The pain was intense. Throbbing and shooting. Stars appeared before my eyes each time I drank a glass of cold water or sipped even lukewarm coffee.
“Not good,” I thought. “Nope, not good at all.”
A week had already gone by since my root canal—a procedure I thought would take away the tooth pain that originally sent me to the dentist.
Here it was, though, more than seven days later and the pain was worse than it was before. Of course, I did the very thing my husband told me not to do. I went onto the computer to self-diagnose.
“It says here…”
“Uh oh, the pain might be…”
“Yikes. Not good. Not good at all…”
My husband rolled his eyes and said something very sensible.
“Just go back to the dentist.”
And then added, “Instead of sitting here and worrying about something that is probably nothing.”
He was right. I was worrying about many somethings which were probably nothings at all. But the pain? There was no denying it was intense. It was real. And my worries? They were intense and real too.
Back to the dentist I went.
As I sat in the chair certain another root canal was in my near future, I told the man in the white coat swiveling on the little stool next to me, how I was feeling.
I was quite proud of my monologue, emphasizing the word “pain” at the right moments and describing colorfully the throbbing in the tooth.
My performance, however, of a country pastor with a serious tooth problem wasn’t as convincing as I thought as the dentist just nodded and smiled. Not one shred of concern showed on his face.
“Okay then, let’s see what’s going on,” he said.
A few jabs and pokes with the metal pick in his hand revealed some tender gums.
“How about here? Any pain?”
“Nope,” I gurgled with my mouth opened.
I gurgled a negative again.
The jabbing and poking stopped as quickly as it began.
I braced myself for the treatment I knew would come. After all, I read all about my problem on the Internet.
“You’re fine,” said the dentist. “Everything is fine.”
The puzzled look in my eyes, invited him to continue.
“You are having phantom pain. The nerves in your mouth haven’t caught up with your brain,” he said, adding quickly, “You’re not alone. This is more common than you think.”
“Really?” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed now at my dramatic monologue of the trials and tribulations of pain I had delivered just a few minutes before.
How strange it was that a pain that didn’t exist could be so real?
I couldn’t get this phenomenon out of my head. It lingered with me for days, haunting me like phantoms tend to do.
“But the pain is so real,” I tried explaining to my husband, who sat there smiling when he heard what he had already knew. That everything was fine.
Sure enough, once I knew the pain wasn’t real, that there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, it began to loosen its grip on me. Whatever shooting pain that did rear its ugly head, I could better handle it, for I knew it was nothing that could defeat me. It just wasn’t real.
The following day as I went on my customary morning walk on the rail trail, I still thought about phantoms. I thought about the one I had allowed to fester in my life as tooth pain. I thought about the phantoms we invite into our lives and allow to worry us, scare us and ultimately cause us unnecessary pain.
Phantoms that climb into our heads convincing us that the worse in life is going to happen. Doom and gloom will prevail. Nothing is going to get better. The pain in life is just going to keep stabbing your heart.
How many phantoms beyond the pain in my tooth, I wondered, have I allowed to weigh me down and discourage me? How many problems weren’t problems at all? How many hurts were non-existent? More importantly, where was my faith when these phantoms took hold of me?
“Lord, I believe. Now help my unbelief,” I whispered on the trail, echoing the sentiment of the man who reached out to Jesus for help and remembering, quite humbly, that sometimes believing in the power, healing, guidance and grace of Jesus doesn’t come easy. Especially when those darn phantoms seem so powerful and become so real in our lives.
But Jesus who calmed threatening seas with just a word, “Peace,” and who rid many a demon with an authoritative “be gone,” can and will take care of our pains.
With a word, with a cry, with a plea, with a sigh…we just need to remember to call on the sweetest name ever. To call upon Jesus. For he is real. Our phantoms are not.