On Extractions and the Rich Power of Words

These days, I tend to wonder about a lot of things.345

In part, this is due to my age and stage in life.

In part, it’s due to experiences of this past year.

And in part it comes, quite simply, from the pervasive hopelessness that seems to overtake me more often than not.

Caught in waves of questions, guilt, and self-condemnation, I wonder if I’ll ever get past this, if I’ll ever be able to embrace grace and move forward, and if I’ll ever really and truly be able to offer something of value to those around me. I’ve been frozen, unable to concentrate well. And all too often I’ve hidden myself in games of Spider Solitaire rather than allow my mind to explore the rough and ragged areas of life that I’m trying to avoid.

But at least—and this is huge—I can now read again.

For a while, it was all I could do to take in a short blogpost. Finally, though, words penned by authors as diverse as Henri Nouwen and Shauna Niequist have begun to make their way into my soul, resonating with some of my deeper places and helping me to see beyond the desolation that has seemed intent on consuming me these past several months.

And believe it or not, an infected tooth was the catalyst for this step forward.

I had been trying to run—from myself, my thoughts, my reality. Then came last Friday, when after weeks of discomfort a problematic molar finally had to be yanked out, and with it came a significant amount of infection that had been hidden between the roots.

The extraction was actually somewhat painful. An hour’s worth of attempts to anesthetize the area had met with only partial success. So by the time I arrived home, I was feeling just a bit sorry for myself, and eventually a few tears gave way to a waterfall and I was pouring out my lament to God, finally confessing my frustrations, my regrets, my heart that was breaking from words spoken to me and by me, a heart breaking from my own failures and the failures of others. Literally and figuratively, it was a watershed moment.

But that moment was just the beginning. The entire weekend was punctuated by times of tears as I dealt more directly and more humbly with my regrets of the past months and even the past years. God kept at me, relentlessly yet beautifully: a conversation with my dear friend Lisa about laying it all out before God and trusting Him to cleanse, heal and forgive; a night of live worship, soul-stirring music and prayer led Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmond, Max Lucado and others at The Forum. Many rich words, many bittersweet tears.

Through it all, there was a sense that God was moving, that the infection that had been pervading my soul was being slowly extracted, not as quickly as the infection that had been yanked out with the tooth, but it was being extracted nonetheless.

And it didn’t stop there. I encountered Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart and was blown away by what I found there:

The struggle is real because the danger is real. It is the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince ourselves of our virtuousness…

The encounter with Christ does not take place before, after, or beyond the struggle with our false self and its demons. No, it is precisely in the midst of this struggle that our Lord comes to us…

Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.

This is a journey. In reality, it’s a journey I’ve been on for quite some time. I’ve taken a number of detours, and I’ve circled the same area more than once. But it feels so good to once again take in the richness of the written word, to delight in Niequist’s essays on life, friendship and food, to be touched to the core by Nouwen’s wise, insightful counsel that seems meant just for me.

Words. Words of life, words of hope, words spoken by friends, words penned by strangers and set to music or placed in print.

Words all used by God.

I’m taking them in again—in part due to an infected tooth—and I am so immensely grateful.

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