Lessons in Dentistry
Following a recent visit to the dentist, we instituted a rule in our home that all the kids must floss every night before brushing their teeth. Keep in mind that we have four kids 8 and under, and it is dad’s job to make sure it gets done, which often means I am the one doing the flossing. Trying to get little people to stay still with their mouths open wide enough to floss properly is an exercise in patience. I made up a song to help
me my kids get through it.
The reality is that flossing, as any dentist will tell you, is an important part of maintaining good oral hygiene.
I know this. I have been to the dentist enough times and been asked about my own flossing habits. My ‘most of the time’ response is quite convincing.
Reflecting on my flossing habits, I realized that flossing is often a bell-weather in my life for how solid my self-discipline is. Usually, I floss just before bed. Usually, I am quite tired and looking forward to having my head on the pillow. A couple minutes saved in flossing time feels like a good trade-off in the moment.
I have enough life experience to understand that “I don’t feel like it” is never a good rationale for making a decision. In our home, establishing clear rules and guidelines that we are all expected to follow is one way to override the desire to ignore the important things that need to be done. There will always be something more fun or more desirable (like sleep) that is lurking and trying to pull us away from that which is most important.
The Pursuit of Being Free
We live in a world where we are encouraged to chase that which offers us the most pleasure or satisfaction in the moment. The generally accepted principle is that if something feels good, and we are not harming anyone else, then we should go for it. “You do you” is the saying.
All boundaries of reasonability, and often reality, are now deemed arbitrary and exist only on a personal level. If something is “my truth” then it must be true. The mere suggestion of rules or societal norms comes with a trigger warning for many people.
Living a life of faith can be challenging when the prevailing culture carries an ethos that is often in direct opposition of what I believe in. It is hard to explain to someone why I believe what I believe, when the perception is that life would be a lot more fun if I dropped it all and became ‘free’ from the constraints put upon me by the rules of my religion.
It is important to define exactly which freedom we are after. To answer this, we need to first know who we serve. Do we serve ourselves, placing our own needs and desires before all others? Or do we serve others? Our families, neighbours, and communities – do we actively try to serve God and submit our own wants and desires to His will for our lives?
When we serve ourselves, freedom means freedom from. Freedom from rules, consequences, anything that restricts us from doing what feels best right now.
When we choose to live in service of God, family, and neighbour, we are living a different kind of freedom – freedom to. We all have personal agency to make choices in our lives and it is a bold choice to submit to something greater than service of self.
This type of freedom means living a life seeking out wisdom from the ancient paths and applying it. We acknowledge that all the answers are not found within. That we are fallen people in need of guidance and grace.
We need something bigger than ourselves to govern us. Not to suppress our freedoms, but to allow for them. To live the lives we were created to live, wholeheartedly, we need a framework to operate within.
Bishop Scott McCaig, Bishop of the Canadian Military Ordinate of Canada, was a guest on a recent series of episodes of Way of the Heart Podcast. In one episode, he highlighted a straightforward (theoretical) application of what it means to lives a life according to a certain set of standards.
In this example, he talked about lining up a group of people on one end of a football field. The stated goal was to get to the other side. Seems like a simple task. But what if the group of people is told there are mines planted within the field at random locations? The task of getting safely to the other side has now become much more dangerous.
Bishop McCaig goes on to say that we have been given a map by God to navigate the field – a metaphor for life. Scripture, the ten commandments, the doctrines and traditions of the Church, are all there to help us find our way. Though we will still encounter hardship and pain along the way, they offer us hope that we will reach the destination.
If that is not enough, God the Father gave us Jesus as a living example of how to navigate life. Jesus is called the Word Incarnate. If you take all the guidance, rules, and teachings, Jesus Christ is all of these things in human form. This gift to humanity gives us something a set of written rules cannot – a relationship. Without love, all the rules can be a burden. Animated by His love, the burden becomes light because He is in it with us, leading us on the way.
Many people reject this view. While everyone is free to choose what they believe in, it is hard for me to understand not having faith in something. I find it puzzling when I hear people say things like, “Just look deep inside yourself, the answers are already there,” suggesting that the answers to all our problems lie somewhere within us. We each have passions and desires and when these are formed well (generally by seeking guidance outside ourselves), they can point us in the right direction. But to expect that we possess within us a pre-programmed guide to life seems foolish. There is plenty of evidence in my own life to back up this assertion, and I am confident I am not alone.
Freedom to Live
Without question, the greatest joy in my life is my family. Life as a husband and father with young children is often challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, but I would not trade it for anything. The joy I have experienced in small moments with my wife and children is so good. I thank God every single day for the gift of my family.
It all started with a choice to get married. To make solemn vows before God, our families, and friends. Marriage comes with a set of rules and expectations.
I chose this path and I choose daily to live out those vows. Marriage, like life, offers me the choice of who to serve – myself or my wife and children. In my experience, choosing to serve my family brings the most life into our home. Family life demand sacrifice, but through it comes life I could never have imagined.
Choosing to live faithfully to the calling of husband and father and the calling of son of the Father requires me to acknowledge that I do not have it all figured out. That the answers do not live within me.
There are many places I can seek the answers to the questions I have. Wisdom is found in scripture, tradition, guidance from trusted sages who have walked many more miles than I have. Above all, in the life of Christ and His continuing guidance for my life. He offers us all the answers we need and the roadmap to reach our end destination. And He does so through relationship and love for us.
There are many instances each day when I feel like doing something other than the right thing. When bedtime comes around, there are a lot of things I would rather do than floss my kids’ teeth. Most nights, I’d like to skip flossing my own and just go to bed. At this stage of my life, however, I know the consequences of not flossing.
Over the long run, if I want my teeth to be at their healthiest, I need to follow the dentist’s guidance.
I also know the consequences of facing challenging life situations and following my feelings. And in doing so, turning away from what is right because it does not serve me in the moment. Every choice we make has a consequence. When we are facing unknown territory in our lives or when the stakes and pressures are high, we can find wisdom in the tried-and-true paths.
These paths are not easy, and they are not for the faint of heart. But in the end, they offer us the only path to wholeheartedness, joy, and peace.
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
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