular mattress would bring them. I am betting that he could get a good night’s sleep on a straw mattress thrown on the floor. What 19 year old ever has trouble sleeping? The woman was lying on the mattress while her husband stood a few feet away. “I can’t get up,” she shouted. I glanced over and she looked like a upside down turtle. She was rocking back and forth but she was stuck on her back. “I won’t help you,” her husband said. I didn’t slow down to see what would happen next, but the paper didn’t have any story about “Woman Trapped in Mattress Files for Divorce” so I am assuming someone helped her up.
I am not sure if all the Sears shoppers I saw that day will succeed in their resolutions, but I appreciate the new beginnings that a New Year offers. In a related sense, I am always thankful when we pass the Winter Solstice that guarantees that we’ll have a little bit more daylight every day until the end of June. It gives me a sense of hope.
Our church has begun the New Year with a worship series called “Walking the Twelve Steps with Jesus,” and we are examining the spiritual and Biblical aspects of the 12 Steps of AA. I wanted our church to start 2012 with an emphasis on hope and personal change. About twenty of us are participating in new small groups on this topic as well. I shared at the beginning of the series (the same day that we bought our new oven) that one thing that I am sure of is that Jesus wanted us to change, to be freed of our sins and addictions, and to follow him without excuse or restraint. Jesus wants our walk of faith to be more of a joyful dance than a death march.
The reason that many of us resist full commitment to the walk of faith is that we sense that this commitment will involve giving up part of ourselves. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” We don’t always want to lose the old, do we? It can feel like death. Most of us don’t rush towards death, do we? And this walk of faith does involve death – the dying of who we have come to be so that God can create something new in us, through us, and with us.
One of the dangers of getting older is that we can become cynical about new things and resistant to change. It is ok to be skeptical, to be wise about where we commit our heads and our hearts, but it is not healthy to become so suspicious and pessimistic that we never allow any new life to touch us and to move us to new places.
But change can be hard, can’t it, even if we are in a new year and are participating in a supportive small group? If we have any significant addictions or sins, we know that they can grip us and that they resist letting go of us without a battle. And in many cases we have mixed feelings because we once welcomed these addictions into our lives, didn’t we? We gave them a place to live and they don’t want to be evicted. Check out Luke 8:26-39 if you want to see a great Biblical example of this struggle.
And getting free of our addictions and sins is not painless either, is it? This letting go can create a space in our lives that aches to be filled.
As I write this, my tongue is poking into an empty space in my mouth that until yesterday was filled with one of my upper teeth. I had had that tooth in my mouth for a long, long time; we had enjoyed a lot of great meals together; but after experiencing some pain in it for weeks I had gone to see Carlo, my dentist. When he saw the condition of my tooth, Carlo channeled Charlie Brown and said, “Rats.” I have never heard any medical profession looking at me say “rats” before so I knew it was serious. In searching for the appropriate way to tell me, he paraphrased Dirty Harry, “A tooth’s got to know its limitations.”
So yesterday, he numbed my mouth and extracted that tooth. It didn’t come out in one quick yank like in the movies, but the removal required a number of twists and jerks and tugs before it was all out. That tooth did not give up easily even though it was diseased.. It liked its position in my mouth and in my life. When the procedure was over and he was bringing me back into an upright position, I asked to see the extracted tooth, my former companion on many a gastronomical journey. I saw the dark areas where it had died and caused me pain and I also noticed the three red roots that had kept it in place. No wonder it was so hard to remove.
I will miss that tooth for awhile. There literally is an empty space in my mouth. But like all good things that have gone bad, it was causing me more pain than joy. It had to go so that I could enjoy eating again. I lost something but I am moving on.
As we continue to live into this New Year, are there some things in your life that have to be extracted, some sins or addictions or habits that may once have been life-giving, but now cause you (and others) more pain than pleasure? Are you ready for some old thing in your life to be removed so that you can have a place for something new?
My wish for you my friends is that you still have hope for 2012 and that whether you are trying to get free of an addiction, seeking to improve your physical condition, or even just attempting to get out of bed without assistance that you will not give up on yourself. Remember, you might need to tug more than once. Bad habits can be difficult to remove.