On flossing, or grace revisited
During my Lenten book study this week, the story of the prodigal son surfaced in our conversation. "It's about accepting grace," everyone said of the older son. "Grace, and mercy, and letting go, and nonjudgment, and not resenting what is not yours to give."
Yeah, I'm still having trouble with that.
I've spoken before about my conflicted feelings over the prodigal son parable, and my frustration likely stems partially from the eldest child complex (Seriously, does anyone who comes first in the birth order actually like the outcome of this tale?). It seems also to run much deeper, though--my rage over life not playing out fairly, tit for tat, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Hell, I even returned to the Dollar Tree for three rolls of wrapping paper after driving all the way home last week when I realized that the cashier never handed me one of the bags with the supplies that I had purchased.
And now, every night, my resentment festers. The youngest child is embraced once again when Dan crawls into bed after a cursory swish of rinse in his mouth, a brief running of a toothbrush across his teeth, with nary a cavity while I slave away with many a dental tool in the bathroom. He never needed braces and had not been to the dentist in almost two years until two days ago. I think I must have shot him such dagger stares as I completed my twenty minute ritual of brushing, then flossing around my orthodontia with the special threaders, cursing as my floss shredded yet again, rinsing with mouthwash, cleaning around the brackets with a small wire brush, applying topical fluoride toothpaste, and finally securing the elastics around the proper hooks that I guilted him into flossing sometimes now. Every other night. "I don't need to go too crazy," he told me.
Some people envy others with nice houses or shiny hair or incredible careers. I am jealous of shiny, white teeth, healthy plump gums, and braces-free smiles. I am not sure how this happened: How did I get to be the one who needed braces for a third time and gum grafting surgery when I flossed every night? I never drank sugary soda or sucked on hard candy or chewed anything other than sugarless gum. I wore my retainer religiously for nine years after my braces came off (I stopped wearing it when I got engaged at the permission of my orthodontist--I think he was joking, but still. And who wants to go to bed next to someone wearing a smelly, germy mouthpiece?). I went to the dentist twice a year all throughout college and early adulthood, which I am pretty sure most no one does. I bought the expensive electric toothbrush and used it.
But, no cigar. It is everyone else who has perfect Hollywood smiles and twenty minutes more time every evening to enjoy curled up in their beds. When I begin to add up the total time I have spent on dental hygiene in the past year, I actually feel my blood pressure spike. All those hours--days probably--I will never get back. I know it's not very nice or I suppose Christian of me, but I want Dan to get cavities. I want the people who never wore their retainers at all to have the bite alignment problems and for those with poor diets to have ugly, stained teeth. That just makes sense, right?
I choose not to think about how fortunate I am to have money to fund the dental work I require, a caring team of dentists committed to my care, and family members who have listened to my complaints more times than I count. Or, for that matter, the utter egotism underlying my biblical interpretation of the prodigal son parable. If three years of divinity school has only served to reinforce such individualistic and superficial hermeneutical tendencies, the church is in trouble.
Maybe I better go back to the Bible and read that passage again. I'm not so sure that my understanding of the irony of good flossing habits and dental health is quite what Jesus had in mind when he told the story. At the very least, I guess I can at least stop giving Dan the death stare every night when I'm in front of the mirror flicking little bits of food in all directions.
It's a start.