Forgiveness evaded me for most of my life – not the understanding, but the doing. As a 5 year-old Christian, I understood the concept: I disobey, but God doesn’t spank. The concept matured over the years, but the part where we turn around and do the same for others never followed.
I’ve taken communion countless times, reminded myself to forgive and be forgiven, repeated the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and assumed that the process was working. Harboring unchanging grudges and white-washing it with a beautiful ritual seemed sensible and normal. Repeating the ritual despite the fact that old wounds didn’t heal never struck me as insanity.
Forgetting works well for little slights, but larger injuries refuse to be forgotten. This includes the wounds from past cataclysms–betrayals, lies, abandonments. But then there are the smaller wrongs that injure not as much by their severity as by endless repetition. What is more searing–an amputation or a thousand cuts? Families, friends and the people closest to us inflict and endure mostly the latter.
The toughest act of forgiveness might be forgiving loved ones for what they are not. Every father is sometimes absent and every mother is sometimes neurotic. No spouse can maintain the intensity of love’s earliest days. No child can match our hopes for them. Mental health requires us to cope with a constant stream of such disappointments. Either we forgive people for being human or shrivel into bitterness.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that forgiveness is a constant attitude, which is exactly what ADHD brains don’t do. Intentions and mind-sets disappear the second we turn to the next shiny thing. The whole basis for computerized attention tests is that people with ADHD can’t keep our brains poised to click on certain symbols, but not others, for 20 consecutive minutes. How, in heaven’s name, are we supposed to maintain permanent intentions?
A few months after starting Strattera, I had an earth-shaking experience. For the first time in my memory, I changed an emotional attitude by decision, not impulse. It happened while I was playing Uno with my wife and our sons who were 5 and 8. My wife was aggravated at how competitive I was being and told me to lighten up. I told her I would try, knowing from the previous thousand efforts that my game mode controller only had two settings: ‘Destroy All Competitors” and “I’m Bored and Will Now Leave”.
I aimed for the middle ground, and to my inner surprise, I was able to pick a new attitude and maintain it. “Make a reasonable play and watch the game roll,” was suddenly a third option that I could select. “Crush your young sons,” was there, too, but magically wasn’t the only shift point on my mental transmission. Competitive urges kept popping up, but I would tell myself to value family fun more than winning, and the urges gradually quieted.
Forgiveness, it turns out, is more like playing Uno with my boys than kneeling at an altar. Choose an attitude and correct it when it starts to blow off course. When bitterness pops up, I can now, with effort, choose other attitudes:.
- Gratitude for lessons learned
- Wishes for the growth of the other person
- Desire to be free of bitterness
- Self-love that desires peace
Over the past few years, some life-long resentments have faded to simple memories and very old wounds have finally healed.
Forgiveness is the ability to sense anger and resentment and redirect the emotional energy. It is a skill I literally don’t possess unless I take a particular medication.
The FDA has not approved Strattera for Forgiveness Deficit Disorder, so your results may be different than mine. I checked the 18-page, micro-print insert that the manufacturer stuffs into every sample bottle of Strattera. Not a single word about forgiveness, maybe because it’s lawyers that write those things.
If forced to give up either Strattera or communion for the rest of my life, I’d stay with the medication. I would pretend the capsule was a wafer and that the water was wine while I swallowed and quietly repeated the ancient liturgy. A gracious God would forgive me for thinking this way.