Waiting for a Root Canal

I woke at 3am, my youngest daughter standing next to my bed, hyperventilating through her tears.

In between gulps for air, she cradled her face and moaned, “It hurts. It hurts.”

I sat up quickly and pulled her close, feeling her body slump in my arms as I whispered, “I am so sorry, Sweetie.”

And then I closed my eyes and wondered how we would make it another 36 hours until her root canal appointment on Monday morning.

Yes, my twelve year old has to have a root canal.

Everyone cringes when I say that, so go ahead and cringe.

I quickly got her some pain medicine and then let her crawl into bed with me; I rubbed her back as she quietly whimpered, and prayed the medicine would start to work soon.

Sleep finally overtook both of us, and we woke early to face a long day of pain together.

Neither of us wins awards when it comes to dealing with pain. After trying for hours to alleviate some of McKenzie’s pain without success, I looked at my husband and sighed, “Ok, do YOU have any ideas?” And he smiled at me, wondering if I meant for our daughter or for me.

He hugged me and encouraged me to go run some errands. I resisted the urge to sprint out the door, and walked slowly like it was no big deal.

We finally made it until Monday morning, all of us hopeful that the pain would end soon.

The doctor examined McKenzie’s mouth and her x-ray and immediately said her tooth was too infected to do the root canal.

Wait, what?

What are you talking about? What does that mean?

He explained that there was so much infection that if he performed the root canal, there would be more complications and her pain would increase. He needed to clean the infection, medicate it and let the area settle and heal first. Then she could come back in two weeks for the root canal.

Two weeks?

I made eye contact with my daughter and knew we were both feeling the same thing. We just wanted this to be over.

She made it through step one and we left the office, both numb for different reasons.

As the day progressed, McKenzie seemed so much better. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that the pain was really gone and that all would be well again.

Until she woke early the next morning in tears again, saying her tooth was throbbing and hurting and why wouldn’t it get better?

We made another trip to the dentist and I so wanted to say, “Can’t you just do the stupid root canal, even with the infection?” Well, I did ask that, but I removed the word, “stupid.” He explained again that the pain would be worse if we didn’t allow time for healing and that more complications could arise.

He examined the tooth and said it was healing, but there might still be some pain at times.

Just hearing the doctor say, “It is healing,” made all of us feel better.

I can’t stop thinking about the fact that the doctor had to address the infection before McKenzie could experience any kind of healing.

As I reflect on the last month and look forward to Easter, I am struck by how true this idea is spiritually as well. And how often I don’t recognize any of the infection I am carrying until the pain is unbearable. Can I believe that God is really in the process of healing me even though life can be so painful? Do I believe and embrace the hope of redemption and the resurrection?

Pain is a difficult issue to understand and process. There are days when I witness such devastating pain in others that all I can do is cry. Pain can feel like darkness and to sit in that often causes me anxiety, anger, and an urge to sprint for the door to find some relief. I want a reason for pain and am often tempted to tell suffering friends or family that while I don’t know why they are suffering, I am sure God has something really great for them at the end of it. Like a pot of gold at the end of the tragedy rainbow. I am not sure that verse is in the Bible as much as I want it to be.

My Lent challenge to spend time in silence and solitude has been one that has forced me to sit in the uncertainty and not try to fix everything in three easy steps. It has also been a time where God has allowed me to see some “infection” that He wants to heal in my heart, things that need to be cleansed and medicated and examined. While I wish there were some spiritual ointment that I could apply for instant recovery and be done with it, I know healing takes time, grace, and God’s mysterious power. It is in the pain that I am finally seeking Him, and it is in the pain that He is showing me that He is God and that I am loved.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor chronicles her year of studying darkness which took her on a journey of exploring “dark caves, underground nightclubs, subterranean chapels, and unlit cabins in the woods on nights with no moons.” She learned that God has much to show us in the darkness and that often it is the darkness where we grow the most. As I read her chapter on her experience of caving, I was struck by how pain can feel like walking through a cave. You can’t see where you are going and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You have no idea if the exit is two steps in front of you or miles down the road. You have to pay attention in a way that is completely different from being in the light and you learn a lot about yourself in the darkness.

There are things in my life that I don’t know the answer to right now. Things that require waiting and are out of my control. They feel challenging and if I am honest, I want to see the finish line, to know that there is something great waiting there, that all of these unknowns have great solutions. And yet, it is in this time of darkness, of not knowing, that I am experiencing God in a way that I never have. In the quiet of my Lent exercise, I am catching my breath. I am learning more about who He is and who I am not. I can’t explain it in words really, but I am more settled and more willing to acknowledge how unpredictable life can be. That doesn’t mean I don’t wake up some mornings feeling anxious and overwhelmed by it all, but I have experienced a comfort in the darkness that I can only describe as grace.

As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I find great hope in Barbara Brown Taylor’s thoughts on Jesus’ resurrection:

“By all accounts, a stone blocked the entrance to the cave so that there were no witnesses to the resurrection. Everyone who saw the risen Jesus saw Him after.Whatever happened in the cave happened in the dark. As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

New life starts in the dark. Can we trust that this is true? The hope of resurrection is that Jesus brings new life to our complete darkness in a way that we cannot understand. May the power and truth of the resurrection offer us great hope as we enter Holy Week.

This is the final post in the current Lent Series.