Mistakes and Forgiveness

     When I was in medical school, I worked for two months at Yale New Haven Hospital, where I helped take care of an elderly man with chronic pancreatitis. I made the mistake of assigning him a regular diet, not the very-low-fat diet his condition required. When he was served pork chops, he ate them with gusto, and abdominal pain followed. I felt terrible. As I rewrote his orders, I was almost in tears. The attending physician laughed at my distress, saying, “I hope this is the worst mistake you make as a doctor!” (It wasn’t.)

     Later I entered the patients’ room to apologize to him and his concerned daughter.

“Are you kidding?” his daughter asked. He knew he wasn’t supposed to eat a pork chop! Don’t worry about it!”

     Mistakes are our teachers; forgiveness helps us learn.

     Though upsetting at the time, physician Karen Miller’s experience as a medical student led her to the kind of wisdom that applies to every aspect of life. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we all make mistakes. Mistakes are a given. Mistakes are what we flirt with when we decide to get out of bed in the morning. Making mistakes are what often happens when we attempt to do our best.

    Unlike mistakes, forgiveness is not a given – it is an option. We can choose to humbly acknowledge our failings and thus be free to learn from them, or we can fan the flame of blame, in which case we become focused on ourselves in judgmental and critical ways. We can spend a lifetime in negative self-talk, running in circles of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,”  

    What Dr Miller came to realize was that mistakes can be a felix culpa, a happy fault, if we forgive ourselves for making them. Mistakes can be a source of wisdom, the means by which we discover a better way to do what we do. Forgiveness enables us to move forward with insight, humility, and compassion.          

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