Emily Hubbard recalls a trend in women’s discipleship that urged women to rest in Jesus and “stop trying to do it all.” The problem was, Hubbard wasn’t trying to do it all. She just wanted to remember to run the dishwasher.

“All discipleship was for type A people, but I was a type Z person,” she said.

Hubbard is a mother of four, a school board member, and an adjunct professor. Laziness isn’t her problem; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is.

More than eight million US adults are affected by ADHD. Because the disorder impairs executive function—the self-control needed to work toward a goal—building habits for spiritual growth can be far more challenging for the ADHD brain than for someone who is neurotypical.

Lifeway Research found that nearly two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers intentionally spend time alone with God at least daily. Cru lists Bible reading, Bible study, Scripture memorization, and prayer as the top four spiritual disciplines that Christians should develop.

ADHD makes these kinds of repetitive tasks hard to maintain. Christians with ADHD may struggle to focus and get distracted when they sit down for an extended time of Bible reading and prayer. It can seem impossible for them to grow spiritually when the church around them views daily “quiet time” as a marker of discipline.

“For years, all I could do was go to church on Sundays and pray for my children at night, and that was my best,” Hubbard said. “Good thing Jesus died for my best.”

Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12), Hubbard says, she finds her ADHD is an abiding reminder that her performance doesn’t earn God’s approval. Her church, New City South in St. Louis, observes the church calendar, and Hubbard sees grace in its cycles. It might be hard to focus during one particular prayer time, Sunday service, or church season, she says, but there will be next time.

Before the pandemic, Hubbard regularly visited Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri, for silent spiritual retreats. Hearing the monks pray as they have prayed for centuries reminded her that she’s part of a faith that is bigger than her.

More Christians, including Christian leaders, are speaking out about how their ADHD affects their faith lives.

José Bourget, the chaplain at Andrews University in Michigan, mentioned his ADHD in a sermon for the first time last year.

“A neurodivergent way of relating to the world is not really addressed from the pulpit,” he said.

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It wasn’t until the pandemic that Bourget realized his forgetfulness and distraction might be more than personality quirks. He once missed a flight because he forgot his driver’s license. He justified the mistake by saying God didn’t want him to take the trip. While he still thinks God can work through his distractions, he now thinks it’s important to acknowledge the ADHD.

Since his diagnosis, Bourget—now in his 40s—is working to unlearn years of guilt and shame for what he believed were personal failings.

He repeats simple truths like “Christ accepts me.” He declares that the ADHD brain is not a broken brain and speaks of God’s love and acceptance for those with ADHD. He’s preaching to himself as much as to anyone else.

“It sounds oversaid and overdone,” he said, “but feeling like I never fit and never belong, acceptance is very critical.”

Bourget has also given himself “permission not to conform” to set practices of Scripture reading and silent prayer. Instead, he sets up some basic structures—time each morning to spend with the Lord—but exercises freedom within that. Sometimes he spends more time in prayer; other times it’s contemplation or watching a video of a sermon.

Bourget notices students at Andrews struggling with these issues. He makes a point of letting them know he is available. When students express guilt that their brains don’t seem to work like everyone else’s, Bourget helps them find practices that work for them.

Trying to be quiet, still, and focused for extended periods is hard for people with ADHD—whether it’s to study for class or to offer prayers to God.

Alex R. Hey, an ADHD coach, addresses the sense of shame and failure that can come from this inability to hold attention in silence. He reframes these limitations for himself and his clients with lines like “I get to pray differently.”

It helps to remember that this is how God made him. “Personally, I feel that it humbles me,” he said.

Like other types of neurodivergence, ADHD manifests on a spectrum. While some may describe their struggles as humbling, others find ADHD debilitating. Jeff Davis, now a lay leader at Stonebriar Community Church outside Dallas, said he struggled to find and hold a job due to his poor executive function. He spent almost two years homeless before getting help.

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In addition to using counseling and medication, people with ADHD can develop coping strategies.

To engage Scripture, Hey often uses lectio divina—a monastic practice with a formula for reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. It keeps his mind connected to the text.

Because the ADHD brain is prone to hyperfocus, people may fixate on one thing to the neglect of everything else. Once, as Hey meditated on the passage where a woman anoints Jesus’ feet, he couldn’t get past the image of the woman kissing Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37–38).

“I don’t like feet, so all I could think about was how gross feet are,” he said. But as he thought deeper about what was going on in the passage, he realized the only part of Jesus the sinful woman felt worthy of touching was his dirty feet. He then imagined Jesus reaching for her hand and lifting her up.

“When we don’t feel worthy and don’t feel loved, Jesus reaches down and lifts us up,” Hey said.

Other ancient Christian prayers and traditional liturgies can resonate with the ADHD brain. Michael Agapito, a graduate student at Northern Seminary, finds quiet time daunting but uses lectio divina, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“There’s a huge reservoir of church tradition that we’re also rightful heirs of, but we’ve never really tapped into that in modern evangelicalism,” said Agapito, who was diagnosed in college.

While he developed habits managing symptoms, he’s struggled to let go of perfectionism and see his ADHD as ordained by God. He described his mind as a pinball machine bouncing between ideas and not slowing down.

“As a Christian and someone in ministry, I understand that God deemed it fit to give me this condition in his providence, wisdom, and sovereignty,” he said. “Growing up, I kind of looked at it as a curse, but I’m also looking at some of it as a gift.”

As Agapito considers becoming a pastor, he wants his future congregation to be taught spiritual disciplines with intentionality and to welcome all those who struggle to keep up with the habits—neurodivergent or not. “The average Christian struggles with them a lot too.”

Megan Fowler is a CT contributing writer who lives in Pennsylvania.

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