Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Be not afraid

During Sunday’s sermon, our Minister Emeritus shared his favorite quotation from Jesus: “Be not afraid.” The minister then ran through a litany of categories that most of us fear: change, stasis, sameness, differences, life, death, knowledge, ignorance, and so on.

He didn’t specifically mention dental surgery (nor did Jesus, as far as I know), but since I was 24 hours from my first scheduled gum graft, I took the message to heart anyway.

It’s so easy to let our fears rule us, whether those are truly profound fears such as terminal illness and national security or truly trivial fears such as temporary physical discomfort. My dentist first recommended that I see a periodontist seven years ago, and I’ve known since then that I’d eventually need to undergo gum graft procedures, but I managed to put it off year after year because I was so apprehensive.

The problem was that neglecting to schedule the procedure created a different fear: the fear of regular dental cleanings. First of all, the cleanings generate pain that might be alleviated once my gums are treated; but secondly, I always felt so abashed to have to admit that no, once again, I had not taken the dentist’s recommendation to schedule a periodontal appointment. Finally, two months ago, he instilled in me a new fear: the fear that my teeth would start falling out if I didn’t attend to this matter.

The gum surgery is now 48 hours behind me and I feel fine. Yes, there was a fair amount of discomfort during the procedure and a lot more as the Novacaine wore off throughout the afternoon. Yes, I’ve been hungry for the past two days since there’s so little I can eat during the short-term healing process. And yes, my left cheek looks like it is storing a golf ball.

But none of it is as bad as my fears led me to believe. “Be not afraid,” I should have told myself earlier, and then all of this would be done by now. But I was afraid, and so I’m undergoing the discomfort now that could potentially be seven years behind me by this point.

This experience, plus the minister’s reminder of Jesus’ words, made me think of the other fairly trivial things of which I’m currently feeling afraid. One significant source of apprehension in my life right now is seeing my kids grow older. At the ages of nine and thirteen, they seem to me to be at the absolutely ideal ages from a parenting perspective: they’re fun, happy, resourceful, independent and confident.

By this time next year, Tim will be in eighth grade and we’ll be learning about the systems and inner workings of the public high school, a setting I dread simply because it’s so unfamiliar to me. At nine, Holly embodies all the merriment of girlhood, but as Caitlin Flanagan’s controversial new book, Girl Land, and her frequent NPR interviews remind me, all kinds of scary things potentially lie in her path as she approaches early adolescence. In another sixteen months, our lease runs out and we’ll need to find another place to live. My parents and parents-in-law are healthy, but that won’t last forever. And are the kids’ college tuition funds in good enough shape at this point?

So much to be afraid of, and yet really nothing to be afraid of except the normal progression of a blessed life. Gum surgery isn’t pleasant, but not being able to afford or have access to necessary dental procedures is surely worse.

As I prepared to leave the periodontist’s office after the procedure, a woman in the waiting room smiled sympathetically at me. “You look really uncomfortable,” she said.

“Well, not uncomfortable enough to merit putting this off for seven years,” I admitted. Be not afraid. I’m not sure the singular experience of getting through a gum graft is enough to allay all of my daily anxieties, but it’s a lesson I’ll take to heart nonetheless, and try to put to good use going forward.

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