It was the 2nd evening of 2020, I was sitting with a bowl of popcorn on my lap, watching a football game, and enjoying life. A pretty uneventful night.
Woke up on Day 3 of 2020 with tooth pain. I thought, “just tooth sensitivity, no big deal.” Day 4 of 2020, the pain intensified, and I started gulping down ibuprofen to help take the edge off. I was leaving for a work trip to Montana the morning of January 5, and needed the pain to get under control.
Then came Sunday . . . more pain, and now swelling on the left side of my face. “I’ll deal with this when I get home” I thought, and jetted off to Kalispell, Montana. As the day wore on, the pain grew, my face contorted even more, and now the pain was severe. My host pastor carted me to the ER, where they affirmed something was definitely wrong, but since they were medical professionals, not dental professionals, the best they could do was prescribe some antibiotics and pain meds.
I made it through the rest of the Montana trip, my face getting more swollen by the hour (fearing some alien life form might pop out of my neck), and the pain became almost unbearable. First thing I did upon arriving home was to visit my dentist. After a brief exam he sent me immediately to an endodontist, who after drilling a hole in my tooth and looking around, confirmed what my dentist suspected . . . I had a fractured tooth that had allowed bacteria to invade and create a serious infection. I remember thinking, “I hate all of this painful mining of my teeth and jaw! But if I do nothing, the problem will just get worse. So suck it up John and let the professionals do what they do best.”
The endodontist sent me immediately to an oral surgeon, who after saying, “Two more days and you would have been in the ICU,” removed the fractured tooth.
It was a painful whirlwind of events. I’ve spent the last week recuperating, following doctor’s orders, and slowly seeing the pain subside, and the swelling decrease.
And it made me think . . .
In life, you can choose short-term pain, or long-term pain.
When relational fractures and infections happen, we can find ourselves refusing to deal with them because we hope they’ll magically go away on their own. When that strategy fails (and it usually does), we can find ourselves paralyzed because we’re afraid that addressing the relational fractures and infections will be even more painful than not addressing them. So we stay in pain long-term because we fear the intensity of short-term pain.
Here’s what a fractured tooth has reaffirmed to me the past two weeks: If you wait too long to deal with relational pain, the infection spreads and contorts your situation into even more painful territory, even to the point where the life of the relationship is at serious risk. We can find ourselves in relational ICU.
The short-term pain of dealing with relational (or even organizational) fractures and infections is more acute for a season than doing nothing . . . but the beauty of embracing the short-term pain is soon, you’ll get relief. The infection will subside, the discomfort will decrease, and you’ll wonder why you took so long to deal with it.
Sure—the gum area around my fractured tooth suffered some collateral damage from the extraction, but even that is improving with time.
Fractured relationships may get healed up when we deal with them. They may not. But their painful hold on our personal health will be loosened.
When it comes to the professional side of life, fractures in your organization almost never mend by themselves. Unfortunately, an extraction may need to take place. But the intense, short-term pain is well-worth the long-term health you’ll achieve. Will there be collateral damage? Perhaps. But over time, that too often fades into the background.
What are you facing in your personal relationships today that is causing you pain? I’m pretty sure ignoring it isn’t a good solution. Neither is hoping it will just magically go away. Can I encourage you to deal with the fracture? If you’re unsure how to do this well, get help. Seek out an expert to walk alongside you.
What are you facing in your professional life that is causing you pain? See the previous paragraph.
Short-term pain or long-term pain? Your choice . . . but I hope you choose short-term!
Rooting and praying for you!