“This will not hurt, you will feel no pain.” The dentist said it with confidence.
“But,” the patient challenged, “isn’t pain a little like beauty; isn’t it really in the eye of the bolder?” A bead of sweat appeared on his forehead, betraying a lifetime of fear of dentists.
No, this is not an excerpt from a new novel, it was me this morning. I’ve been going through a serious process of trying to save a painful molar. It has been neglected for a long time, mostly because I had no dental insurance when I pastored.
When I said that about pain being in the eye of the beholder to the dentist, he pulled back and gave me a brief lesson on the science of pain. He told me about nerve receptors and the messages they send to the brain when we experience pain. He said there are two different aspects of pain. One is the reaction to pain. Some people react in over-the-top ways to any kind of pain sensation at all, while other people show almost no reaction. My dentist tells me the pain is the same, it is the reaction that is different. He also described the difference in pain perception. Different people will perceive the normalcy of pain in differing ways; thus what may seem to be a great trauma to one person is deemed only a minor inconvenience to someone else.
It was about that time he stuck the high pitched whining drill into my mouth to fix the tooth that broke Sunday after church.
As he worked, I thought about pain from the perspective of life change. There is an old axiom that pastors know. It goes like this:
People will not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.
Think about that for a moment. Until it hurts more to remain in the situation (a bad relationship, destructive habits, relocation, a bad tooth) most of us will never make the appropriate change (break up, withdrawals, meeting new people, visit and pay the dentist) needed to make our lives better. I wondered if this is a perception or a reaction issue? As the dentist drilled and chiseled in my mouth, I decided that it was a perception problem, particularly a perception problem based on fear. We fear the unknown, even if there is a reasonable chance the unknown will feel better than the known. People’s reaction to the pain they live in is not a solution. They may complain about the relationship, feel shame about their addiction, look at the housing market in Montana, or avoid eating on that side of the mouth but until they perceive it is a pain that can be removed they will not do anything significant to fix it.
Pain is the bodies way of letting us know something is wrong. This is true of physical pain, emotional pain, and spiritual pain.
Now, you want to know, did the dentist hurt me? Was there pain? No, there was no pain because Dr. Aulick is a wonderful dentist who has done fantastic work on my mouth, making it much better. The only thing I felt was relief.