I never had the patience to enjoy jigsaw puzzles. But I have done a few in my time. The thing about jigsaw puzzles is, the more you work on one, the more you know where the remaining pieces fit. When you start out you have all these pieces in hand but you have few clues as to how they all fit together. But as the puzzle begins to take shape you have a clearer idea where to put the subsequent pieces. You begin to see how all the pieces fit together.
A few weeks ago I realised why I went through dental school. My time in dental school in the University of Singapore was one that was very traumatic. I still have nightmares about my time there. I would dream that I hadn’t finished all my course requirements and would be barred from taking my final exam. I would wake up in cold sweat — and remember that I graduated in 1978. Why was dental school so hard for me? I can think of a few reasons but essentially I attribute it to the fact that at heart, I was more an arts student. Suffice to say that I had a very hard time.
I enjoyed the years I practised as a dentist. Dental school was tough but I enjoyed my time as a healer of oral tissues. So what happened a few weeks ago that gave my time in dental school special significance? I was allowed to address a gathering of the Dental Prayer Fellowship, Singapore. This is a fellowship that seeks to help Christian dental practitioners and dental students live out their faith in their profession. A few weeks ago they had a
dinner gathering to welcome the dental school freshmen for the year.
Representatives from every year in dental school gave their testimonies. I was struck by how seriously they took their faith. I was also struck that all the students who spoke mentioned the fact that dental school was tough. I can’t think of any other faculty where suffering is seen as a norm in the rigours of the training required.
I was given the privilege of saying a few words before giving the final prayer of the evening. I reminded my fellow dentists that we had been given a high calling. There are few things more basic to human life than the relief of pain, ensuring that people had the proper dental and facial aesthetics to face the world, and that people had functioning dentition so that they could eat properly. Of course dentists do much more than that but the areas of dental pain relief, dental aesthetics, and dental function, are three very key areas where dentists are a blessing to people.
More than that, when a Christian dentist treats his or her patients with both competence and compassion, they reflect Christ. And if an opportunity presents itself to share the gospel, the patient would be able to identify the Jesus of the gospel with the spirit of Jesus seen in the care provided by the dentist. Dentistry is a high calling.
It became clear to me that I was able to speak to the gathering that night because I was one with them in Christ, and one with them in dentistry. If I had just been a bible teacher, a certain dimension to our connectedness would have been missing. I was able to speak to my fellow Christian dentists and to the dental students with understanding and passion because I was one of them. I had gone through the same rigours of dental school, University of Singapore. I had paid my dues. Truly, in the hands of God, nothing in life is ever wasted.
I have long treasured Paul’s word in Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)
This was a key verse for me in the dark moments of my life when things were falling apart and I wasn’t sure how the pieces of my life fitted together. It assured me that in the hands of my loving Father, things would make sense in the end. Things would fit together. My life would have meaning. I had to be patient and trust that He was causing everything to work for good.
There are some advantages to growing old. You get the chance to see more of the picture of your life take shape. You get the privilege of more “a-ha” moments like the one I got at the dental gathering recently. I know full well that the full picture can only be seen in the new heaven and the new earth. We may never understand the meaning of some of the things that happen to us till then. Or we may be surprised that there were deeper levels of meaning that we were unaware of.
But we know who is the Author and Finisher of the story of our lives. He is one capable of making all the pieces of our lives, both the good parts and the bad ones, fit together and reflect His purposes. Knowing this, we find the courage to journey on.