"Faith and ADHD"
Message preached August 19,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Hebrews 11:29 - 12:2
Order of Worship
It was the first night of a week of camp. "Lights out" was supposedly only a few minutes away, but one cabin was nowhere near being ready. There, a little boy, whom weíll call "Ruach," (1) was quite literally bouncing off the walls, one of the most hyper kids Iíve ever encountered as a camp director. His registration form had warned us he was "ADHD" - i.e. "Attention Deficit, Hyperactive Disorder," a diagnosis we are seeing with more regularity in camp work. Three other children in this group of 48 also bore that identification, though we wondered about a few more.
Ruach took a lot of our time - developing and carrying through a plan to help him make it through the week, meeting regularly to assess how he was doing, being in contact with his mother... He needed a great deal of one-on-one attention, especially at certain times of the day, and we staffed ourselves to make that as possible as we could with the resources we had. We also spread the stress of caring for Ruach as broadly as we could among one of the best teams of counselors and staff with whom I have ever worked.
Though he was more than a handful, Ruach was also a delightful child to know. Highly intelligent and very loving when one-on-one, he grew on those who bore special responsibility for him. He was willing to tackle most any problem, and could be very helpful. I witnessed him trying to carry a heavy container of kitchen garbage (nearly a third his weight) to the nature center, where his small group of children fed them to the meal worms there. Where he had the most problem was in socially interacting with the other children. He struggled with both his ability to keep focused amid all the stimulus offered in a camp setting, and his capacity to keep a reign on his energy, which seemed boundless.
Now, I am no expert when it comes to health matters but, like many others, I am concerned with the growing use of this diagnosis, and the drugs that keep it under control in an increasing number of children. I understand that "what we call Attention Deficit Disorder is actually six different conditions" which are all-too-often treated as if they were one and the same. (2) For five years, Ruach had been on a medication that took its toll on his mind and body. In the seven weeks after he came off it, he became a much happier child, and grew five pounds - amazing since he was one of the smallest children at camp that week.
Now, I share his story, not so much to make a statement about this disorder and itís treatment. School teachers know full well whatís happening on the "front lines" and, along with others in the medical and mental health community, are better suited to speak to whatís been happening in this regard than I am. Itís just that this little boy got me thinking a great deal about how, when it comes to our faith and our spiritual life, we are not that much different from Ruach.
Our present society is rich in things that stimulate us. If anything, we may be overloaded in this regard. Between televisions which offer an increasing number of viewing choices (do we really need 100 or more stations), and computers which cybernetically enable us to go almost anywhere in the world with the click of a button, we are stimulated on a level unprecedented in human history. Those of you who pride yourselves in being "cable-disconnected" or "computer-deficient," beware. Our entire culture is drenched in stimulation. A trip to the supermarket can be an ADHD field trip. How many types and brands of hot dogs, for example, are there to choose from? And thatís just a small portion of aisle "21."
I love that commercial in which a young couple calmly discuss what they are going to look for and purchase, as they stand at the door to one of those huge appliance superstores. Once inside, however, the husband is stimulated by the sights and sounds of all those gadgets, and he races down the aisle like little kid. His name could have been Ruach or, to be honest, Peter. Change the category of merchandise, and that might be any one of us. Am I wrong?
If I might speak for myself, when it comes to faith and my spiritual life, it often seems like I have an attention deficit disorder. I find it difficult to keep focused, whether it comes to reading the Bible or praying. I sit down to just that, and all sorts of other possibilities pop into my head. Internally, other sights or sounds stimulate me, and all too easily I race down the aisle. My energy level is not what it was, thatís for sure!, but I can be as hyper as little Ruach when it comes to matters of the Spirit. All I need is one more book to read about prayer, in order to more fully enter into a life of prayer. Or what I need is another tool to help me understand the Bible before I more fully journey into its strange territory.
One of the craziest aspects of the present generation of those seeking to be faithful to the God of the Bible, is that we are stimulated by a huge assortment of translations and paraphrases of it. Which to choose? Add to that all the study Bibles available, in every size and shape, and it becomes obvious that religious booksellers are marketing to ADD people. Now, mind you, Iím not a critic of these resources. I own a lot of them. They are all helpful, to various degrees. I do not wish to go back to a day when there was only one translation. We are richer for all these choices, but we are also poorer. For these stimulating things can actually pull us away from just entering into Godís story.
A study Bible, for instance, can help us to understand certain things, but it can also distract us from the One who seeks us in the text, the One who is beyond our understanding, who is reaching out to us in these all-too-fragile words. The same is true when it comes to prayer. "Teach us how to pray," the disciples asked Jesus long ago (Luke 11:1). The familiar words of our Lordís response to that question, which most of us have memorized, are not a step-by-step, by-the-book, technique to understand and then practice. Jesus showed his disciples how to pray by praying. I donít mean to over-simplify, but often our struggle with prayer is a matter of just entering into it. We are so easily distracted!
One blessing I have as a pastor is that situations cause me to pray with other people. So often it is a case of just entering into it, opening the door of that very moment, opening the door of the relationship between those who are gathered together, opening the door of heart and mind, and allowing God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit to walk in. Somehow the mouth opens and words come forth. Sometimes the words connect and sometimes theyíre inadequate. Those who have prayed with me know I like to hold hands. I think the reason for that, on my part, is that the physical act of touch helps me keep focused when my mind and heart are so apt to wander, like an ADHD child.
I noticed with little Ruach that if we had eye contact, he could focus his attention. On that first night in the cabin, when he was bouncing off the walls, I had to get on my knees and hold him so that we might be eye to eye, before he could focus on my words, and the need to calm down and get to bed. Lord, how I am so much like that. So often, God needs to hold me firmly to get me to focus upon him, that I might calm down and move toward the Sabbath rest which he provides. Are you like me?
In that magnificent sentence that begins the 12th chapter of Hebrews, we are called to run with perseverance the race of faith, surrounded by those who have run it before us. However, did you notice that the focal point of that challenge is not the race itself. The focal point is not the gear needed to run the race. If anything, within this call to faith is an invitation to let go of everything that might weigh us down, that might distract us along the way. These are words for ADHD people, for an ADHD society.
Before you start selling your television and computer, before you stop going to Supermarkets or Appliance superstores, before you get rid of all the how-to religious books that have been for you like the exercise equipment that sits unused in your closet, please notice that even the "letting go" of that which gets in the way, that which so stimulates us that we lose track of who we are and where weíre headed - the "letting go" of all this is, itself, not the focus of this challenge from the book of Hebrews.
Where do the eyes of faith focus? "Keep your eyes on Jesus," it says. Like Lewis and Clark exploring the Mississippi River long ago, Jesus already has pioneered the path. Like Lance Armstrong in the Tour dí France, he has already run and won the race. He had his own eyes telescoped on the destination. He never lost sight of where he was headed, even with all the distractions he faced - the cross and all that stuff (and we think we have distractions!). Yes, we have his footsteps to follow, but more important than that, heís facing toward us, having completed the race. Itís not just a finish line weíre aiming at, weíre heading toward someone who is keeping his eye, now, upon us.
"Look to me, little Ruach!" Jesus says. Donít get distracted. Just keep on keeping on. You can make it! Youíve got so much energy within you. Great! Weíre in this together..."Look to me, Peter!" Jesus says. Enter the story. The cloud of witnesses that surround you arenít there to be analyzed and understood. Their story is your story. All these veterans of the race of faith are cheering you on. Just touch and go, the race and the prayer are one in the same. Just open up and stretch forth your chest like a runner aiming to break the tape. That is, lead with your heart!
"Look to me!" Jesus says to each one of us and all of us together. Iím right here at the throne of God. Come to me, Iíll give you rest - real rest, not like that vacation from which you came home exhausted. What you really need for the journey, Iíll provide. Just keep your eyes on me and do it. Let go of what weighs you down, but donít let your attention follow what you release. Otherwise youíll end up running backward, and thatís no way to travel. When you stumble, reach for my hand and lift your eyes to mine. Weíll make it! All together. Iíve already guaranteed it. Just look to me! Thatís what our Lord and Savior says.
1. The boyís name has been changed. In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, "Ruach" (pronounced "roo-ahkk") means "wind," "breath," or "spirit" (see Genesis 1:2b).
2. See "Attention, Doctors," by Dr. Daniel Amen, Newsweek, 2/26/01, pp. 72-73, or Healing ADD, ©2001, Putnam Pub. Group.
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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