When God Takes More: An Eight-Cavity Lent

I had a good plan for Lent, I thought, as I climbed into the dentist’s chair for the third time in three weeks. I sighed as I rested my head in the headrest and gazed, again, past my toes through the office window to the road outside the dentist’s office. I was there to have cavities six through eight worked on, the by-product of four pregnancies and two international moves in six years…and perhaps the occasional midnight dessert.

I smiled at the hygienist with whom I’d spent so much time this past month and the dentist arrived. I opened my mouth and the work commenced. Having previously enjoyed good dental health, this series of visits were far more difficult than I’d anticipated, spanning dental difficulties from a possible root canal to an usually long tooth nerve. While I tried to be grateful for modern medicine, exceptional dentists and facilities, I was also, in a word, grumpy. This exercise in restoring my teeth, a gift undoubtedly, was not, however, in my Lenten plan.

I took comfort in both the local anesthetics—enough for a small zoo animal, I was told—and also in Mother Teresa’s thoughts on when God takes more than we had planned on.

An excerpt from Where There is Love, There is God, a collection of Mother Teresa’s talks and writing, came to mind. One day a group of professors came to Mother Teresa and asked her to tell them what they could do to be happier. She, in her simple way, told them, “Smile at each other, make time for each other, enjoy each other.” They asked if she was married, and she said, “Of course.” They told her that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She simply said, “Yes.” She later told her nuns, “I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus. He can be very demanding.” (p. 322)

And so there. It was okay to acknowledge that, yes, having my teeth worked on was not what I had wanted to give to God. And I was grumpy about it. But Mother Teresa was strong enough to push past those feelings to see Who it was that was doing the taking—Her Beloved. And so she still smiled at Jesus, no matter what He asked of her.

I resolved to do the same as soon as the novocaine wore off.

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