I floss every night. There's 30 slots between and around my teeth, and I hit each one every night.
OK. Now that I've confessed it, let me tell the story of that particular descent into properness.
When I was 18, I was properly disdaining of all flossers. When I was 22 and joined the army, I was properly disdaining of all flossers. I ignored all attempts to educate me, and continued along on my merry way. When I was 32 I was a happy computer geek, and ignored the call of the floss propagandists.
And then, long about 35 it happened.
I got a toothache. More properly a gum-ache. My teeth finally dragged me back to the dentist, and I got a cleaning. There was talk of antibiotics and other such vague threats, but the bottom line was that I needed to floss. But this time they explained why I needed to floss. I'm a big, "Why?" kind of guy, so that changed everything for me.
Flossing is about killing little microbes that live beneath your gumline, especially between your teeth. The thing is, those little suckers need a stable home to thrive. You don't have to fish them out to kill them. You just have to disturb their peaceful abodes so they have to start building all over again.
I used to get frustrated, because I felt like I was just pushing muck down under my gumline when I flossed. That seemed ridiculous to me, so I gave up. It turns out, all I really need to do is squish the muck around, and the microbes have to start their whole neighborhood corruption program all over again.
It's pretty easy.
I still failed to pick up the habit. 30-some-odd years of happily brushing and going to bed is pretty easy not to change when all you're missing is the excitement of flossing. Somehow I found it in myself to let the flossing go.
And then I got another gum infection. Age really does play into this. When you're young, you can get away with a lot, but as you age the immune system becomes a little more inviting to pesky buggers of all kinds. Mouth microbes are no exception. I dug out the floss again, and attacked the infection. At first I flossed too hard, but eventually I figured out I was only trying to kill the little buggers, not my gumline. And within 3 days or so, the infection cleared itself up. It didn't inflame and get worse and cause the dentist to tut-tut at me and talk about antibiotics. In fact, I didn't need to darken his door at all, and that's worth a little flossing in itself!
Now, I can tell pretty quickly when something needs a little attention, because the flossing itself is a little painful in just the place a problem is growing.
I've come to see the Lord's Prayer in the same light.
Jesus taught us 7 petitions, and they're just like those 30 gaps between my teeth. I run a little prayer down into each of those petitions, and if one of them feels a little sensitive it's a warning.
If I'm speeding past, "Thy Will be done?" or hesitant to ask for help in avoiding temptation, maybe there's something up in my life.
When I was younger, I focused exclusively on the big stuff, avoiding the wrong music and crowd. That's the "brushing your teeth" stuff. It's a good start. But as I've grown older, it seems like it's the little microbes of sin living just below the gumline that get to me.
I think I've always wanted to pray a little too aggressively. I think I always wanted to see big changes, pray big prayers, feel the passion every time. Really, though, I just need to mess with the cozy little homes of my little sins. I just need to stir them up a bit with a call to my Father. A quick call regarding His name, another of His kingdom, His will, His providence, His forgiveness, my forgiveness, and my weakness before my enemies.
It takes a minute or two, but the infections it can prevent are worth every second.