It’s not a secret. I have ADD. When I pray, my prayers are all over the place (surprise!). I recently got a question from a reader about this (it happens a lot more now since the publication of All the Best Questions).
Anyway, back to prayer (see, I told you). Over the years I have found a couple of big ideas and tools that have helped me when it comes to prayer, and if you have diagnosed or undiagnosed ADD, ADHD or just general scattered brain disorder, I think this will help.
1. I have the gift of ADD, and I don't have to fight it.
Some people sit down to pray and are so focused that they never get to wander down crazy paths and pray about all kinds of creative things. They only pray about what's on their list. I don't have to do that. Because I have this fun, creative mind that leads me down all kinds of curious trails, I can let myself go when I pray.
Look, God made me this way. If God wanted someone different to talk to, God could have created them, but God created me. That means when we have a conversation God gets to start talking to me about the pain I have in my neck and then get to hear about how I love the sound the leaves make when the breeze blows through the forest and (I actually got distracted while I was writing this part and started thinking about doughnuts) then about my sick relative. I say what I want to say and let my mind wander in prayer because a lot of times when I let it wander I end up praying about things that are important that I didn't think about when I initially sat down to pray.
2. Prayer books help me keep praying when I keep getting distracted from praying.
For centuries people have been putting together prayer books to help people focus their mind in prayer. For people who have ADD, it can help to have words to read to guide your prayers. I like to think of prayer books kind of like the rails of a prayer train. Sometimes I am not being distracted in a good way (like I mentioned in number 1) but I stop praying altogether. A prayer book can be the tracks leading to prayer that keep the train from going somewhere you aren't wanting to go.
In fact, that's part of why I wrote The Book of Everyday Prayer. In it I wrote brief prayer services for different times in the day on each day of the week. The book is a tool so that whenever the urge strikes you to pray and you don't really know where to start, you can open the book and put your prayer train on some tracks that will help keep you engaged with talking to God.
3. There are kinds of prayers that help me learn to focus in general.
There is a whole category of prayer called contemplative prayer that is not as much about the words we say as helping our mind rest and be present with God. Those payer practices have actually helped me over the years learn how to quiet my ADD mind and focus on God (or something else). These methods of praying teach you how to let go of distracting thoughts rather than be ruled by them. It's a nice thing for anyone to learn, but it is especially helpful for those of us with the gift of ADD. Discovering tools that help you stop the whirlwind of thoughts and focus are REALLY helpful. (I have instructions on several contemplative prayer practices in The Book of Everyday Prayer).
One of the simplest (and also most difficult) ones is called centering prayer. The metaphor used by one of my favorite christian monks (I'm a nerd ok... I get it), is that your mind is like a river and each boat is a thought. Sometimes the river of our mind get clogged with too many boats and when we want to pray, or just be present with God, there's no room for that boat on the river of our mind. Centering prayer is focused on clearing that river so that there is only one boat, the boat of our prayer.
You start centering prayer by sitting in a comfortable spot that doesn't have a bunch of distractions. From there you choose a word that means God to you. It might be "God" or "Jesus" or "love" or whatever, but you choose a word. You close your eyes enough to not be distracted but not so much that you will fall asleep. Then, you begin to pay attention to the word you have chosen. As each distracting thought comes up, you simply answer it with your word and allow it to pass. You continue doing that until all you are left with is the word and you rest in the presence of God. Pretty cool right? I have found that sometimes this is the only thing that will help me carve out space for prayer in the crowded river of my ADD mind. And practicing that also helps me learn how to focus in general... BONUS!
Having ADD does not somehow disqualify you from engaging in deep prayer, and it is definitely not something that makes it more difficult to be a Christian (there’s a whole chapter on that in All The Best Questions). It just means your prayers are different than other people. But here’s the best news. God loves it when we pray… however we pray. So let go of being self conscious about prayer and just do it.
And if you have a question you’d like me to answer, fill out the contact me form on this page!