I had a tooth removed a couple of weeks ago. And it wasn’t just pulled out with an easy little “plink.” Nope. My #3 molar has been giving me problems for years.
I had a root canal done on it 15 years ago. It seemed fine until about 3 years ago. Long story short, I found out that not only did I have infection in one of the root canals of that same tooth, but also that it had been eating away at the bone.
So I went and had another root canal done. More fun. The tooth again seemed fine until a few months ago when I was brushing my teeth and noticed that the bone near that tooth was hurting. Back to the dentist I went.
More x-rays were done, still more infection was found and another root canal was needed. Fuuuun. You’d think that would have taken care of it. He cleaned out those roots like he was the Roto-Rooter man. But the bone still hurt. So I trudged back off to the dentist again, where it was decided that the crown would be replaced.
As the dentist began to remove the crown I heard all kinds of crunching sounds and he stopped and asked me to smile as wide as I could. Then he sat back and said words that you don’t want to hear from your dentist: “I’m sorry, but your tooth was cracked and broke. You’ll need a $1500. bridge. Or if you’d like to go the “luxury route,” (sarcasm mine) you can pay over twice as much for an implant.”
But first, the infected, cracked and broken tooth had to come out. That was no less fun than any of the three root canals. This tooth had given me problems for 15 years and it wasn’t going to stop now. As the dentist started to try to remove it, it just crumbled into little pieces. He had to use a drill to get it out, and he had to remove it one root at a time.
It was a very tedious process, but finally the tooth was out. The crater-sized hole it left has to heal for about another month before I can be fitted for the bridge.
And here’s the funny thing: almost every time I go to floss, I start to floss that tooth until I realize there’s only space there. Even though that evil tooth has made me go through 3 root canals, caused infection to the point of wearing away bone, may have caused damage enough to give me headaches on the side of my head, and a painful time of having it removed and the healing that goes along with it, my brain still thinks it’s there and wants to nurture it and take care of it.
That was the long, scenic version of saying this: how many times do we go through the time, sometimes years of prayer, painful trial and error, two steps forward and one step back, to finally be rid of some sinful attitude or behavior, knowing the pain that it’s caused in our lives, only to forget that pain and try to go back to it and nurture the sin again? Sounds weird, but we do it.
How many times have we, for example, asked for the ability to forgive someone, and then we do, only to later dredge up that anger again, harbor it, think about it, and even feel justified in holding onto the grudge again?
Now, I won’t have problems trying to take care of that rotten, phantom tooth once the hole has been replaced with a brand new, clean, unbroken, perfect bridge made just for me.
God does the same thing. Whenever He says in His word to “put off” something, He always follows it up with a “put on.”
“But now also put off all these things: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, shameful speech out of your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender feelings of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving yourselves, if anyone has a complaint against any.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
So, to use the example above, when we forgive someone, we have to put something in the place of that anger and unforgiveness we once had so that the unforgiveness doesn’t slip back into our hearts. Even if the person you have forgiven is not a person you would ever have a relationship with because of the nature of the offense or their sinful lifestyle, you can still replace the unforgiveness with agape love.
Not that your forgiveness and love are saying, “what you did is okay,” but we are told to forgive because forgiveness heals our hearts. And agape love, the love that is a choice, the unconditional kind of love is a love that can only come from God. It is a merciful and gracious love that comes not from our feelings, but from our spirits, which have been reborn in Christ - the same love that God loved us with when we were yet still sinners. We can let Christ love them through us.
And once we allow God to pluck from our hearts that unforgiveness, that anger, that bitterness, and replace the holes that are left with His love, we won’t as easily go back to where we once were: harboring and nurturing a sin that only leaves us broken and in pain.
I’ve had to do this myself. I’ve had to forgive people that in the flesh would be completely impossible. But God’s power is enough to forgive and to love the unloveable.
The best way to do that is to start praying for that person. Ask God to give you a love for them. Pray for their salvation or for their reconciliation to Christ.
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you.