My back upper tooth, the second primary molar to be exact, began to throb after dinner a few weeks ago. It was almost a phantom pain. Here one minute and gone the next. At night I began to massage it with my tongue. This can’t be anything, I told myself. It will go away in the morning. I’ll eat softer food and floss more. It’s nothing. I decided that it couldn’t be a problem because this tooth pain had already been resolved. In 2019 I went in for a root canal and I haven’t had any pain since then. Well, until a few weeks ago.
I pushed back any notion that there was trouble and went about my life until I couldn’t ignore or avoid the pain any longer. I called the dentist. Immediately, I was referred to an endodontist (root canal specialist). I walked in and the receptionist said, “Anjuli! It’s great to see you again.” I gave her a half smile. This isn’t a restaurant, a church, or your best friend’s house. This is a place I never want to be. A place with pointy needles, drills, and x-ray gadgets that bulge, poke, and make you want to puke is not my idea of hospitality.
But I knew this ache wasn’t normal. It wasn’t supposed to be there.
Dr. Hollander pulled up my scans and leaned in close. He pointed at the roots of my tooth and proceeded to tell me it was infected. With the backside of his pen, he traced the space where bacteria was growing like it was treasure on a map. “There it is!”
I reminded myself to breathe.
Anything black on an x-ray means it is open space. Open space at the root of a tooth means infection can fester, grow, and cause pain. My root canal had to be re-treated. This would be a double procedure with appointments stretching out all the way to the New Year. Merry Christmas to me. My heart sank.
I’ve come to a place in life where I don’t want to run away from pain anymore. I don’t want to pretend the throbbing in a relationship will disappear with time. I don’t want a shortcut out of hard things. I don’t want to dodge, bypass, or circumvent the way to healing. I want all the baggage and boulders piled up inside of me to be gone. I want to face the path God has for me head-on. There is something I want more than a pain-free life. I want to arrive at the end of my story having become the woman God created me to be.
Romans 5:3-5 says,
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Everything I go through leads me somewhere. Either I lean into the pain or I lean away from it. God promises me that if I move towards my ache, He will meet me with hope. Every sour note in my story cultivates my character. This character produces hope. Hope, sister. Hope. When I walk through the fire, I will discover hope. The promise isn’t relief from pain. The promise isn’t financial security. The promise isn’t reconciliation with people. The promise is — hope. I have to believe that the promise of hope is greater than the pain of my current circumstances. The alternative is true also. If I walk away from pain, despair will be inevitable.
When I think about all the things in my life that I don’t want to deal with, it is gut-wrenching to imagine walking toward them. Like my tooth, I want to tell myself that it will be better in the morning. I can think of a million strategies to avoid my suffering. But ignoring it, flippant optimism, or numbing will lead me away from hope.
Today, sister, take an x-ray of your life and see if there are any black spaces. Are there places where infections are growing? Is there a throb in your chest you can’t quite manage? Before you move to fix the pain, lean into Jesus. A lean doesn’t require extra words or long hours of work. It requires an exhale and a sway. Open your heart to Jesus. Remember that your current circumstances are creating in you a character that will sustain you. You will become a wise woman. You will become a woman of faith. You will become someone who doesn’t have to be convinced of hope, but will be carried by it.