I had an abscess. My own dentist did not answer, and his message box was full. So I spent the morning searching for a dentist who took our dental insurance. By afternoon I did not care if they did or not—I just needed some relief. So a new dentist saw me and scheduled me for a root canal the next morning. That evening Keith had a stroke and I was at the hospital till 1:30 a.m.
The next morning, when I considered canceling the procedure, his doctor said, “Go. Take care of yourself so you can take care of him.”
That one was not too bad. It was not the reason tears streamed down my face during the whole procedure, I know the dentist must have thought I had lost my mind, though, because at the same time I was struggling not to laugh as that old song ran through my head, “I’ve got tears in my ears while I lie on my back in my bed when I cry over you.” It had been a rough twenty-four hours and hysteria was close at hand.
The second time, the abscess started the day before I was to leave with my students for state competition. When the dentist heard, he scheduled the procedure for the next week, and sent me on my way with pain killers and antibiotics, as well as his personal phone number. He knew dentists in the city I was headed for and would get me an emergency root canal if I couldn’t hack it.
Somehow I managed to accompany 8 art songs, 8 musical theater numbers and 4 piano concerti—about eighty pages of music--even though my students had to take turns holding me up in between. Or maybe they were holding me down. The pain killers were doing a number on me and I felt like I was floating.
That root canal, a week later, did not go so well. When the dentist said, “Oho!” I was almost afraid to ask.
“I thought I was nearly finished,” he began, “but this tooth has five roots instead of four, so here we go again.”
Then came the next surprise. That fifth root was covered by calcification. We did not know that meant that the anesthesia had not reached it until the drill burst through covering and hit that live root.
I try to make it a rule not to scream in doctor’s offices, but that time I broke the rule.
The only two ways to fix an abscess permanently are to pull the tooth or do a root canal, emptying the tooth of all live material, then crowning it, so it looks and functions like a normal tooth. If you don’t get all the way to the bottom, you will still hurt, and another infection will soon follow. They say in the old days that people actually died from those things.
Doing that little job is not pleasant, but if you have been hurting as I had been for days and days, it is definitely worth it.
And pulling it out by the roots is the only way to rid yourself of sin too. David said in the 36th Psalm, Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. You can’t just put a crown over the tooth and expect it to get well; and so you cannot just put on a cloak of righteousness while your heart still leads you in the same evil direction every day. You cannot take a pain pill and think that will make your tooth well; and so you cannot just sit in a pew on Sunday, not even every Sunday, and think that is enough of a change in your life to satisfy God.
You pull the sin out by the roots. You change your habits; you change your associations; you change your schedule; you change your life in whatever way necessary if you have really changed your heart. Then you put down new roots, planted deep in your heart as well, but this time roots of righteousness. When they finally become established it will be as difficult to pull them out as it was to pull out the bad roots, but this time, you won’t have to.
The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalm 92:6,7,12-15.