Lenten Cross, First Presbyterian Church, Corning, Iowa. Photo by K.Rummer


Seeing Jesus at the dentist

A memory for Good Friday

by Ken Rummer


When I was still in elementary school, I had my first experience with fillings. It did not go well.

The dentist gave me a shot to put my tooth to sleep. He said it would feel like a pinch but it really hurt. Then he left me in the chair to wait.

I was feeling scared. Also guilty. I had skipped a few brushings, and now I had cavities.

The dentist came back in and started drilling. Yeow! My tooth was not asleep.

He gave me another shot and left me to wait some more. I was even more scared. Would this one put my tooth to sleep? What if it didn’t?

Through the high window I could see sky and the tops of trees–outdoors, where I would rather be. Was my lip tingling yet?

The dentist returned and started drilling again. Aiee! Still not numb.

My mother was called in from the waiting room.

I wanted to get out of there, but the dentist was explaining to my mother, “…can’t do any more numbing today…should be taking effect any time now…best to go ahead.”

And that, with my mother’s reluctant OK, became the plan. He would go ahead and complete the filling, trusting that the tooth would soon be numb.

If you’ve ever found yourself on a painful path with no rescue in sight, you know something of what I was feeling, caught in that chair.

Moments later the dentist was bearing down on his drill in my un-numb tooth. It hurt worse than yellow jacket stings. Worse than a finger slammed in a car door.

And that’s when I saw Jesus — as in a daydream — on the cross and close up.

I could see that Jesus knew about pain, even mine, and I could believe that he was with me, even at the dentist. Through long minutes of drilling and filling, I kept my eyes on that vision, and it got me through.

The numbing kicked in on the way home. The tooth was finally asleep, and half my face as well. It was over.

But that picture of Jesus on the cross stayed with me.

Years later, in the Servant Songs from the book of Isaiah, I found words I could connect with what I had seen. “A man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand…it was our pains he carried” (Is 53:3-4 The Message).

Did the Jesus in my vision know pain firsthand? Clearly, he did. Was Jesus helping carry my pain that day at the dentist? There is mystery here, but that was my experience.

The scene may be different where you sit. Your chair of terror may be located in a hospital waiting room, before a judge’s bench, or at a table set for one.

Here’s the hope I see. We can look for Jesus, even when it hurts the most. And we can trust that–seen or unseen–Jesus will be there. Hurting with us. Sharing our pain. Bringing us through.


Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. To access previous posts, go to