Though his name has long escaped me, I will never forget his rage. We had just moved back to Edmonton after three years in the Canadian north. My mom was looking for a family dentist and a relative recommended this fellow in a downtown office tower. Perhaps he developed his drinking problem prior to the recommendation — that’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me. He was the angriest dentist I’ve ever encountered. His patience for children was non-existent. Once the door was closed and I was cut off from my mother, my mouth was supposed to open wide and when it didn’t open wide enough, his mouth opened wide with the most foul cursing I’d ever heard. It was all directed at me. Thankfully, Mom only took us there a couple of times — but those times were enough to forever put the fear of dentistry (odontophobia) in my blood.
Our next dentist was a gentle man, far kinder. However, his dental hygienist was another story. I called her “Carol the Butcher.” There was a butcher shop next door and I was quite convinced she went back and forth. Thanks both to Dr. Drunk and Carol the Butcher, I’ve always had a great deal of anxiety in the dentist’s office. It can be hard to get past traumatic childhood experiences. As a result, I’ve always hated going to the dentist: the blood, the pain, the way my body seizes up in the chair. I come away sore and worn right out.
Eventually it dawned on me that I could minimize some of my trouble through regular dental hygiene. Other, more friendly, dental hygienists down the track taught me some helpful disciplines. I learned that regular brushing with a soft toothbrush was a key. I couldn’t really floss because I have sensitive gums (and I’m a bit clumsy), but a hygienist recommended some soft inter-dental brushes that could help in cleaning between my teeth. Regularly using these would make my visits to the dentist a bit less traumatic. As I developed better habits in dental hygiene (with some helpful tips), I was experiencing far less grief in the dental chair.
So much of our grief in life can be alleviated through developing good habits. Sometimes we just need to be taught. At other times, we need to become teachable and it can take some time. This is true when it comes to dental hygiene, but also when it comes to spiritual hygiene. I’ve learned that developing good spiritual habits or disciplines is just as valuable to our spiritual health as good habits are to our dental hygiene. When you ignore your spiritual hygiene, you oftentimes bring grief on yourself. For example, if you think that you can be spiritually healthy while seldom going to church to be under the Word, you’re just deceiving yourself. It’d be like thinking that you’re going to have healthy teeth while seldom brushing. Or if you think that you can be spiritually sound without reading and studying the Bible for yourself on a regular basis, you’re in a dream-world. It’d be like thinking that your next dental visit will go fine without you having regularly flossed, or using something like an inter-dental brush. Good hygiene is essential to good health — and it always requires effort and discipline.
My lowest points, spiritually speaking, have always come when I’ve been neglecting discipline in my spiritual life, especially the reading and study of God’s Word. I will always be thankful for an elder who challenged me on this point about five years ago. You may think it odd for a pastor to admit this. It’s true that I’m always busy with the Bible, but usually I’m busy with it for the benefit of others. Yes, I’ve always gotten some benefit from it too. But this elder challenged me to be busy with Scripture on a daily basis for my own benefit. He said, “Have you ever tried reading through the Bible in a year?” I hadn’t up to that point, but he really got me thinking. I was getting into good habits for my dental health, but what about good habits for my spiritual health? And which is more important? The Lord worked through that elder to introduce me to the habit of reading Scripture every day, two or three chapters, for my own benefit. Good dental hygienists introduced me to good habits for my teeth; a good elder introduced me to a good habit for my soul. For both, I’m forever grateful.
Looking for a Bible reading plan to start on a good habit for your spiritual health? Here’s a place to start.