What do I do about my A.D.D. in Church?
Its actually quite amazing how often I guessed asked this question, in classrooms, in confession. Same thing with praying - I can't pay attention while I'm praying; what do I do?
Usually these are perfectly well intentioned people, wanting to pray sincerely, but just can't seem to do it - keep focus on God any longer than 30 seconds.
I have the same problem - really serious A.D.D. Some say they can tell from the manner of my preaching. Go figure.
There are a large number of factors that contriibute to this problem:
1) Due to TV, movies, Walk-mans, now iPods, x-box and playstation, the internet, etc., A.D.D. has become a cultural issue. EVERYBODY has A.D.D. with the exception of a select few. Gone are the days when someone like St. John Crystostom, the "Golden Mouth" himself, could get up in front of a crowd and orate a two hour sermon that will astound his audience and have them enraptured the whole time. I've read his stuff - he would have everyone walking out after 15 minutes today. With no offense to him either - its just a fact.
We've become so used to getting our information in tiny little 30 second sound bites, we can't handle long winded oration any more. We're just not capable of listening.
In fact, things like SILENCE make us really uncomfortable, especially if its silence with someone else - that is unless we know those people really well, then its okay. Maybe if we knew God a little better, or were more familiar with church, it might be better.
2) The problem is made 100 times worse when we are hearing something we've already heard before 100 times, or something we don't understand. I have to admit, when I pray the Our Father, I usually last up until the "hallowed", and I'm gone.
The same can be said of the priest who gets up in front of a congregation and preaches something like, "Today we behold the Paschal Mystery, the revelation of the Word made Flesh." Most Catholics today couldn't tell you what the Paschal Mystery is, and have no idea who this "Word made Flesh" is that Fr. is talking about.
3) I think my favorite part of Star Wars was when Han and Leia and Chewie and C3P0 are on cloud city with Lando, all going to dinner, and Lando tells them he's just made a deal that will keep the Empire out of here permanently, and they open the door AND DARTH VADER IS RIGHT THERE at the end of the TABLE!! And Han tries to shoot him, but Vader deflects the shots with his mechanical hand, and uses the Force to pull Han's blaster out of his hand and suck across the table, and Vader says, "We would be honored if you would join us." THAT was GREAT DRAMA!!
4) The nature of repetition ITSELF is such that it opens our minds up to our unconscious. This is the part of our brains from which new ideas come, and day dreaming, and the grocery list I have to pick up on the way home, etc. The same thing happens to us while we're driving, taking a shower, knitting, and a whole list of other activities - activities that don't require our full attention, so our attention drifts to something else.
This is why the ROSARY is repetition, as a matter of fact - its supposed to open us up to a deeper level of sub-conscious being, called "meditation." And we're given "mysteries" that we're supposed to think about while we pray the rosary: Jesus birth, Jesus preaching, Jesus being crucified, Mary's Assumption, and so on.
So repetition is a big problem too.
5) I wonder why we don't tip at McDonald's. We do at every other restaurant. Are they not working as hard at McDonald's as anywhere else? Are they making more in salary? I think I'll write a RANT about this sometime.
6) Church is boring - at least it is sometimes. It doesn't help us to pay attention to what the Priest is saying when it doesn't seem like the Priest is paying attention. More LIFE - that's what they need.
7) Same thing goes with prayer. Prayer consists of us talking to God, and God doesn't seem to do anything after that. I know, I know, he's listening. But sometimes it takes us a while to know that. If I were having a conversation with Jessica Alba, I guarantee, she'd have my undivided attention. God's being invisible doesn't help.
So that's my list, of 7 reasons for our A.D.D. particularly in prayer or in church. Some of them have solutions, but not all of them. So what do we do?
Well, there are a few things that, I think, would help - shorter homilies; less lecture, more narrative, less repetition, more ENERGY...
And we who have the problem can train ourselves to be quiet for a while, to not need to fill every second of our lives with audio-visual stimulation. We can do this by turning off the radio now and then as we drive; turning off the TV and the computer now and then and just sit, and for long enough that we get past the nervous awkwardness that we will first experience, long enough to actually experience something quite unfamiliar: peace.
But us A.D.D. kids of the X- and Y- generations are still going to have the problem paying attention, so I think we need to look to a new way of praying, and maybe change our expectations of ourselves.
St. Alphonsus Liguri had this problem too, apparently. Whenever he prayed, he found his mind wandering all over the place. So his solution was, when he started praying, to pray, "Lord, you know my mind is going to wander. Let its wandering lead me to your truths." God can actually use those wanderings of our minds to teach us some incredible things. Heck; some of my best homilies came to me while I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.
And here's what I think is the most important thing - the whole PURPOSE of prayer - is to take time to consciously be aware that we are ALL THE TIME in the presence of our creator God - to take that time and be in AWE of our master. If that time is only a moment, then that's better than nothing. I would suggest, take those moments often, throughout the day - stretch them out as long as you can, and when your mind does wander again, don't get mad at yourself. Just let yourself be replenished by that moment that you had. In the long run you'll see, it made all the difference.