If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.
Christ tells us in Matthew 6:14 that we must forgive whenever we are hurt by someone. We must show mercy towards our brothers and sisters and understand that they are human just like us. We all make mistakes and hurt others through our actions; it is part of the human experience, but it is through forgiveness that we can fix those mistakes and rebuild our broken relationships.
However, forgiveness is one of those things that is much easier said than done, and some things often seem unforgivable
When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with childhood brain cancer and had a very large tumor located on my brain stem. If anyone knows anything about the brain, that is the worst possible location for a tumor. The brain stem can be compared to the roots of a plant, if a plant’s roots are damaged, it could ruin everything. Within the next three years, I underwent two major surgeries to remove this stubborn tumor that kept growing back.
Six weeks after my second surgery, a MRI scan showed that the tumor had returned. Surgery was out of the question because it would kill me. My only option was radiation, a poison which targeted the cells in my body and killed them. Not the greatest option, but it was my only one. By my eighth birthday in August, I had experienced a bit more than your average eight year old.
Unfortunately by the end of September, I started to experience side effects from the radiation. My doctors had predicted that there would be some side effects considering they had never performed this type of radiation on someone as young as I was.
But they never expected anything like what happened next.
I became physically disabled and things completely changed. Less than a year after the radiation, I could not walk, I could not crawl, I could not do much at all. I depended on my family for simple tasks like getting dressed or feeding myself. My parents were told by doctors that I would die within weeks.
It was at that point, when I literally could no longer stand, that I started to fight to get my life back. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. For anyone who knows me, you know that I’ve been driven all my life, and underestimating my skills or work only encourages me to work harder.
I retaught myself how to walk through months of therapy and slowly learned how to live again. I placed complete trust in God and He took care of me, giving me life again.
You should always trust in God even when you think you have control of everything. No matter how perfect our lives seem without God, the truth is that life is so much better when we let Him in and allow Him to take over.
But I don’t want to talk about trusting in God right now, I want to talk about something equally difficult: forgiveness.
The side effects from radiation were worse than most doctors predicted, and it was largely because the doctor in charge of the radiation overdosed my radiation treatments. As I said before, I was the youngest patient to ever receive this type of radiation and if all went successful, destroying all cancer and leaving no major side effects, my case would have been famous in the medical world and my doctor would have been famous too. Before the radiation treatments were even finished, he had written papers about me to present in conferences. He rushed my radiation treatments for his own good; not out of a desire to heal, but out of a selfish desire for glory. Because of this overdose, the side effects this doctor caused were irreversible. He caused me to become physically disabled, and changed the course my life forever. I was just a “little” angry with him. I was supposed to trust this man , a medical genius, but he ultimately messed around with my life and nearly killed me.
So I guess I could have been slightly happy when my case didn’t turn out perfect for his career, when it did not go exactly as he planned. But knowing that did not seem to satisfy my anger towards him.
The problem with being angry was that he destroyed my cancer so it was like a catch 22: I couldn’t really be angry with him because he had saved my life, it was just as a result of the radiation that things went wrong and I became disabled.
I struggled with forgiving him especially in those years shortly after the radiation when it felt as if I was learning to live all over again.
It was not until three years after the radiation, when I was in middle school, that I began to realize I needed to forgive this doctor. I was carrying this huge amount of anger around with me and it was exhausting holding a grudge against this man.
I had come to the conclusion that what I had been told by a team of doctors years before was obviously not true. Maybe scientifically, they could not prove why I was still alive but I showed no sign of dying anytime soon. I had shown them that I could live my life despite the obstacles I had to face, and God was fighting for me all along. Romans 8:11 tells us, if God is for us, who then can be against us? And God reminds us in Exodus, “I will fight for you…you need only stay still.”
I started to think that this whole being disabled thing wasn’t all that bad. It made me become a stronger person, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I saw the world in a completely different light and it was truly beautiful. I realized through my disabilities I could help so many people, I could inspire so many lives by setting a good example, and maybe even change how people view others with disabilities. I know most people think I’m crazy for saying this but I am thankful for my disabilities. They make me who I am and are part of my identity. I can’t imagine my life without them. For the first time, I started to feel thankful that my doctor messed up my radiation. It was with the realization of this that I started to forgive him. So maybe I was physically disabled, but I am alive, I have a loving family who supports me, I have a college degree, and I am cancer free. When I was growing up, I never said, “Oh I wish I become physically disabled someday,” that was never part of my plan. But because of my disabilities, I have been able to inspire others in ways I never could without them.
It was not easy for me to forgive my doctor for making me physically disabled but when I finally did, I went from this super negative person to someone who is always happy and smiling. When we forgive, it is like a breath of fresh air comes into our lives, creating a new attitude on life and letting go of what happened in the past. Even if you don’t think someone deserves your forgiveness, it is better to forgive instead of holding that hatred inside for all your life. Hatred paints a black stain on our heart.
When someone betrays us or hurts us, it is hard to forgive them for what they have done, but being angry or holding a grudge against someone only creates a rift or brick wall between you. After nearly being killed in 1981, Bl. Pope John Paul II publicly forgave his shooter, saying that “The act of forgiveness is the first and fundamental condition so that we aren't divided and placed one against another like enemies.” When we remain angry and resentful, we block ourselves from all those we love and ruin our relationships. Even on the cross, Jesus forgave those who wronged him.
Carrying around anger and hate tends to weigh us down but forgiveness is truly freeing. So before you hate or even begin to hold a grudge against someone, forgive them, for everyone deserves a second chance and kindness is much sweeter than hate.
Beth Puleo graduated from Mount St. Mary's University in 2013, majoring in Communications. Beth is a motivational speaker. Book her for your retreat or conference at http://elizabethpuleo.com/.