When Our Brains Refuse to Focus on God
As intercessors, we simply can’t ignore the epidemic concentration problems that we have. They stand in the way of our spiritual growth. Our ever-shrinking attention spans are undermining our ability to meditate on Scripture, be still long enough to hear from God, or focus long enough to pray. This is a problem that is impacting our education systems, our children, and all of our lives. Perhaps my journey can help direct our prayers.
Colossians 3:2 is a well-known verse: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” That has been my daily resolution for decades. But I have to admit that it has been increasingly difficult.
Not because I can’t control worldly thoughts. Not because I am uninterested in the things of God. On the contrary. I crave to know God. I long for visions of His kingdom and touches of His grace while on earth. I want to think deeply about the treasures of His heart and mind that He reveals to us in His Word.
No. The reason is far more, shall we say, earthly. It has to do with my brain.
I have made it no secret that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD. It is more commonly associated with children, but many adults have it too. And mine has been getting worse.
In fact, it got to the point that I could barely manage to concentrate long enough to write an article or a blog post. Write another book? Fuggedaboudit. My brain’s thought production was so inefficient that I would spend an hour trying to stop my thoughts from galloping away, then two hours writing feverishly while I had them corralled, and then hours of feeling mentally depleted.
I needed help. And God, in answer to my desperate plea, stepped in and lined it up. My wife went to work as prayer coordinator and administrative assistant in a new chiropractic office, at which she had been a patient. The new practice was a long-standing vision of her chiropractor, Dr. Cedrick Noel. It brings together Christian practitioners with a focus on neurology. Among them, a kinesiologist who specializes in muscle function, 2 occupational therapists, 3 neurological chiropractors, and a neuro-feedback specialist.
I did not hesitate.
My first visit was to the neuro-feedback specialist. She said she could help. She made a recording of my brain waves using a cap with numerous electrodes and sent that off to a lab in The Netherlands for analysis. “Your brain is very rigid,” she said, “like you’re tense all the time.” “Fear of failure,” I said, “I’ve had it since childhood when all I heard was that I wasn’t good enough and the Lord has been working on it. Think of it as hypervigilance. Always ready to spot and stay ahead of potential adversity. It’s part of why I can’t sleep in cars, trains, or airplanes.”
The analysis came back a few weeks later. For the first time, I could see what ADHD looks like in the brain. A lot of red and orange, and nothing visible at all in other areas of my brain (insert your own jokes here). My 9 brainwaves, which should be operating in balance with each other at different levels of megahertz, were far from harmonious. Not just that, but they were operating in the wrong areas of my brain, something that seemed to indicate a brain injury that I didn’t realize I had when I fell off a tall horse 20 years ago and landed on my head, cracking my helmet. No symptoms of concussion, but it had apparently done something.
“No wonder you can only concentrate for 2 hours and then feel exhausted,” the specialist said. “Your brain only works with the higher megahertz waves when you’re awake.” It’s kinda like revving the engine at full speed. In the end, it will overheat or wear out. One’s brain does too.
The even more alarming part was that my brain seemed to be in transition. “I’m not saying you have it or will get it, but if we don’t do something, you are at high risk of developing dementia,” she said.
That woke me up. And a new journey started.
Between neuro-feedback sessions which train my brain to engage with all of its waves and not just some, and vestibular exercises, which target the part of the brain that controls balance, sleep, digestion, and, as they are discovering, so much more, I am improving by leaps and bounds. My balance, posture, and eye movements are improving. I walk differently. I stand up straighter.
And, most significantly, two weeks ago I was able to write for an entire day without breaking concentration – something I have not been able to do for a very, very, long time.
Other tangible results started to appear: I was able to listen to conversations with friends without drifting off into la-la-land within seconds. My handwriting, which had become barely legible even to me, is improving. I can read without my eyes darting back and forth between sentences and my brain struggling to process what I was reading. My concentration in prayer is improving and the struggle to keep my mind from wandering off into a million directions while trying to listen to the Holy Spirit has become markedly less intense.
Sometimes you need medical help to enable you to set your mind on things above. Mainstream medicine hadn’t been ab;e to find much in its toolbox to help. Fortunately, functional medicine, which treats all bodily systems as one cohesive unit and seeks to treat causes rather than just symptoms, has come a long way.
Neurologists such as Dr. Caroline Leaf will tell you that science is rapidly uncovering what the Bible already knew: We have a choice in what we think, and that choice determines the chemical health of your brain, not the other way around. Our brains have a built-in capacity to renew and heal themselves. Much of it we can do ourselves with the right information, but from time to time we need someone who can make a map of our brain, analyze its clues, and help us train our brain the right way.
At first, it all seemed a little like hocus-pocus to me. All I am doing twice a week is sitting in a chair watching a show on Netflix with a cap full of sensors on my head. The specialist applies filters to the screen. They reward my brain’s engagement by making the screen lighter, which helps me see the show better, and with “sound rewards” which my brain apparently wants. My brain wants to screen to be brighter and enjoys the little chirping sounds of birds while I am watching and so it stimulates itself to make that happen. And presto, little by little, it learns to engage all my brain waves, not just the highest megahertz ones. The sensors measure my progress which allows the specialist to see how many times my brain is in the right while I’m watching. In one month, my brain went from being in the right place 675 times in 30 minutes of watching to 1675 times. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The vestibular exercises are even weirder. I won’t even try to describe them. Only that, somehow, they work and produce spectacular results.
Why am I sharing this?
Because I believe that the Christian community needs to start paying attention to its scientists who have quietly been gathering this knowledge and developing these techniques. They seem to be part of the answer to the epidemic of attention problems.
Of course, we must be intentional about limiting our engagement with electronic devices that shorten our attention-span, and about taking time to read. But many of us may need help to retrain our brains so we can focus on the unseen and put an end to inhibiting our spiritual growth. So I am praying that practices like Dr. Noel’s Brain & Body Rehabilitation Specialists, neuro-scientists like Dr. Caroline Leaf, and wholistic thinkers like Dr. Henry Wright, will be heard loud and clear, and will multiply.
Let’s be honest. Many of us would rather floss a crocodile than seek help for our brains. But what if brain help would overcome the attacks of a snake who has been convincing people that they don’t need intervention in the trend toward spiritual and mental stupor?
So pray with me for the word to get out, and check out these resources:
How are you praying for a deeper understanding of and focus on God? Share this article to encourage others to pray!
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