I knew it was time to quit when I was about to numb a patient to fill his tooth and he threatened to punch me in the face.
Isn’t he supposed to thank me for helping him? Who wants a job like this? Not me! Yet there are 1,000’s of dentists who go to work every day only to face people who don’t want to be there and are fearful they will be hurt. Crazy! Or is it?
I think it’s important to clarify something about my hostile dental patient. I would have felt the same way if I were him because I wasn’t a dentist! That’s right. I had never studied dentistry, been to dental school, or even held a needle. I was simply helping a dental team on the mission field and doing my best to be an armchair assistant. After a few days of helping, the lead dentist asked if I wanted to help prep a patient for a filling by numbing him. He said he would guide my hand and I just had to slowly apply the Novocain. Sure, why not? If I was ever going to give dentistry a go, now was the time.
When the patient opened his mouth and saw my hand being guided, he paused and said, “Wait, aren’t you a pastor?” I said “Yes.” He said “Okay, but if you hurt me, I will punch you in the face.”
At this point, I thought “bad idea” and told the dentist to go ahead and finish. But the dentist insisted we continue with the procedure. Well, I’m happy to say the patient was properly numbed, the tooth was filled, and I didn’t get punched in the face. It was quite the experience, one I never want to repeat and I’m sure the patient felt likewise.
But I did learn a couple of things in the process that I quickly wanted to share:
1. Helping Others Will Be Uncomfortable
As I reflect back on the work of a dentist, “uncomfortable” is the first word that comes to mind. Everything about the experience is uncomfortable on both sides of the chair. The patient is uncomfortable having someone probing around in their mouth, sticking them with needles, and the sound and smell of drilling on teeth. The dentist is also uncomfortable probing around in a stranger’s mouth, putting them on edge, and knowing they are making them uncomfortable. The whole thing is just downright uncomfortable, yet through it all people are being helped!
When it comes to helping others, this is not just a dental principle but a biblical principle as well. Jesus modeled this truth throughout His entire life and death on the cross.
Philippians 2:4-7 – Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Jesus was willing to be “uncomfortable” in order to help us and save us from our sinful condition (see my blog post, Hell No!). As Christians, we are all called to step into this same truth in order to help others. It is important to remember that it will feel “uncomfortable” when you reach out to help someone but that is how it works if you want to make a difference.
2. Helping Others Doesn’t Guarantee Success
During our dental week on the mission field, there were plenty of people that came and left once they saw the procedure. They decided they would rather live with the pain than sit in a chair and have a dentist work on them. Of course, we tried our best to assure them it would be okay, but some couldn’t be convinced. Again we see this same truth modeled in the life and ministry of Jesus. Not everyone responded positively to the message of Jesus. In fact even after Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to His disciples there were those who weren’t buying in.
Matthew 28:16-17 – Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
Best intentions don’t always guarantee success when helping others. There will be those who don’t want help and that is okay. The key is to not let that discourage you from trying. This is all part of the process of stepping in and helping others.
So yes, I quit my mission field dental school and never attempted to be a dentist again. Why? I think the world is a safer place as a result of my decision :-). But I have learned some very important lessons about helping others that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
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