Finding Rest in the Furnace of Work – Emeritus Professor Laurence Walsh AO 

Using micro prayers to enter a sense of rest in the Lord


From Luke’s Journal 2022 | Rest | Vol.27 No.1

Photo by Jonathan Borba at Pexels

The Lord is a refuge and safe haven for Christian doctors and dentists when faced with challenges in our professional lives as well as in our personal lives. It’s possible for us to become so caught up in thinking in an objective scientific way about the clinical needs of the patient in front of us that we forget that our knowledge, our insights, and our strength all come from the Lord. We can draw on that divine source in difficult moments when we are not sure what best to say, or when it’s not immediately clear how to handle the situation. 

By using micro prayers during the working day, we not only remain more conscious of our servant role as health professionals, but we also apply Lordship to our professional lives on a regular basis. This “hand on the tiller” approach helps us navigate through difficult situations and to grow in trust. Gaining peace as a state of mind because of frequent connection with the Lord is exactly what Isaiah is talking about in chapter 26: 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3)

“In our everyday world, there will be struggles and problems, but we can take heart because we are linked to Him who overcomes these.” (John 16:33).

Through micro prayers, we can also enter more into that sense of rest in the Lord to which we are called. We can hand over burdens and difficulties so that we don’t carry these alone and become unduly stressed. 

In some situations, those stressors may come moreso from people we work with rather than from those we care for. It doesn’t matter – the same principle of the micro prayer that addresses the need of the moment for that person and that situation still applies. In my experience, the frequent use of micro prayers has allowed me to stay calm and mentally positive despite situations where I had to keep many balls in the air at once. An example of a situation like this was during my university career when I had to supervise a large group of students in the clinic and work out when to provide hands-on assistance while ensuring the clinic ran smoothly, with many people coming and going. 

Micro prayers aren’t always about yourself and your own needs. Often, they are about your patient or student or colleague or anyone who you see as having a need at that moment. By
offering all these needs up to the Lord, we can remain mentally at rest and experience the peace of God – which is exactly the promise of Philippians 4:6-7

“Micro prayers aren’t always about yourself and your own needs. Often, they are about your patient or student or colleague or anyone who you see as having a need at that moment.”

In dentistry, we often see physical examples of situations where patients are in a situation of stress and turmoil and they take that out on their dentition by clenching and grinding, applying enormous forces that smash restorations on the teeth and lead to aggressive patterns of tooth wear. Whenever I see this clinical presentation, it reminds me of the descriptions of teeth gnashing that occur in the Scriptures. 

There are many examples in the Old Testament where gnashing of teeth was an expression of intense anger (Job 16:9; Psalm 112:10), including anger and hatred with shades of contempt (Psalm 35:16; Psalm 37:12; Lam. 2:16). The same is seen in Acts 7:54 which describes the angry reaction of the unbelieving Jews of the Sanhedrin towards Stephen. They were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. In the New Testament, gnashing of teeth is combined with weeping, especially in the Gospel of Matthew where it relates to emotional distress and other strong emotional reactions to situations, including punishment or being banished (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 25:30). Luke 13:28 describes a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when the unsaved see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God at the time of judgment, indicating emotional suffering once they recognise the difference in their fate.

Today we know that patients who clench their jaws and grind their teeth while awake have significant underlying issues with their mental state. Bruxism, which is habitual non-functional forceful contact between the biting (occlusal) surfaces of teeth, is involuntary. As well as severe tooth wear, it also causes headaches, temporomandibular pain and masticatory muscle soreness. Awake bruxism and the associated severe tooth wear have been associated with intellectual disability, frontal neurological disorders, and the use of certain psychotropic medications or addictive substances, especially opiates and MDMA (ecstasy).

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Medications such as duloxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, barbiturates and methylphenidate can cause bruxism during sleep. With psychotropic agents, tooth grinding while awake is a form of oromandibular dyskinesia secondary to extrapyramidal effects of these medications because of their antagonism of dopaminergic receptors.1-5 The problem of tooth grinding is particularly prominent in long-term users of heroin and other “hard” narcotics who have high levels of jaw clenching and tooth grinding (bruxism) as well as tooth wear and jaw joint disorders.6

Recent research indicates that tooth grinding is surprisingly common. A 2019 umbrella review drew on 41 systematic reviews and concluded that among adults, the prevalence of awake bruxism was 22%-30%, and sleep bruxism was 1%-15%. They noted that the latter was aggravated by multiple factors including the excessive use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, and exposure to second-hand smoke.7 

Just as in adults, bruxism in children is more common in those with emotional problems and may reflect life stressors that have been experienced or are anticipated.8-10 Bruxism can occur at a high rate in certain groups of children with disability. In a recent study of girls with Rett syndrome, we found over 98% had some oral parafunctional habit, with many grinding their teeth both when awake as well as during sleep.11 Those who were grinding their teeth during the day had an increased need for restorative dental treatment. 

So what is the common theme that links all of these clinical pathways surrounding involuntary tooth grinding? These are all situations where individuals are in need of compassionate care because of the situation they are experiencing in their life. When someone presents with tooth grinding while awake it is a semaphore or a “canary in a coal mine”. It flags the need for a closer look, and greater compassion and understanding for that person. 

“…. patients who clench their jaws and grind their teeth while awake have significant underlying issues with their mental state.”

We need to learn from Jesus, the suffering servant, who felt compassion and followed this up with action. The Gospels often refer to Him having compassion and being moved with pity. He sympathised with the pain and distress of others. He recognised the hurt of the individual even when there were throngs of people around him. We can learn some important lessons from that. 

Jesus shows us the face of a God who is compassionate, rather than cold or unfeeling. His heart went out to those in need. We need to see beyond the patient to appreciate the burdens of their life and the complexities that they have to deal with every day. The better we understand the context of their problem, the more we can see the world from their perspective and notice their confusion, vulnerability and helplessness. 

By sharing a kind word and showing our patents that we acknowledge the challenges they are facing, we can help ease their burden and share with them a moment of kindness. A micro prayer at the moment of need can enable us to look at and respond to our patients and colleagues through the lens of the compassionate love of Jesus. My prayer for all of us is that the Lord will soften our hearts toward others and give us a heart of compassion, so that we can reach out to our patients and colleagues with kindness and mercy. When that happens, we will enjoy His peace and His rest.

Emeritus Professor Laurence Walsh AO 
Dr Laurie Walsh is a specialist in special needs dentistry. He is based at the University of Queensland School of Dentistry in Herston, Queensland. After serving for 36 years on the academic staff of UQ, he retired in 2020, but continues to contribute to postgraduate specialist training at the university.

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