Have you ever had a root canal? I’ve now had two. Thankfully my most recent was much less eventful than my first. My mind instantly recalls the morning I awoke with heightened sensitivity and throbbing pain on the right side of my face. While I’d never experienced this type of pain, I knew that it required immediate dental attention. Just to add insult to injury, my regular dentist was away, which left me with my only option being to see a rent-a-dentist in his stead.
My nerves were already on edge as it were, but nothing like they were as the dentist took his metal utensil and struck the tooth I had indicated asking, “Does this hurt?” The strike catapulted my now fully awakened pain threshold, sending a shockwave red-alert throughout my entire body. The dentist had definitely struck a nerve. And it was all I could do to prevent myself from striking him! I could no longer hold back the tears. As I sat in utmost humility, he gave me a look of disgust and left me to “get myself together” before he carried on. Talk about nerve!
I sucked it up as he re-entered the room a few moments later with his assistant. He handed me a Kleenex and told me to blow my nose before reclining my chair again and unsympathetically jabbing needles into the roof of my mouth in order to freeze and numb the area of concern. Then, without warning, he began to drill into my tooth. In revolt, I gave him a “time-out” hand sign and asked him what he was doing. He informed me he was going to perform a root canal. Root canal?—I had only heard horror stories about them. Now I was wide awake in the middle of my own nightmare. Without another word I arose from the chair and bolted for the door.
What a sight to behold as I entered the waiting room wide-eyed, gaping mouth, and drool dripping down my chin onto the bib that still dangled precariously from my neck. It wasn’t just my tooth nerve exposed when I fell sobbing into the arms of my unsuspecting husband as he awkwardly rose from his chair. Barely able to formulate words due to the freezing taking full effect in my mouth, I told him to take me home. The alarmed receptionist looked at me; her own mouth wide open as my husband and I hastily left the premises.
Soon thereafter as I lay moaning on the couch in our living room, writhing in a pain I’d never experienced before or since, the phone rang. It was the disheveled and apologetic receptionist calling to offer a prescription for some Tylenol 3 to manage the pain until I returned to complete the procedure. Return? Was she serious? There was absolutely no way I was going back. But I knew I couldn’t leave this nerve exposed for any length of time before having it taken care of.
Thankfully, our own dentist was alerted and left his long weekend affairs to come to my aid. For the next hour he thoroughly, professionally, and sensitively walked me through what a root canal was and the process necessary to desensitize it. Thankfully his assurance calmed my frantic nerves enough that I was able to entrust myself to his care.
Teeth are not the only things that expose our nerve endings. We can have pinched nerves. Our bodies have trigger points that reveal nervous tension. People can also get on our nerves. Did I just say that? Maybe I’ve struck a nerve in you, too?
We can readily identify a nerve ending by our sensitivity to it. It’s our reaction that is most concerning. You see, our reaction indicates a deeper rooted problem. It stems from our heart and is called sin. For, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That’s when we need a specialist called the Holy Spirit to deal with it before it festers and infects the rest of our life, or spreads and infects those around us. And just like a root canal, there is an entire process to go through in order to prevent further infection. While I’m no nerve expert, here are a few of the things that have helped me to identify the root problem when someone or something strikes a nerve:
1. Identify the nerve: We need to ask ourselves what caused us to react the way we did? What or who strikes a nerve in you? Is there a particular situation that unnerves you? Who or what is the cause of your pain, offense, abuse, mishap, or misunderstanding? When our nerves are exposed we can experience a myriad of reactions. To name a few: resentment, retaliation, resignation, rebellion.
2. Drain the infection: Oftentimes when these nerve endings are exposed, especially in public, we rise up to defend ourselves, we justify and excuse our behaviour. We can even overcompensate. But is that really the way it has to be? Before a nerve can be properly managed, it needs to be drained of all the toxins and infection that have caused irritation, pain, anxiety, and flare up to begin with. If left unattended the infection festers and creates more serious problems.
3. Examine the root: Are there things surrounding the area that need to be identified? What made this area vulnerable? Am I tired, stressed, worn out, burnt out, abused, or simply hyper-sensitive? Are there any other instances in my life where this same nerve has been triggered? Can I trace these trigger points back to a specific incident, childhood memory, painful experience, or relationship fallout where these same nerves are triggered. What is it about these instances, relationships, experiences that hit the nerve to begin with?
4. Desensitize: It does us no good if we simply numb the nerve pain. It’s important to get to the root of it and deal with it. That way one can go on with regular check-ups to ensure ongoing health?
5. Protect: Once the deep rooted issues are dealt with the area needs to be plugged and then protected by a cap or crown. Otherwise the area remains vulnerable to further infection and more deeply rooted issues.
Sensitive nerve exposure, while painful, is not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing. It not only exposes our sinful behavior, it gives us opportunity to confess it to God and ask forgiveness. That in turn creates space for Him to get to the root problem and work with us to properly address and cleanse us in order for inner healing to begin. Our vulnerable hearts must then be properly cared for and protected by a specialist—the Great Physician, the Healer, the Comforter, the Creator and Caretaker of hearts. Our part comes in the maintenance plan. Spending time in His presence, in prayer (1 Thess. 5:16-18), in ongoing confession (1 John 1:9) in fellowship (Heb. 10:24, 25), in His Word (Heb. 4:12); asking Him to search us (Ps. 139) and cleanse our hearts (Ps. 51), claiming His promises (2 Cor. 7:1), and allowing Him to complete the good work He began (Phil 1:6).
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov. 4:23).”
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally, she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
To book Lisa for a weekend retreat or day conference contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org