We get a lot of questions and emails about anxiety disorders and A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). One listener asks if A.D.D. is simply a mental disorder, or is there sin mixed in here? Last time, in episode 281, you addressed anxiety, but you wanted to save A.D.D. for another episode. Let’s talk about this today; what would you say about this disorder?
I am thinking back now to what I said in the last podcast about anxiety and the use of natural strategies as well as spiritual strategies to both cope and flourish in our own limitations. That applies here big time as well. Let’s start with the definition.
This is really big, and I have some exposure to it personally, and I have read some about it. So this is my best shot. I am not an expert in A.D.D., but here is what I understand it to be. Attention Deficit Disorder — it goes by other names as well, sometimes A.D.H.D. — is a brain configuration that presents unusual challenges because of a combination of deficient focus and hyperfocus. There are whole books on A.D.D. in adults as well as in children. We usually think of it as kids, you know, acting out in school in a certain way, but it affects adults big time, too.
A.D.D. is a brain condition that may focus intensely on one thing for hours and be utterly oblivious of a whole bunch of other things. So there is a combination of hyperfocus and deficient focus. And I would say this condition in the brain — I suspect it is physiological. I don’t know how all that works in terms of the way the brain is patterned over time as a child, but there are dimensions of physical shaping in the brain — has all the marks of the fall like all of our brains and their deficiencies. I mean, I can think of all kinds of conditions that are physically affected by the nature of the brain, and that is because the brain is affected by the fall.
Broken Brains and Sin
And yet I would say that a structurally different brain is not an act of sin. So that is the question sometimes. And is it a sin to have A.D.D.? And I am saying no. But like all brains, the A.D.D. brain will be prone to sin in certain ways. That is the way to think about it.
And so like all of us, John Piper is prone to sin in certain ways that Tony Reinke is not prone to sin, because of the way my genetic makeup and my background incline me to struggle with certain things that you don’t struggle with and vice versa. The saint with A.D.D. — I like the sound of that — will need the grace and humility, it seems to me, to take steps to fight the peculiar ways that A.D.D. inclines him or her to sin. For example, it is not a sin, I don’t think, to forget a task or to fail to see clutter.
But it is a sin when wise and loving people give suggestions on how you might compensate for a weakness and your pride or your self-sufficiency rejects them. See, this is the interplay between the soul and the brain. This is where the gospel of Jesus is always relevant to our physical conditions. It may change. It may not change. The gospel may not change the structure of the brain, but it will humble the heart to be receptive to counsel and practical help that God has provided in the body of Christ and in the natural resources of the world.
Made New In Christ
So the spiritual transformation of the heart’s humility through faith in Christ can make all the difference in the world in how happily and fruitfully a person with A.D.D. lives.
So in real life, the way A.D.D. and other syndromes work out is that the physical and the spiritual are woven together. We are never only physical or only spiritual. Every one of us should strive to know ourselves and our peculiar bent towards sinning. It is always influenced by physical reality as well as spiritual. And then we should embrace — by grace through faith — all the means of grace and seek to live our humble, loving, helpful lives within the limits and the temptations that we have.