*Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder
(Not to be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder or Students Against Drunk Driving!)
Copyright July 23, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton
When my daughter was very young, I discovered an excellent safety video program called “Yello Dyno” [www.yellodyno.com]. It taught kids to be safe from predators and child abusers with the use of songs, videos, and coloring books. Instead of instilling fear, it instilled wisdom and discernment. It referred to such dangerous persons as “tricky people,” instead of “strangers,” giving characteristics of which to be wary, so that in an emergency, a child would have a reasonable estimate of whom he might trust to help him, and which people might be higher risk to trust.
A major tactic of “tricky people” is to distract children from focusing upon their responsibilities of the moment, so that they are unaware that they are being lured into a trap. The distraction may appeal to the child’s sense of compassion, (“Please help me find my lost puppy!”), his sense of justice (“Someone is in danger! I need your help!”), loyalty to family (“Your mother sent me to get you! Your dad’s in the emergency room!”), or ego (“Come with me, and I’ll make you a movie star!”). If the parent has clarified ahead of time legitimate signals for the child to know if something is genuine or fake, the child’s life can be spared, by knowing the True Voice of the parent, even speaking through representatives in the parent’s name.
For anyone, adult or child, distraction can also become a lifestyle, which hinders daily efficiency, when anxiety becomes a ruling force in our hearts. When people suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, they don’t know which voice to listen to first, or not at all. They can run into trouble by missing essential details of immediate responsibility, because of the distraction of worrying about irrelevant issues, or because of backtracking with old neglected responsibilities, which interfere with the current one. They are too anxious about missing something important to know how to prioritize activities in an orderly fashion. Medications help some, but getting to the spiritual roots of the anxieties will work far better in the long-run. People with ADD or ADHD are usually very creative people, who simply need clear parameters to keep them on task. This has been a large part of my life’s lessons.
So, tying these two concepts together, I’d like to address a common spiritual malady, which I have dubbed, Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder, or SADD. This is where Satan tries to distract us with activities which sound good, look holy, just, or righteous, but which actually distract us from our primary focus of intimacy with the Lord, out of which all true ministry is conceived and is birthed in due season. Being a Christian whose God is outside, knocking on the door of His own Church, is SADD, indeed. (Rev. 3:20-21)
Satan was The Original Tricky Person. The suggestion, “Indeed, hath God said…?” (Gen. 3:1ff.) caused the woman to take a second look at the one thing God had withheld from her, to distrust God’s motives in doing so. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil sounded like something she really needed. When the word “good” describes something, isn’t that a logical assumption? Furthermore, her husband remained strangely silent during this entire conversation, which is why he was held equally culpable. Passivity in the face of temptation is still guilt by default, because he neglected his responsibility to love and protect his wife. But the Tree of Knowledge turns out to reveal a “wisdom” of only shame and fear, not what either one was led to believe. The moral of the story has been lived painfully by the entire human race ever since.
Adam and Eve were enjoying the best executive jobs on the planet, with the world’s best fringe benefits, until they allowed themselves to be distracted by something which sounded “good,” but which turned out to be a trick of their Worst Enemy – over whom they were created to rule, not to be ruled by him.
Christians have little trouble getting the point of this story intellectually; and many have genuinely had a revelation of this truth in the past. But still many of us get distracted every day by attempting through self-effort what can only be properly accomplished in intimate partnership with God. (This is the whole point of the entire book of Galatians.) One can hear over a lifetime that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing, and said only what He heard the Father saying, (Jn. 5:30), yet not recognize when we slide subtly from doing what the Lord is immediately showing us to do, to doing what worked last year or in the last move of God, when the Lord showed us to do that particular thing then. (Jn. 9:33-41) But that is Tree of Knowledge, not Tree of Life.
Or perhaps, we learn a powerful concept, like friendship evangelism, which is great. But if we try to turn it into a cookie-cutter method or formula, we may get distracted from the intimate sensitivity to the Holy Spirit which puts real love and power behind any ministry expression. Lukewarm formulas are for babies whose mothers cannot properly nurse them, but intimate close relationship was God’s ideal for true nurturing from the beginning – both naturally and spiritually.
We can become so caught up in friendship with the people whom we are seeking to bring to God, that we forget intimacy with the God to Whom we are desiring to introduce them. Without that foundation of intimacy with Him, we are dry wells with nothing to offer to the lost. We may even find ourselves justifying “little” sins to “fit in” with the lost, in the name of “grace” and “not being religious,” which are actually just overcorrecting Phariseeism to the opposite extreme of lawlessness, or even just doing something because it is “trendy,” not because God told us to. (I Cor. 5:1-13) The salt has lost its flavor. (Mt. 5;13-16) If Satan can’t intimidate you out of being willing to minister for God’s Kingdom, he’ll try to distract you from loving and listening to the King Himself. He’ll try to seduce you into making the people your focus, which may end up becoming an idol in your life instead. (I Sam. 13; 15:10-15)
This is eventually doomed to create burn-out amongst those who are seeking to bring in the lost, because intimacy with the Lord for ourselves is the fuel which empowers true evangelism. It can also cause spiritual stagnation amongst more mature members of a congregation, to have the focus of Sunday worship revolve around the comfort of outsiders, instead of revolving around feeding the sheep. When we study the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, (John 4:1-42) Jesus did not make her feel judged, but He didn’t seek to make her feel “comfortable,” either. He zeroed in on her need for true, life-changing worship, which empowered deep healing and repentance, and which brought many others to salvation as well.