As I shared in My Story, I drank a lot of vodka and smoked a lot of cigarettes, and I imagine that the abuse my body suffered is now having its affect on my teeth. Thankfully I have had them seen to by a very good dentist, but one of them continues to be a problem. I have to go back again and get it looked at and hopefully it will get sorted out.
Why do I share this mundane info with you?
Well there seems to be a real difference in the way some dentists deal with you. I saw a variety of dentists on the NHS and all of them couldn't really care less about my teeth. The way they handled my and my teeth was often with little regard for how I was feeling or my genuine vulnerability that I feel when I am in the chair. It feels like I am just another patient with bad teeth that needs sorting out. It feels like because it is my fault that my teeth are bad then I shouldn't expect my sympathy or care. They've got a job to do, simple as that.
However, I recently saw a community dentist who normally deals with patients who have special needs and disabilities. The difference was incredible. Because she is always treating people who are vulnerable, her attitude to me was so different to other dentists. She was caring and concerned and keen to make me feel as relaxed as possible. She talked me through everything with great clarity and made sure I understood everything that was happening. I remember being seen by another community dentist some years ago, a guy who went to my church, and he was exactly the same. Regardless of how my teeth have come to be how they are, she wanted to remedy them and do the best she could for me.
An example of this was that I went to see my normal dentist a few months ago and they wanted to pull two of my teeth out saying that they were not able to do anything for them. Now these two teeth are quite near the front so I said I wanted a second opinion. I went in next week a another dentist said the same thing, but I was still unhappy with what they said. Now they didn't do an x-ray, so I knew that they couldn't be treating me right. So I spoke to a friend who worked for a community dentist and went to see her the following week. She took an x-ray and gathered another dentist to look at my pictures and together they concluded that fillings and root canal would be the best course of action for my teeth and that neither of them needed to be extracted. You see and extraction and a root canal are worth the same points in the NHS, but the extraction takes 5 minutes, the root canal, an hour. The first dentist didn't want to spend time on my teeth, the second one did.
Now I apologise if your are a dentist or dental nurse and I have generalised somewhat, but I can only share form my own personal experiences.
Made me think about church...
People get involved with the Christian faith from all kinds of backgrounds. Some come baring the wounds of some really rough times in their lives. Some of these wounds are self-afflicted, some are by circumstances, some from other people. But whatever these life wounds are, people come with them still very raw and real; people come to Christianity feeling very vulnerable.
Now our attitude in church could be like the first dentist. We don't like how people got the life wounds they are carrying. We don't like the places they were the night before and the people they were mixing with. We can judge people for the life they have lived and are living. So we don't really care about the person, we just want to see a 'result'. As long as they become a Christian, that's all that matters. An 'extraction' would be the best result. Pull them out of their environment. It's easier that way. Not only that, but we don't have to spend time trying to heal at a deeper level. It's easier for us. It might not be in the person's best interest, but we've got the result we were looking for and can move on.
Or we could be very different...
We want to know how they got their wounds. And we care. We spend time listening and trying to get into their world, figuring out how best to help them. And then we spend time getting into their world, trying to bring healing from within it. It takes time and energy, frustrations and setbacks, but we are investing ourselves into the wounds and life of this person, and that is real love right there. We don't judge them on the life they once lived or where they were the night before, because we understand that if it wasn't for a few small differences, we would be where they are. We understand that they are vulnerable and need us to be vulnerable for them.
We can sometimes think in church that we are there to see people become a Christian and that this is our purpose, so whenever we come into contact with someone new then the purpose is to make them a Christian. The reality is that we are called to simply love people.
Whatever their background, whatever they believe, wherever they were the night before, we are called to love them. No motive, no agenda.
Now that is hard-work. That takes time and energy. But that is what something of what it means to follow Jesus.