The first article I ever wrote for New Christian Woman was entitled, “Teething.” It described my first experience comforting a child who was cutting new molars and how it helped me understand a little better just how much the Lord loves us and wishes to ease our pain. The toddler who was the inspiration for that article is now in kindergarten and has her first loose tooth. I must have blinked.
This milestone has left me feeling more nostalgic than I would have expected. After all, it’s just a tooth. It’s not like she’s leaving for college or getting married or even getting her ears pierced. But I got a little choked up when I saw that tiny tooth wiggling precariously in my daughter’s mouth. A piece of her is about to be gone. Her body is finished with it and making room for a bigger tooth. This is how it’s supposed to work.
And as silly as it is, my child’s dental development has once again nudged me into looking a little deeper at how this mini milestone correlates to our spiritual growth. I guess the Lord prompts us to muse over important things in unexpected ways.
Baby teeth seem almost pointless. We have them for such a tiny fraction of our lives – why bother with them at all? But no part of our design is an accident. Not only do baby teeth help us chew our first solid foods, they also serve as placeholders. They ensure that our mouths have enough room for the adult teeth to eventually grow.
Isn’t that the case with our regeneration? We don’t start our spiritual journeys by chomping down on the most complex teachings in the Word. We start small. Think of baby teeth as the simplest truths – the ones that help us chew the basics of worldly wisdom that we learn as very young children. “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” “Don’t go down stairs that way, you’re more likely to fall.” “Chew before swallowing or you will choke.” As we mature into older toddlers, our palates expand and we start implementing bigger truths to process fundamental dos and don’ts such as the Ten Commandments. We also learn more about consequences. “Don’t lie. If you do, you’ll get a time out.” “Treat others how you want to be treated. There will be less fighting that way.”
Our adult teeth start to push their baby placeholders out of the way when we are ready to process even more complex things. “Treat others how you want to be treated” is a great summation of loving the neighbor as yourself, but children need to internalize it beyond its surface meaning. We shouldn’t treat others nicely JUST so they will treat us nicely in return. We should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because the Lord tells us to. We literally outgrow the softer meaning and need to be able to process the much tougher concept – one that we will be chewing and digesting over and over again for the rest of our lives.
I appreciate the Lord’s mercy in allowing us to make these shifts gradually. Our baby teeth fall out one at a time. Our adult teeth grow in slowly. These transitions are a gift. Sure, there will be the unseemly gap in the interim but the adult tooth we need is there. We just can’t see it yet. Isn’t that the case with so many tools in our spiritual growth? We are given what we need to process bigger and tougher things when we are ready. How blessed we are to be so fearfully and wonderfully made.
““Tooth” [means] the outer part of the understanding, and therefore … natural truth since this composes the life of that part of the understanding. The reason why “the teeth” have this meaning is that like a mill they grind and so prepare the food which will serve as nourishment for the body, at this point the food which will serve as nourishment for the soul. The food that nourishes the soul is intelligence and wisdom; this food is first received, ground, and prepared by cognitions or knowledge of truth and good in the natural….” Arcana Coelestia 9052