My dad died suddenly in the middle of my medical training. The pain of losing the bright spot in my life was almost paralyzing, so I requested personal time off before completing my rotation. But one week after my dad died, my attending physician refused, told me I was weak, and flunked me.
I returned to medical school three weeks later and ultimately, my record was cleared to reflect a personal leave of absence. But the pain lingered, hardening my heart as I harbored resentment without contemplating the consequences.
A few years later, during my residency, another attending physician chided me sternly for the care I had given a patient, despite my appropriate actions. It felt like an injustice. But, not knowing how to advocate for myself, I shut down and never spoke with him again.
My temptation in the past was to think that forgiveness was merely a behavior to mimic. God instructs us to be kind and compassionate and loving, so I must forgive – even seventy times seven. But if I see forgiveness as merely an outward behavior, I’m depriving myself and others of something infinitely richer. Forgiveness is where God transforms brokenness into beauty. Forgiveness is where God heals not only relationships, but our own hearts and minds. And extends that healing into the world.
Reflecting on my experiences during my medical training, I recognize now that my lack of forgiveness for the first doctor shaped my reaction to the second. Holding contempt in my heart, I thought I was fighting back, punishing him for the hurt he caused me. In fact, unforgiveness hardened my heart, hurting not only myself, but magnifying my inability to love in the next encounter.
Loving that second doctor might have looked like speaking clearly about the injustice of his actions without ushering the past into the future. If my heart had been soft, perhaps I could have been present with him in that moment, helping him learn from his actions so that he could grow. But my shrinking away never gave him that chance.
If forgiveness were merely a behavior to mimic, it would be shallow and easy. Instead, God calls us to the deep and hard work of practicing forgiveness so that He might transform brokenness into beautiful healing for ourselves, others, and the world.
Have you experienced the healing power of forgiveness? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.