So there I was, staring at the ceiling from the endodontist’s chair, his halogen light shining down my throat. He’d been working on my root canal awhile already and we talked —he more clearly than I— during the little breaks we’d take to rest his fingers and my jaws. He had a neat country way about him and we kind of hit it off. If you can like your entodontist, that is.
At the end one of those little respites I heard him say, four fingers or more in my mouth so I couldn’t answer, “Yeah, we have an old saw in this trade: You don’t have to floss all your teeth…”
He paused for effect. I perked to hear the minimum requirement from his vantage point.
“…just the ones you want to keep.” He was outside my peripheral vision when he finished but I could sense it. He was grinning. He’d zinged another patient who wasn’t a very good flosser. And he was right, I seldom flossed.
When my appointment came to an end and all the hardware and tooth dam had been removed I broached the subject again. “One of the reasons I floss so seldom is because my teeth are so tight to each other I can’t get the floss between them. I guess I’m not fond of slicing my fingers with tight dental floss when it won’t go where it’s supposed to anyway.” There. Maybe I had him where he’d admit I was one of the exceptions. Wrong.
“Keep at it,” he said, “you try to slip something through there day after day, your teeth will move over and make room.”
“Are you serious? Why am I just now hearing this at nearly fifty?”
He smiled a little. This time I saw a hint of hope in his expression. “I don’t have a good answer for that one, but I can assure you that it’s not too late. Coax those teeth over a bit, get in there more often, and they’ll smile when they see you coming. Until then, use something with a handle on it to get a little more leverage. Start with flossing tape if you need to, it’s thinner than the thread.”
Amazingly, he was right. I’ve become a regular flosser now. The decay has slowed down – big time. It’s amazing some days how much work that tiny little thread or tape and some warm water does!
The other day I was waiting for a red light to change. I hate when I arrive just as it turns red, don’t you? It was one of those left-green arrow, then regular lights, all four directions intersections. The thought came to me, from where, I don’t know:
A lot of us could afford to do more spiritual flossing. Think of the decay we could avoid.
Similarities began to come to mind. I’m glad I was alone, actually, as I would have had a hard time explaining I was comparing self examination and confession with flossing. Socrates may have said “the unexamined life isn’t worth living” but Jesus and Paul and David and James all wrote things to indicate we need to take care of sin — before it becomes sin if we can.
Think of it:
You don’t have to stay on top of all your virtues, just the ones you want to keep.
If you coax those virtues over a bit, get self-examination and confession in there more often, eventually they’ll smile when they see you coming. Nice to see you again – take away anything you find.
It’s tougher at first (aren’t most things?) but when we consistently, forthrightly look at the things we want most in life and take away the things that promote decay, it becomes easier. Less painful. Even welcomed.
I’ve never liked when God keeps me after class so He can talk to me about something. It’s as fun as a root canal, really. But checking every day? Taking care of things PRE-decay? Much nicer. And I don’t worry as much when He says “How we doing, Phil?”
“Should be pretty good.”
Oh-good. I love having clean teeth — I mean virtues.