All good Christians get up early in the morning to pray, read the Bible and quietly reflect upon God, don’t they? On the other hand, is it possible that there are kids and adults out there who truly have a heart for God even though they don’t engage in the central spiritual practices of the Christian faith as frequently or consistently as some in the church would think is optimal?
Persons with ADHD will expend more mental effort and energy to maintain a spiritually disciplined life. In an earlier post, we discussed some of the difficulties kids and adults with ADHD have with maintaining focus, delaying gratification, setting priorities, managing time and exhibiting self-control because of weaknesses in executive functioning. Let’s consider how those weaknesses might come into play when attempting to use some of the disciplines…
Prayer: Kids and adults with ADHD are more likely to struggle in setting aside time to pray consistently. They may have difficulty remembering what they wanted or needed to pray about when they make time to pray. Prayer logs and journals may be as important for the Christian with ADHD as daily planners and organizers are for the kid in school with ADHD. More importantly, persons with ADHD may have a more difficult time listening for God’s responses to prayer. The ability to “Be still and know that I am God” is a challenge for all of us in our modern society, but even more so for kids and adults with brains wired to notice the trivial and mundane.
Bible study: Kids and adults with ADHD are more prone to give up on Bible study when it becomes tedious. Many start off each year with good intentions to read through the Bible. They do OK through Genesis and Exodus, but the person with ADHD is going to struggle with Leviticus and has likely lost their resolve by the time they get to Numbers or Deuteronomy. Many kids with ADHD tell me they get distracted by other words on the page. I know lots of folks with ADHD who require highlighters while reading to focus on the main points. I don’t think God minds the Bible being all marked up if it helps the reader absorb more content. It’s important to remember (to paraphrase Reggie Joiner) that while all Scripture may be equally true, not all Scripture is equally important. One place where the church can help is by presenting the most important truths of Christianity in ways that are relevant, engaging and interesting. If kids with ADHD and their parents can’t stay focused long enough to get all the way through the Bible, let’s make sure they get the most important parts.
Meditation: Reflecting quietly upon a passage of Scripture or upon some attribute of God will be more challenging for kids and adults who have more difficulty holding words or images in their minds. The shorter the time spent in meditation and the more direction given to meditation, the more likely the exercise will be in facilitating spiritual growth.
Service: Kids with ADHD may have a difficult time remembering and getting started on uninteresting tasks. Just ask one to take out the garbage or clean his room if you need an illustration. On the other hand, serving can be a powerful experience if the act is meaningful and the skill set required fits within the giftedness of the person with ADHD. The kid or adult who has to be dragged to a Bible Study kicking and screaming may be all charged up about working on a Habitat crew, renovating houses for single moms in the city, or digging wells for villages in Africa.
Worship: Many kids and adults with ADHD may do better with worship events as participants as opposed to spectators. One of the churches we serve through Key Ministry offers monthly family worship experiences that parents attend with their elementary-age kids emphasizing Biblical virtues. The director told me every kid who performed on stage in their family worship was being treated for ADHD.
Evangelism: Evangelism is one spiritual discipline in which having some ADHD traits might be advantageous. Kids and adults with ADHD may have an easier time acting on the impulse to share their faith with others instead of pondering all the reasons why saying nothing might be a good idea. One observation I’ve made in working with lots of churches through Key Ministry is that a disproportionate number of senior pastors probably have ADHD, in part for the reason described above.
Bottom line…If God wanted cookie-cutter Christians, that’s what He would have made! We have a palette of spiritual disciplines because we won’t all grow closer to God in exactly the same way. The key for church leaders, parents and those who care for kids with ADHD is helping them identify those disciplines that excite them about God and help them grow closer to Him.
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