Toes and Teeth — How Important Can They Really Be?

I inherited a strange trait from my father’s side of the family that goes back generations. Passed down with it was the story of an ancestor who died in a shipwreck. His family was only able to identify his body a year later thanks to this genetic anomaly — a hammer toe.

This persistent family trait hasn’t exactly been a cherished inheritance, however. My grandfather actually had his removed. My aunt remembers the day. She was nine years old. He left for town to go shopping, and when he returned that evening, hobbling, she asked him what had happened. When he nonchalantly said he’d had a toe removed, she nearly fainted. 

My father recently opted for the same course of action after his arthritis made his hammer toe worse over the years. My aunt and I would like very much to keep this family “heirloom” of ours intact, if at all possible. So far, so good.

In fact, there’s many things I’d like to keep intact. The other day at a dental appointment, the hygienist cleaning my teeth asked me, “How important are your teeth to you?” At the time, she was measuring the bone disintegration under my very back tooth.

A number of years ago I had my wisdom teeth removed. It wasn’t exactly a routine extraction. The teeth were sitting completely sideways, encased in bone, and the surgeon had to dig and smash to get them out. I lost a bit too much bone back there and have had trouble keeping that pocket clean ever since. What little bone is left is actually being eaten away by my immune system as it tries to control the plaque build-up under there. I know! Ew!

It was when I pressed the hygienist for ideas on exactly how to reach that space to keep it clean that she asked me, “How important are your teeth to you?”

I thought, “Really? I’m forty-five years old, and we’re having this conversation already?!”

I brush with my electric toothbrush morning and night. I floss once a day. I even use a tongue scraper daily. My oral hygiene routine is pretty well-rounded. If the time and attention I devote to my mouth is any indication, I’d say my teeth are pretty important to me! 

“I’d like to keep them as long as I can,” I told her.

Who wouldn’t? Is there anyone who doesn’t think their teeth are important? Is this a matter of prioritizing? Are we comparing and contrasting body parts here? Let’s see, would I rather lose a toe or a tooth? Teeth are fairly small. They’re hidden, for the most part. And I suppose you do only eat three meals a day. How much time does that take? An hour, tops? In use for one hour out of every twenty-four, how important can they really be? 

It’s easy to spot the absurdity of this “logic.” But how often are we guilty of such faulty thinking when it comes to the Body of Christ? Are we ever tempted to build hierarchies, to categorize people in the same misguided way? Funny, isn’t it, how we can “treat with special honour” the parts of our bodies that we think are less honourable (I Corinthians 12:23) and yet be so dismissive of fellow members in the Body of Christ.

The Apostle Paul had some poignant reminders for the church in Corinth about this issue and their connection to one another. He said God placed all the parts, every one of them, exactly how He wanted them to be.

Each of my toes is important to me, but I’m sure glad I’m not just one big toe. Each of my teeth are important to me, but I certainly couldn’t function like I do if I were just one big tooth. The whole point of this illustration is that we, as the Body of Christ, need one another. We can’t function on our own. And we can’t wish that everyone were just like us, with the same gifts and talents, the same passions and interests.

That’s why God brings us together, so that we can be part of the whole, so we can be unified in bringing Him glory, so that we can have equal concern for each other. We suffer together. We rejoice together. 

So next time you feel tempted to puff up your own, or anybody else’s, importance or role in your church family, imagine what the life of the Body would be like if every part were exactly the same. Imagine a body that is just one big toe or one big tooth, and give God thanks for knowing exactly what He was doing when He put the members of our body and His together.

This article was originally posted at Well Christian Woman.

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