The beautiful smile...that's a bonus
Our oldest daughter, Emma, started her orthodontics journey this week. The orthodontist said that her teeth are not aligned right, so they are not working together they way they’re supposed to. He told us that her bottom jaw needs to move forward a little and her upper palate needs to be a little wider so that her teeth will align correctly and work properly. He explained that it’s not about cosmetics for Emma – it’s about function. There is simply not enough space in her mouth for her teeth to function the way they need to – they need to make space. They can’t just put brackets on them and straighten them up…it might fix the way they look, but it won’t solve the underlying problem. She needs to be reshaped a bit, under the surface, from the foundation.
So this week she got an upper palate expander and a Herbst appliance. Over the next 22 months, they will slowly – ever so slowly – move the bottom jaw forward and make the upper jaw wider.
They call it “Phase 1.”
Many people only see the cosmetic side of orthodontics…get braces and straighten your teeth and you’ll have a beautiful “perfect” smile. I will admit, that is how I viewed it too…all about just making teeth look good, having a pretty smile. But as I talked with the orthodontist (and asked a hundred questions, to make sure that all of this was really necessary), I realized that I had it all wrong. He said that he is more concerned with how her teeth function…shaping her mouth and her teeth so they function at their best and can last her a long, long time without other major problems creeping up later in life.
And then he said these words: “A beautiful smile is a bonus.”
The thing we think it’s all about – that perfect smile – is just a pleasant side-effect of the more important, foundational changes.
Sometimes…a lot of the time…I feel like I am in the middle of soul orthodontics. This slow, slow process of reshaping my heart.
I am imperfect. Broken. I was born into sin that left me out of alignment. I need to be fixed, reshaped.
Often, I think we think that being a Christian is all about what we do. If we can just do the right things in the right ways…if we can just act like a Christian and follow all the rules…if we can just be “good” enough, then we’ll be good.
But we have it all wrong.
Being a Christian is not about what we do, it’s about who we are. It’s not about changing how we look or act, it’s about changing our very heart and soul.
God wants more for us than just an outer change…He wants more for us than just a “perfect” Christian smile. He wants to change us from the foundation…from the inside out.
Just like orthodontics, the process of reshaping who we are is not a quick fix. Yes, our salvation is immediate…our eternal destination is secured the moment we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior…He paid the price for our sin, and we are forgiven and redeemed. But it doesn’t stop there.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says “And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” More and more…
When I accepted Jesus, God gave me His Spirit that immediately began the process of reshaping me.
The Holy Spirit works like a palate expander in my soul…slowly – ever so slowly – stretching me, moving me, making space for the purpose God has for me…aligning me with Himself, with His will, with His purpose.
This is foundation work – “Phase 1” – and it takes a long time…a lifetime. The important work happens under the surface, in my heart. Changes that happen here, how I am shaped and molded within, are fundamental. They are not about cosmetics – they are about my character, the heart of who I am.
And those outer traits? The things about me that people see? How I “look” as a Christian? Well, that’s a bonus. When God changes me on the inside, it’s going to spill out and have positive effects on the outside.
Emma has been very uncomfortable this week as she adjusts to these appliances in her mouth. They feel weird and her jaw is sore and she is just not comfortable. I hate seeing her upset and in pain…I think I’ve cried as much as her through this process so far. But I know this process will produce the results that will make the best difference for her mouth. It’s going to be a long process, but it will be worth it. There will be hard days along the way, it won’t always be easy, and I’m sure she will grow weary of the process. This is Phase 1, foundation work, absolutely necessary to have the kind of lasting results that she needs. And in the end, that beautiful smile with all those perfectly aligned teeth? Well, that’s a bonus.
It’s the same with my soul. The Spirit is shaping me to be more and more like Him. It’s a long process. And very often, it is quite uncomfortable. He uses painful situations and difficult circumstances to reshape me. He uses my discomfort to align me with Himself. There are hard days, it’s not always easy, and oh how I grow weary of the process sometimes.
Sometimes it’s easy to just want a quick fix…like a set of “perfect” dentures you can just pop in. And sometimes I think we do that…we pop in our “perfect” Christian smile and pretend that we have it all together. We do all the right things and follow all the rules (at least as far as others can see), but underneath nothing has really changed.
That verse from 2 Corinthians about the Spirit changing us? Well, the verses before that one say this:
“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had the veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NLT)
There’s this veil we put on, covering up what lies within. This veil of good works or good intentions or perfectionism. This veil that makes others think we’re perfect and good and we have it all together.
There’s this veil that hides who I really am, even from myself.
But then God takes that veil away when I turn to the Lord. He strips it off and moves right in and gets to work in the place that really matters – my soul. No more veil. No more pretending. No more “try really hard.” Instead, there is freedom. Freedom to be. Freedom to rest in knowing that He is working in me, shaping me from within. I don’t have to pretend.
But I do have to do my part.
We were given this little “key” by the orthodontist. I use it every day to turn Emma’s palate expander. Just a tiny bit, every day. We will turn it for 8 days, then not again for a few weeks. We also have a special prescription toothpaste she has to use, and we have strict instructions on how to keep her teeth really clean. They stressed to us over and over again the importance of keeping her mouth really clean…it’s critical to this process.
In the same way, I’ve been given tools and instructions by God as I follow Him. Yes, the Spirit is doing the work in me to shape me and make me more and more like Him. But I’ve got to “turn the key” every day…I need to “keep really clean” and follow His instructions. I need to pray and read His Word…I need to make my relationship with Him a priority. I need to stay close to Him and be sensitive to His leading. I need to allow Him to shape me.
If we don’t keep Emma’s teeth clean, if we don’t turn that key, then we will undermine the whole orthodontics process.
If I don’t listen to God, if I don’t follow His Word and do what He tells me, then I will undermine the whole soul-shaping process.
It’s not always easy, this slow process of soul-shaping. But there is peace and freedom here. There is peace in trusting Christ...in knowing that He is doing a great work, and that it is ALL working together for good.
The Spirit “makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.” And that beautiful smile, that life that shines with the glory of His character and love? That’s a wonderful bonus.