“Oh my goodness, YOU are a CHEEK-CHEWER!” the dental assistant howled in disbelief. Never before had a dentist so quickly shoved an ivory mirror into my face with its blinding light and forced me to gaze at my gaping mouth.
“Do you SEE this scar tissue?!” she jutted her finger toward a solid line of white gunk on the inside of my cheek. I nodded awkwardly, mouth fully extended, feeling as guilty as a kid with his hand in a cookie jar, even though I had never in my life even heard of cheek-chewing, nor had I been convicted of it by so self-assured of a woman.
Do you ever find yourself at the mercy of a painfully informative individual who tells you things about yourself that you cannot possibly want to know? Such was my dental assistant that day as she regaled me about the bit of glue she found on my back tooth that she must clean off that must have been left over from my braces sixteen years ago, before going on to exclaim all about my enlarged frena, specifically my maxiallary labial frenum, and how I might just want to have a frenectomy one of these days because, well, do I notice if I have any relatives with especially large-looking teeth? (Though, to be honest, her hyper-informative state reminded me of myself in the grammar classroom, heh heh.)
But I was most concerned about her shocked exclamations about my cheek.
I went home and did what any self-respecting person would do and googled “Causes and Effects of Cheek-Chewing,” only to learn learn that I will, of course, get mouth cancer from this habit formed, apparently, by stress.
“That is stupid,” I decided.
The next day, I noticed, “I’m chewing my cheek!”
She was right. I tend to clamp down hard on my mouth, even with a part of my cheek in between, especially if I’m nervous, or thinking about something.
Which has caused me to ask the question: why hadn’t any previous dental assistant, in all my tooth-ed life, care to make the observation that I’m a cheek-chewer?!
My little trip to the dentist made me realize two things:
(1) I want dental insurance for Christmas, and
(2) I had learned a lesson. Through thorough inspection, one can see what wasn’t seen before. (And not only, apparently, if one is a brilliant dental hygienist, who has a general clue, including the ability to notice large chunks of missing cheek.)
These days I’m spending less time staring at my hyper-extended mouth in those whippy-blindy tan dentist mirrors, and instead looking into a different kind of mirror. I’m continuing to work on my New Year’s resolutions regarding mental health, which include reading a chapter in Proverbs every day in the month of June. Because who doesn’t need more wisdom in their life?
I find that reading the Proverbs is a bit like looking into a dentist’s mirror. I’m reminded of character attributes that are important but that nobody really talks about.
Statements like, “He who dwells on anxious thoughts chews his cheeks, and receiveth a sound thrashing for it at the gate.” Proverbs 32:9
Actually, more thought-provoking than that is Proverbs 24:16: “Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.”
I don’t know why this one little statement in the 24th chapter hit me square in the eyes on June 24th, but it did. It made me realize that getting back up, again and again, in the midst of failure, is a feature of the wise. So often, I beat myself up for any little mistake or misstep, and I get so focused on the fact that I MADE A MISTAKE that I barely retain any energy for problem solving. (Oh, and heaven forbid if it be a mistake that other people know I’ve made.)
This month, I’m working on getting back up in spite of failure, and I’m learning to ignore those little voices of self-debt that like to whisper all kinds of passive-aggressive little accusations.
For that is what it is to be wise.
Indeed, I’m convinced that God offers wisdom freely, but you have to be a student of it, and you have to become best friends with a blinkin’ mirror.