Naturally, I was late for my bi-annual dentist appointment. Wrongly assuming I was some sort of a traffic god, I gave myself three minutes for a 15-minute drive. Slightly frazzled, I walked through doors that I have walked through since I was a little girl.
Dr. Long has been my dentist – well, forever.He’s a good one but it’s kind of always like this:
He gave me a retainer, helped me get my braces in tip-top shape, fixed a chipped tooth, and most times, cleaned my altogether decent teeth.
Escorted back by the hygienist, the tension was palpable due to my late arrival.
To mitigate this, I quickly commented, “I’m really sorry for being late.”
Nothing. Except for the whining of the ultrasonic cleaning instruments that dentists frequently use. What a pleasant background noise.
Great. Now the woman about to clean my teeth with a razor sharp tartar scraper is less than enthused because of my tardiness. Less than ideal.I really, I mean really, need to work on being on time to things.
Delicately but without much sympathy, she put the bib around my neck so that the spit, toothpaste, and general dentistry-grossness didn’t get all over my shirt.
She was still silent.
Quick! Say something! I couldn’t think of anything.
She nudged first, “So, how has your summer been?”
I paused. Answer with grace. Grace, kindness, grace, enthusiasm, and still more grace.
“Well, first of all, I can’t believe we are nearing the end. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve been working and doing some trips around the country. Trying to have as many outdoor adventures as I can. It’s been a good summer. What about you?”
She told me about her big move into a suburban community from her previous home of 16 years on a southeastern Colorado farm.
We bonded over the mutual experience of boxes and settling into a new neighborhood. She softened, and told me about her upcoming anniversary – her wedding one – honoring 15 years of marriage.
I’m always about asking the deeper, thicker, molasses-heavy kind of questions, so I posed, “Did you change a lot in those years? With your spouse, I mean?”
“Of course I did. You – we – always will. I got married late. 36. I had resigned to the idea that I had been blessed with the gift of singleness. Just when I gave it up, like a boomerang, it came back to me.”
“I guess you never know, right?”
“Exactly. That’s exactly it. I kind of think that the right thing will always happen. We just have to be willing to loosen our grip and you know. Let it go, I guess.”
With crumbs of plaque resting idly between the crevices of my teeth, I moved my tongue to ask the next question that had popped into my mind –
“Are you a Christian?”
Her eyebrows pointed downwards quickly in a bit of shock, disbelief, and uncertainty. Mostly, suspicion. What business did I – a patient – have asking in the middle of a cleaning appointment?
I asked because her spirit, sentiment, and largely, her vocabulary choice ruminated and dabbled slightly in Christianese you often hear in the church. The “gift of singleness” is an idea or phrase I’ve only heard in that context and so, frankly, I just had to ask. As usual, my curiosity got the best of me.
She laughed hesitantly and looked at me like I was no more than 10 years of age.
“Aww, you’re cute.”
Wait! No! I’m not about to whip out the bridge to Jesus or some device or tool to convert you to a particular brand of faith! Literally, she just struck me as someone who was probably deeply spiritual.
“So – let me tell you first. I don’t like that question – “
I interrupted her.
“It’s the wrong question. I don’t ask that of you because you have to fit in that label, necessarily, I ask because you seem like you know God. From the way you are talking. I should ask, something like, do you know God?”
“I’m a seeker. I’ve been seeking my entire life. I go to church, I take part in bible studies, and I desperately want to know God. But, Christianity carries a lot of meaning that I’m not sure I can also carry that word with me. It’s full of hate, honestly, and that really scares me.”
Totally fair. And, she didn’t have to explain all of that, but she did. And honestly, I understood exactly what she meant. I got it.
“I struggle all the time. There’s “Christians” who live lives full of malice, judgment, and narrow-minded ideologies. There’s also “non-Christians” who are revolutionizing communities for positive movements. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that it’s essential to love what God loves. Faith is an active part of life. It’s more than what you label yourself. It’s how you are living.”
“Yes! That’s it!”
She softly, much more openly, laughed again and mumbled that I was “adorable.”
“How old are you again – 27?”
“Oh for heavens sake! You are a baby. Just a baby. Are you dating anyone?”
“No, not right now.”
“Well, no rush. Like I said, it all happens for a reason. Don’t give up.”
I gargled, spit, and smiled. My front row of teeth were now sparkly clean – glowing from the removed coffee stains of the past year.
The best advice I have read is that everyone is our teacher. Thus, if everyone is our teacher, then certainly, that should (and can, and will) include dental hygienists.
My teeth are smoother, cleaner, and my love for authenticity in in the world is a little higher, too.
Own what you are. Share it. Listen to others. Even from a dentists’ chair.
I love living a life of faith because it presents an opportunity to reclaim the identities placed upon us. I’m a Christian. And I’m so, so ridiculously imperfect as a human. But, I also choose to believe God loves me exactly for who I am. He created me, after all. If you start believing this – really, fully, in your bones believing – than it becomes less scary to function in this world.
My authenticity was made good on a cross. Label or not – that cannot be taken.
Perhaps we can consider what it would look like to reclaim this word “Christianity” – so that instead of being seen for the hatred played out in the world, people would instead find a faith rooted and made right in love.
That’s what I think about when I sit in a dentist office. That’s why life is so cool.