A few weeks ago I went to the dentist for a cleaning. For the first time in--Well, let's just say I've missed the last, oh, twenty cleanings. You do the math.
My saving grace with my teeth is that I am very, very meticulous about brushing and flossing (so as not to HAVE TO go to the dentist, of course)! But I knew that with all my efforts, it was time to go have a professional take a look.
I'll admit, I was more terrified to go for a dental cleaning than I was to give birth. Seriously! Sure, I was worried about pain and the sound of the drill and being told every tooth would need a root canal.
But the number one reason I was scared to go back was that I was sure I would be chastised and judged for being away so long.
Oh, I had my reasons for not going--no dental insurance for part of the time, and a history of being yelled at by the hygienist as a child. Good times. So either I couldn't go, or I had legitimate reasons for not wanting to go. It just got to the point that staying away somehow felt easier than returning.
And I was sure they'd make me feel rejected. They'd see me as a patient, of course, but really, why wouldn't they--Surely after so many years away I was sure I had, as they call it, "Lottery Mouth." But they'd judge me, I was certain. They'd smile their (shiny white perfectly veneered) smiles at me but inside would wonder how on earth I could stay away so long.
I felt like the Prodigal Patient.
I thought back to the son Jesus described to His disciples who had asked his own father for his portion of the inheritance, only to go off, live a wild life, and fritter it all away until he was penniless. To get by, he fed pigs and found himself eating out of the feeding trough because he was so famished. He wanted to return home, but surely questioned how warm the reception would be for someone like himself. Finally, he headed home, fully prepared to beg his father for a servant's job in the home. But while he was still a long way off, his father (who had been watching for him) saw him and went running. Running. He plowed into his boy with the warmest embrace. He brought him home, called for a celebration feast with the best meat and a ring for the son who had willingly left him. Such celebration for the one who was long gone, but had finally come home.
When I arrived at the dentist's office a few weeks ago, I was met with warmth and understanding. Nobody seemed to condemn me for being away so long. The hygienist just said, "We're just glad you're here today."
Grace, grace, grace. I had to smile.
Yes, I have a few cavities. But the report wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be (maybe my floss addiction might not be a bad thing). There's some work to be done. But I was shown grace.
How desperately we need grace. We willingly leave and do our own thing, and mess up in epic ways. We knowingly chase a life we were never meant to have and refuse the things that will introduce us to the Living God. We want what we want from Him, but we don't want Him.
But then one day, we find ourselves broken, penniless, and shoveling pig slop into our mouths. We realize we could have so much more, if only as His servant. But He's watching, waiting for our return. He's got His running shoes on, ready to race out and meet us on the return trip home. He has a fattened-calf feast and a robe and a ring in which He longs to adorn us.
"My child has returned!" Cheers and celebration all around. No condemnation. Just rejoicing over our return.
Grace, grace, grace.