I had to go to the dentist yesterday for a regular cleaning and exam. Good news, no cavities and my blood pressure is 100/60. Most of the time was spent with the hygienist. The dentist is usually in and out in less than 5 minutes. They say nice things to me like, “You’ve got great teeth for your age.”

The patient before me was a Lutheran pastor. When I sat down, the hygienist told me that he was trying to convert her. I asked her, “From what?” and she said, “From the Catholic church.”

She went on to explain that she and her husband are both “cradle Catholics” but they have been unhappy with the new priest in town, so they haven’t been going to church and want to start going somewhere more regularly. I asked, “So you’re trying to decide if you want to be a good Lutheran or a bad Catholic?”

At this point, her hands were in my mouth. She laughed and said, “Oh well, I’m probably going to hell either way.”

Thus began an interesting one-sided conversation with only nods and “awwww”s from me.

“This priest is so conservative. The last time we were there, he said that if you use birth control, you might as well not bother coming to church.”

“I am used to tuning out the priest, but my husband is pretty upset.”

“We might visit the Lutheran church, but they have closed communion. Really I shouldn’t be taking communion anyway since I haven’t been to confession.”

She went on to explain how she does confession. She said she takes an outline of the ten commandments and lists her sins in the appropriate category and makes subcategories so she doesn’t miss any. She said one priest laughed when he saw her outline.

“All of the Catholics taking communion can’t be going to confession. If they were, the confession hours would be a lot longer than they are.”

“I guess the Lutherans just shoot their confessions straight up to God.”

“Our daughter has been learning bible stories at her preschool. But I am afraid we are dropping the ball at home. Since we are “cradle Catholics” we don’t know anything about our religion. We haven’t ever paid attention.”

“The other day, one of my patients told me he has a new Bible, and it is written in plain, everyday language. Can you believe that?! I thought they were all like the one I have, full of thee’s and thou’s. I called him at home and asked him about it and ordered one for myself on Amazon.”

“I haven’t decided yet what to give up for lent.”

“Time for fluoride. Okay, bite down gently on this and hold your mouth closed.”

It was ironic to me to run into this great spiritual conversation and literally not get to say a word. In less than a half hour she hit on the topics of church, liturgy, scripture, baptism, communion, sin, and eternity, all with a serious curiosity about what role God plays in a person’s life. It was fascinating listening. I am not sure what I would have said, given the chance, but in this case, I had no choice except to be a good listener.


19 thoughts on “Speechless

  1. Grace,

    I think this is a great post. You are sharing with us how opportunities for spiritual conversations come up in every day situations. You are also showing us that these conversations need to be two-sided to be effective.

    The Lutheran pastor was more interested in converting her to his way of thinking. You couldn’t talk because her hands were in your mouth. Therefore, there was really no conversation.

    So many of us simply miss the opportunities to engage in conversation. If we do see the opportunity, we typically jump headlong into a convert-sation instead of a conversation.

    Good stuff to think about…

  2. There was no conversation, but maybe you just listening started her thinking more deeply about these things as she talked about them. maybe next time you can talk. :)

  3. Thanks Grace for this post. It was really eye openning. A great way to start the day in the morning!

    Its awesome what happens when we are just good listeners and respond appropriately. Allowing people to share where people are at rather than puting them in a box and restricting there movement how we desire.

    I will have to remember to listen more…

  4. What an intriguing story for Ash Wednesday…

    Her comment about giving something up for Lent made me smile. I remember my Ash Wednesday forehead smudges from my childhood…

    And that Lutheran pastor: more interested in ‘conversion’ vs. simple ‘conversation’?

    I wonder if he was able to connect at all with her. Or does the content of her conversation with you actually indicate it was not all that worthwhile?

    Watch out though, God just might bless you with a cavity or broken tooth just so you can finish the conversation… :)

  5. Grace,

    Isn’t it great how much fun just listening is? I’ll admit that talking is fun, but I find listening (and silence) is somehow…mystical.

    I don’t know. Kudos on listening. I hope you don’t feel guilty for not talking.

  6. Wow.
    I guess those thoughts/questions could be somewhat typical here in the upper midwest perhaps not all at once in the dentist’s office however.
    I have been on the other end of the “conversion” conversation since Mrs. Inheritor and I attend a “Lutheran” church and she was raised Catholic. (The quotes around Lutheran denote that sometimes visitors come on a Sunday and ask “Where is the Lutheran church that meets here?”)
    Her extended family used to always have some sort of book or tract or whatever that was meant to show that I should join the one true church (meaning Roman Catholic).
    Of course tonight I will be attending church and receiving the imposition of ashes and reminded that I am made of dust and that God knows it too, which is why Jesus’ incarnation is so important in the scheme of things. It is also a great reminder of the need for daily or in my case hourly ;) repentance and seeking after the Holy Spirit to aid me in being obedient in the first place.

  7. Perfect timing of your post for me! I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about listening and how healing it can be for our souls when we are simply and truly heard. I’ve been reading a great book on this very topic. I’ll post a quote or two from it over this weekend on my blog, but for now just wanted to say how beautifully you captured in such a short space all I’ve been mulling over for weeks!


  8. Thanks for your comments!

    I didn’t mean to imply the Lutheran pastor was obnoxious. The hygienist indicated she enjoyed her conversation with him. It likely was as one-sided as my “conversation,” although perhaps it is harder to keep a pastor quiet. ;)

    Now that I don’t feel the need to “close the deal,” I love having spiritual conversations with people. The hygienist’s questions and thoughts were so interesting that it was difficult to not respond and participate.

    For me though, it was a wonderful opportunity to see the heart of someone in the very beginning stages of seeking after and hopefully discovering a relationship with God that goes beyond religion.

  9. hello Grace, (i’m a newbie here and I haven’t yet learned how blogs work). I think it was Grace who wrote about the dentist. I just want to thank you so much for this blog (and all the other blogs). You are all such a refreshing change from endless lectures and bible studies. All of you really ARE fellowhip in action. The other blogs made for intense thought-provoking reading, but the Truth in this one made me laugh so hard I nearly cried! I’ve added this site to favourites list. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll try to listen more and talk less. Bless you all, love from Jane. xx

  10. I am a pastor and love to listen to what others have to say about churches. I have often said when in the discussion that lets make sure we don’t confuse church and our faith.
    As always enjoy your blog Grace.
    Pastor WaynO

  11. Grace,
    I think the best line of all of this was in your comments ,”Now that I don’t feel the need to “close the deal,” I love having spiritual conversations with people. ”
    I think that is a lot of the point of listening , Just to build relationship and to let both the listener and the talker off the hook.
    Keep up the thoughtful and inspirational posts . I think you blog is pretty sweet.

  12. Interesting conversation (or monologue!). Thanks for sharing it with us, Grace.

    I think it highlights the real, deep need we have for Christian spirituality, not Christian religion. All the stuff the hygienist was talking about is just fluff. None of it means anything in and of itself. With a real relationship with God, going through the motions is a waste of time.

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