Some time ago, I was chatting on the phone to a friend of mine in England and she was telling me about a panic attack she had had in a dentist’s chair. As the dentist worked, the water from the drill began to go up her nose and she panicked, because she felt she was drowning. The dentist, however, was irritable and unsympathetic and told her sharply that she was imagining it. As a result, she could not bear the thought of again sitting in a dentist’s chair, but, she said, she had serious teeth problems and needed to see a dentist. I sympathised with her and told her about “handing the situation over to the Lord”. I told her to stand before the Lord, tell him of her need to see the dentist and also of the terrible fear of dentists that she now has. “Tell him”, I said, “that the situation is beyond you – you don’t know how to handle it – and then give it to him.”
This was not the first time I had told her about “handing things over”, but she had always countered by saying, “I am not holy enough” and, even though I told her that this was not about being ‘holy’, but about being willing to ‘trust’, she nevertheless remained sceptical. However, on this occasion, because she had nowhere else to turn, she said she would try.
Things moved quickly after that. The next day, she met a friend, in whom she confided about her fear, and this friend recommended another dentist quite nearby. He was a little expensive, her friend said, but very good. So, my friend phoned and managed to get an appointment for that evening, which was great, because it meant she would not have to wait in fearful anticipation for it to come. She, then, phoned me to tell me about it and also to tell me that she was petrified. I told her again to “hand it over” and she said she would.
The day after, she phoned me to tell me that it all had gone wonderfully well. She said that the new dentist was a very understanding and kind man and that her treatment had gone very well – “but then”, she added, “I paid a lot for it”, as though this was the reason for his being kind. I, then, asked her whether she had handed it over and she replied, “I did, but I was still frightened!”
I think that my friend does not really understand that when you “hand something over to the Lord” you entrust him to solve the problem in whatever way he sees fit – not in the way you think it ought to be done! Thus, when my friend looks at what happened, I don’t think she sees the Lord working through what we call ‘coincidence’: the coincidence of meeting the person, who recommended the new dentist, the coincidence of being able to get an appointment that same day and the coincidence of his being just the kind of dentist she needed at that time. We seem to expect that when God acts it will be a peal of thunder on a mountain-top, as the Bible tells us it was with Moses. In my experience, God mostly comes, as he did with Elijah, in the gentle breeze of coincidences. But, I think my friend still has great trouble with that. All she seems to see is that when she handed over her fear, the Lord did not take it away.
Fr Terry Burke