The Lessons Were Hard

Deep under the covers, I rang in 2015 with my head fast asleep on my pillow by 8:30 p.m. Not exactly the life of the party. Six months after being diagnosed with a debilitating neuromuscular disease I was struggling with something nearly as incurable… unforgiveness.

With my diagnosis of myasthenia gravis came an unprovoked betrayal from my own profession, my doctor. In twenty years of practicing medicine I never had a sick day. I returned to work the day after having surgery, not once but twice. Once I even performed surgery at 8 in the morning, changed into a gown and had surgery at 10 a.m. on Friday and returned to work on Monday. So it was ridiculous to be accused of faking my illness. I have faked being well many times. I have never faked being sick.

Clearly I was wronged. Sophisticated tests later confirmed the rare auto-immune illness, but not before a root of bitterness began to take hold.

The wrong was not holding on to me, but I kept a pretty tight grip on it.

I knew exactly what I was supposed to do and I was obedient.

  • I confessed
  • I chose to forgive
  • I acknowledged my own inability
  • I asked for the power of the Holy Spirit
  • I sincerely prayed for my enemies to be blessed

I even wrote a letter I never sent. It didn’t work. All the right steps and it didn’t work. Bitterness continued to rear its ugly head. I was nursing a grudge.

Mark 6: 19, “So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him.” NIV

It is difficult to imagine a beautiful young woman given the opportunity to request anything, up to half of the kingdom, making a demand so gruesome as a righteous man’s head on a platter. I’m sure it didn’t start out that way. It started in small in her mother’s heart, then grew into a consuming grudge and infected her daughter. She nursed her grudge and she eventually got her wish. It makes me shudder to picture the scene.

Like all of nature, it grew because it was nourished.

Galatians 5: 15-16, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” NIV

As a child I was a member of a book club. Each month I eagerly tore open the cardboard packaging to find three brand new books. My favorites were Dr. Seuss and The Berenstain Bears. I devoured them until I memorized every word. One story I read over and over was about a fish who grew too much. A young boy purchased the fish at a pet store and the owner sternly cautioned him to feed the fish only “this much” food. But the boy fed the fish more and more. The fish outgrew his bowl and had to be transferred larger and larger containers. He was relocated to the bathtub but eventually outgrew it too. The fish grew out of control because it was fed too much. That’s how it works. Be careful what you feed. It will grow.

I knew I needed to feed my spirit and starve my flesh.

Though I was trying to rid myself of the weight of my burden, I carried it under my arm like a treasured pet. I fed it throughout the day, sometimes I tossed it a few crumbs to keep it alive while other times I let it gorge on a full-blown feast. Whenever the issue came up in conversation, I gladly told my story again. Since I was clearly wronged I easily gained sympathizers, but I lost my freedom. I was chained to someone who probably didn’t remember I existed. I thought about her nearly every day yet I doubt she even knows who I am.

I didn’t learn any magic secrets to forgiving. I consistently went back to what I did in the beginning.

  • I confessed
  • I chose to forgive
  • I acknowledged my own inability
  • I asked for the power of the Holy Spirit
  • I sincerely prayed for my enemies to be blessed

The hard thing I learned about forgiveness was that I had to do it over and over. Forgiveness for flawed humans is usually not a one-time episode. It requires continuous, repeated effort and supernatural strength.

Jesus commanded us to forgive 49 times. I literally enumerated all the infractions against me and my list was far shorter than 49. That gave me a new perspective.

Mark 11: 25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” NIV

Thankfully when Jesus chooses to forgive, it is instant and permanent. It is a done deal. He said on the cross, “It is finished.” The penalty was paid and our sins were nailed to the cross cancelling our debt. But even for God, it is still a choice; a choice for Him to remember our sins no more.

God doesn’t forget, He just doesn’t remember.

His choice. It was a choice for me too, a freeing one.

By summer, my legs, shoulders and eyelids were stronger and didn’t feel quite so heavy. I was able to walk farther and not use a wheelchair. More importantly, my heart was lighter too. When I quit feeding the grudge, it began to starve it to death. Oh I still throw it a morsel every now and then, but it is so small it can’t pester me too much.

We’ve all been wronged by others. It is especially painful when it comes from someone we trust, even more so if it’s someone we love. Are you carrying a grudge? Lay that heavy thing down. Quit feeding it by telling the story to yourself or others. Do what you know to do, even if you have to do it over and over again. Remember, love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.

Philippians 3: 13-14 ,”Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward- to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” MSG


Vickie Petz Henderson, M.D.

A Repost from My Journey of Faith Magazine.

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