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“…‘It is written…’” (Matthew 4:4, NKJV).
As followers of Christ, leaders in dentistry have the opportunity—perhaps even the responsibility—to write things down for their teams as a reference and to understand as principled guidance for working together, serving the patients in their care or dealing with the vendors who knock on their doors or crowd their inboxes. When those written guidelines are lived out by the owning dentist or partners, dental teams catch a vision for how dentistry and ministry come together in kingdom living. And those who put their thoughts into words on paper or screen can have an impact far beyond the walls of their offices.
In one of my Bible study periods, the words found in 1 John 2:6 captured my attention. The verse reads, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (NKJV). The “He” in this passage, written by the apostle John, was referring to “Jesus Christ the righteous.” Long after reading this Scripture, the words kept coming back to my mind. I knew the Holy Spirit was inspiring my mind to engage in a specific activity, to walk just as Jesus walked. I realized, then, that it is not enough to say you are a Christian; instead, there must be practical evidence to support that statement.
There was a time when some Christians felt the need to appear like they had it all together. As though living an abundant life in Christ was a formula you just had to plug into and what emerged was someone who demonstrated equally all the fruit of the Spirit, all the time. And while we might strive to be that endlessly selfless and giving person to our patients, it’s a little harder to keep that image up with the people we spend the most time with. Naturally you might think of those you live with, but there’s also what someone in my office described as our “work family.”
I graduated from dental school a couple of weeks ago. This moment was what I had viewed for a long time as the precipice, the ultimate, the “everything I was working for” for 12 straight years. I say 12 years because even in high school I was a three-sport athlete involved in multiple clubs and activities and AP classes, and I was determined to never let my grades slip. My mom tells stories of me not leaving the dinner table most nights way beyond the time everyone else went to bed. She would try to stay up with me, but eventually her eyes would grow heavy, and she knew she had to be up early the next morning. She would give me a hug and say she was proud of me, and then quietly shut her bedroom door and allow me to keep working. College was no different other than that my mom was not there to witness the countless nights of studying, writing and completing assignments. I was on my own, but I was still just as determined to succeed in every metric. While some may say this sounds like admirable dedication and hard work, what I know to be true is that the underlying motivation for me was actually fear: fear of being a failure, fear of being a disappointment, fear of my life not being worth anything if I did not achieve.
Do you remember the first dental patient for whom you helped make a significant transformation in their oral health? Can you recall the day they came to see you for their very first appointment? It is likely they hadn’t been to the dentist in several years. Maybe they came because they had dental pain, or maybe they were ready to make a change in their lives and better their health. Whatever the reason, they were in your chair. You examined this patient and listed off several disciplines of care they would need: periodontal therapy, oral surgery, operative, prosthodontics, etc. A lengthy treatment plan that would take several months to complete as the patient underwent a process of transformation.
“…God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV).
As we continue in this season of gratitude and reflection on the meaning of Christ’s birth, I am especially grateful for the time I spent at the 2021 Emerging Leaders in Dentistry Conference. On Friday, October 29, 2021, I made my way with classmates Rachel Wians and Malory Peterson through the Minneapolis airport with the destination of Athens, Georgia in our sights. That weekend, we gathered with Christian dentists of all stages to reflect on what it means to be Christ’s image bearers in our field. Held in the spirit of passing wisdom on to future generations of Christian dentists, this conference has deeply impacted my vision and mission for living as a believer in the field of dentistry.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
If you’ve never heard this quote before, really take a moment and read it again. Let the words sink in. This quote really embodies the saying “…for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). You remember that feeling in dental school when you doubted if you could get a high grade on that dental exam or pass that competency? Or now when you do not believe you can get an exceptional outcome on that new dental procedure you have on your schedule next week? As dentists who are also human beings, we think about all the things that can go wrong, such as the dental equipment malfunctioning, the assistant’s inability to find the right instruments we need, poor lighting or that uncontrollable heme obscuring our vision. We verbalize our fears to our colleagues and/or others, and we limit our actions of researching better techniques or ways to execute the outcome we desire. We develop a habit of “winging it,” giving our minimum to the practice of dentistry, which ultimately is a better reflection of our values than what we recite to our patients. This is the slippery slope of our beliefs driving our words which can eventually drive our destiny.
“Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor…Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9,12, NKJV
As Christians in our present society, we feel responsibility to represent our heavenly Father who created us in His image and called us to be His children, the human signposts pointing all those around us to Him. What does this look like in our lives as Christian healthcare professionals in the public square?
The cliché phrase that is our life’s goal: pearly whites for all our patients. But are pearly whites enough?
Working at a mission hospital in rural Africa, I try to do as much as possible before taking an x-ray. Much of my examination is done just visually, until I can convince a patient an x-ray really is necessary. With this style of examination comes a bit of guess work, and sometimes, it is the “tooth that looks normal” that is actually the problem!
Throughout dental school, I have been actively seeking a rhythm of work and rest that honors the Lord, serves my patients and allows me to truly rest. This became of paramount importance to me because, if I’m honest, I knew this was something I had failed at for a large portion of my life. During college, I watched one of my roommates and best friends observe the Sabbath every Sunday. Blake would be running out the door with a picnic blanket and a football in her hand as I was cramming in last-minute studies for the week ahead. It was not that I never took breaks, but I could never bring myself to take off an entire day every week. Since elementary school, I had always strived for perfection in my work, so it was no big change for me in college to stay up late, wake up before the sun, incessantly check off to-do lists and barely enjoy the feeling of finishing one test before moving on to study for the next one. Looking back now, I realize how much of that striving was actually rooted in fear—fear that my future rested entirely in my own hands, fear that this is what was required for my life to be of value and, ultimately, fear that my ability to serve in the future was based entirely on my performance now.