This past week, I taught 53 children how to brush their teeth correctly over the course of three days. I have brushing teeth duty every day with 2nd grade, and so after they finished brushing on Friday, I did a “teeth check” to make sure they got all the food off. Most of them look fine from the front – maybe a brown spot or two on their front teeth – and they have brushed their teeth after lunch at school every day since they came to kindergarten, so I was not expecting to find what I did. HUGE cavities. Giant black and brown spots. Teeth completely gone. And a few who only had a ring left of a molar because all of the middle had completely rotted away. How could I have missed this through all of Parcial 1 and not addressed it sooner? I couldn’t have fixed it, but I might could have stopped it from getting worse over the past 3 months. Answer? It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong. They were brushing their teeth every day. They were going through the motions. I watched them do it every Mon-Fri at 12:30pm. They looked fine.
But if we’re being completely honest, maybe there was another reason. Maybe Teacher Bethany was in too much of a hurry to get thirty 2nd graders back up to class (because they were already going to be late) to check and make sure that what seemed to be okay really was. Maybe I just wanted to believe that they were fine because that didn’t interfere with my daily schedule. Maybe I wanted to believe there wasn’t a problem because that would mean I didn’t have to deal with it. But they weren’t fine. They were a mess. And they didn’t know how to make it better because no one had ever taught them.
Fast forward a few years to my high school class. I’ll admit, they frustrate me many days with their seeming apathy to the super-important Biblical truths I am trying to ground them in before they graduate and go into a godless world on their own. Most days I come out of class thinking, “Did any of them even give a rat’s behind about what I taught them today?” They just sit there in class and stare at me. (If you could pray for participation and open hearts in that class, that would be WONDERFUL). But whenever I see them outside of class with each other, they are always laughing and talking, and they seem to be having a great time. Maybe a brown spot or two on their facade, but pretty good for the most part. But with only 40 minutes, 3 times a week, I don’t usually take the time to look behind what seems okay.
Thankfully, God gives us grace.
One night on the bus (a night I didn’t intend to go to church at all, then the bus ride ended up being twice as long and I wasn’t in a super great mood), I had one of my students come sit by me. You have to understand, that might happen once a month, and then only with a few specific students (this kid usually not one of them). We talked for a while about random stuff, then I had to ask. “Why did you come sit with me when you could be sitting with your friends?” And the story spilled out. The laughing, joking kid I see at school isn’t the whole story. Behind the smile is a lot of pain. A lot of decay. And a few places that are completely rotted out. How could I have missed it? The same reason I didn’t know about the teeth. I thought it was fine. I didn’t want to take the time to look behind the smiles.
So I challenge you today: what smiles have you let go untested? What relationships has God given you to cultivate that have never gone below the surface? And are you willing to sacrifice your agenda for the sake of healing another?
I don’t know how quickly my old habits can change. It is hard to lay aside “my work for God” (because if my agenda is for God, that excuses everything, right?) to really dig deeper into souls. But I know that my eyes have been opened. I know that I’m aware that there is more behind the smiles, and if I’m only responding to what is easily visible, I’ve missed so much. So I encourage you to be aware and available, so when God gives you that glimpse of decay, you are willing to follow His lead to be His hand of healing.
Dios le bendiga.