I have always been a nail biter. Since forever. Numerous people have told me to stop.
I am also a tooth grinder. Mercilessly. It happens at night and anytime during the day when I am concentrating on something difficult. I catch it after the fact and have to slowly relax my jaw.
The result of these things?
My hands often hurt because nails need to be allowed to grow a certain amount . . . and the grinding? I have a few chipped teeth. If I smile bright enough, you will see them. So I don't often smile as wide as I want to.
Not all piano players have beautiful hands.
I went to a new dentist last week. It was rough.
They can see everything. They know that you bite your nails and grind your teeth because those habits are addictive habits and they have an effect on your teeth. On your health and well being. And they come from stress.
The new dentist, who was very nice, jokingly said, "We're going to have to find you a less stressful job!" and then later, "I see a bite guard in your future."
My job isn't all that stressful. In fact, I've gone out of my way to make it less stressful for myself. I have practiced meditation and deep breathing, and when I unlock my classroom door every day at the school? I pray. I stop at the door and I pray - for my students and myself.
But I still grind my teeth. Something is off. Something isn't working the right way. I am missing something and am trying to find it. Clenching my teeth with effort - even when I'm sleeping.
I saw this image on Anne Voskamp's website several days ago and saved it for myself.
I've read a couple of her books - the first one changed my life. t's about giving thanks.
When I read the words on this image, I think about one discipline in particular - the discipline of Giving Thanks.
You might be reading this and you are worn out with churchy writing. Or someone forced you to say the same dinner time prayer every night growing up and it became meaningless . . . it felt thankless, and you don't want that anymore.
I understand. It's ok.
I am not talking about obligatory expressions of thanks today. I'm talking about the stuff that recreates us from the inside out.
The first time I remember being truly thankful for something - really reflecting on it - I was a teenager. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was sitting on my bed at home, looking out the window. We lived on a hill and the window looked into the green back yard. And I thought to myself, "I am so glad to live someplace that is green." Probably somewhere wrapped up in that thought was, "I am so glad to live somewhere that I feel safe." Because I did. And the big, green yard was part of the safety net.
We give kids credit for wanting to feel safe. But grown ups need that, too.
Giving thanks has something to do with Peace and Joy. I don't know exactly which comes first. I don't know if the Joy makes us give thanks or if the Peace causes us to stop and think about it. But I know that they are connected.
I know I'm not the only nail biting tooth grinder out there. I know that some of you are, too. And that the safety net seems to have fallen away - even if life looks "ideal" from the outside. You are on the inside of it thinking, "What is missing? I can't find it. What am I doing? I don't know."
This is "The Lords Prayer" from Leonard Benrstein's "Mass." Stick with the recording. It's probably not something you'd choose to turn to on the radio, but the words are so miraculous!
When I was in college, these words saved me. They saved my life.
I was learning the second half of the piece for my Junior voice recital - "I will face regret all my days and yet, I will still go on." We know about regret, don't we? Early in the song he says, "I will celebrate another day. I go on."
The beginning of my Junior year of college was traumatic. I chose to change the way that I dealt with friendship. Radically. I removed myself from some situations that were harmful to me. As a result of that, the shape of my life on a very small campus was drastically altered. I was faced with choices I'd never been required to make before. And I needed to hear this song. I needed to sing this song. So I did. It helped me to process some of this garbage . . . some of the codependent behavior I was involved with. Some of the mess.
Take a listen. Sit with the words a minute.
After my disastrous dental appointment last week I decided to take up a new discipline of not grinding my teeth and not biting my nails (she's a nice dentist - my teeth are just disastrous).
It's been about five days now . . . trying not to grind my teeth or grit them. Trying to keep my jaw relaxed. Trying not to touch my nails. I have found that all of these things - the jaw clenching, the teeth grinding, and the nail biting - come with my stress. Small and large stress. I do these things responsively.
I have failed several times. That's going to happen. It's ok.
The Bernstein song says a lot about life. Things fall apart continually. They cannot stay together. We mess them up. Other people mess them up. We get all tangled up in the middle of our mess. And yet we have to "celebrate" another day. We have to somehow be thankful or we won't make it.
I am looking back up at the image from Ms. Voskamp's page now - "Daily disciplines are doors to full freedom."
Every time I stop to unlock my jaw I am trying to give thanks.
Every time I deliberately rest my hands in my lap to keep from biting my nails I am trying to remember one thing to be thankful for.
Every time I become angry or irritated and grit my teeth together, I am relaxing them and trying to say one word out loud that gives me peace.
Discipline that leads to freedom.
Recently I wrote a song about the experience of that year - letting go of things we don't need to handle in favor of living a life of freedom. I was so excited to get to perform it on the radio!!! Half the excitement was just because . . . radio!!!! . . . the other half was because it's a good thing to say out loud to people.
Somebody smart once told me that when we let go of one unhealthy thing we have to put something healthy in its place.
If we are too busy and drop an activity, we need to replace it with intentional rest.
If we have an unhealthy habit (like nail biting) and we're trying to get rid of it, we'll fare better if we can put something healthy in its place - for me, it's been giving thanks as a pathway to peace.
Here's the song.
Peace and Goodness.