7 Ways ADHD Can Wreck Your Faith
Perhaps I’m just bad at Google, but no one seems to be talking about ADHD and faith. I get it, of course. It’s hard to foray into the world of faith without offending someone or alienating a group of people your organization might not be willing to alienate. But I would have thought that there might at LEAST be a little discussion about ADHD and faith in denomination-specific forums, magazines, and websites. If these discussions exist, I’m struggling to find them, and therefore the following article will be written almost entirely from my (and my clients) personal observations. (It will also, incidentally, be written from a fairly traditional Christian perspective. Please be aware of that and know that my intention is not to offend or exclude, merely to write from what I believe to be the truth.)
So what is the interplay between ADHD and faith? Here are seven ways that ADHD symptoms can make it extremely difficult to walk with God.
Distraction keeps you from listening.
Even non-ADHD adults make jokes about nodding off during occasional, long-winded sermons. But if you have ADHD, you might lose focus during EVERY sermon. In fact, because you tend to be easily bored and even more easily distracted, you might find yourself failing to pay attention to EVERY part of the worship service – from announcements to confession to hymns. It’s not that you don’t find this time important, it’s just that there are a lot of people to look at, and a lot of stray thoughts that come bouncing out of nowhere the second someone starts speaking or chanting in anything close to a monotone. The lack of focus during worship can lead you to feel like going to church at ALL is simply a waste of time. Ditto for Bible studies, conferences, and any particularly lengthy prayers you encounter. The problem? These activities make up the bulk of Christian fellowship and worship, and missing out on them means losing important connections to God and others.
Time-Blindness keeps you from attending
Even if you find yourself capable of paying attention during a worship service or Bible study, it may be a massive struggle for you to get your happy buns into the pew (or couch, in the case of Bible studies) in the first place. Sluggish mornings or busy evenings, Issues with chronic lateness, and an aversion to slinking into the sanctuary mid-sermon have actually kept me from going to church in the past, much to my own detriment. In the same vein, I have declined signing up to help with church events because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it on time and didn’t want to let people down. This was ADHD in action, keeping me from something I highly valued.
Fear keeps you from contributing
Like the above situation, in which I didn’t sign up to help at events because I didn’t want to show up late, ADHDers often avoid committing to help in ANY capacity because they can’t help but think of all the many ways they could drop the ball – forgetting to bring the snacks for midweek confirmation classes, missing practice for praise band (and subsequently strumming all the wrong chords during what would have been a SWEET modern rendition of “How Great Thou Art”), dozing off during committee meetings, dominating the conversation during small group, failing to study the material necessary to lead a Sunday School class, forgetting to book the speaker for an event. The list goes on and on – it’s easy for someone with ADHD to become petrified by the many ways they could fail to follow through on any promises they make to the church….so they just avoid contributing altogether.
Shame keeps you from connecting
When you are already missing out on God’s word because of your distracted nature, showing up late (or not showing up at all) and avoiding ways to help out, it can be tough to look other Christians in the eye sometimes. Forgiving as our fellow Christians may be, those of us with ADHD know that sometimes other people simply struggle to understand and deal with our symptoms, especially when we come off as particularly lazy, immature, insensitive, or unreliable. Although we might know that we aren’t acting the way we do because of moral weakness or character flaws, it can be difficult to explain that to someone who has no knowledge of ADHD. Sometimes, instead of explaining, we even resort to building up sturdy walls of distance, designed to keep other people from seeing or judging our symptoms. This distance can stop us from truly engaging in a tight-knit, Christian family, thus making falling away from the faith that much easier.
Disorganization keeps you from praying
Regular Bible reading and prayer time (both hugely beneficial for transforming our lives to look like Christ’s) requires that we plan a regular time to engage in these activities, follow through with them, and stick to them. Often, ADHDers will have a strong notion that they should “pray more” or should “start reading the Bible,” but never turn those notions into plans, much less habits. Without determining WHEN to read and pray, WHAT to read and pray, and HOW to continue doing both tasks consistently, we find ourselves years down the road without ever having cracked the spine of our study Bible or muttered more than a quick “God, please help me,” after losing our cell phone for the fifth time in three days.
Forgetfulness keeps you from keeping track of what God has done
Seeing the power of God in your own life requires something that most ADHDers don’t come by naturally – remembering. Specifically, remembering what we have prayed for in the past is imperative if we are ever to realize that God HAS and WILL answer our prayers in his own wonderful, perfect timing. When we DON’T keep track of what we have prayed for, or the struggles we have experienced that God helped us get through, we end up thinking God hasn’t been active in our lives, when, in fact, he has shown up repeatedly and in big ways. Even when we DO acknowledge God’s influence over us, we tend to forget what he has done for us (as the Israelites so often did) and fall into hopelessness or godlessness far too easily.
Despair keeps us from wanting to try again
Last, but not least, when you start thinking about all the ways that ADHD can make fighting for a strong faith difficult, it can almost make you want to give up. Can I really overcome all of those setbacks? you might start to think. There’s so much stacked against me, and I’ve already failed so many times….why even bother continuing to struggle?
The truth, of course, is that there is NOTHING you cannot accomplish with God on your side. ADHD is no match for the mind that created the universe, nor is it a match for the spirit that resides within you. There are strategies that can make EACH challenge in this article much easier to manage, and we’re going to talk about ALL of them. Take hope, and remember that God will never give you a challenge that he won’t help you out of. Then, stay tuned for the ways that you can take back control of the things that build faith.