Sermon: Blessed Are the Maladjusted

Sunday, November 6, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
All Saints Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 23:51; sermon starts around 30:37 (my mic kept cutting out for some reason, so sound isn’t great))
image source

Many of you know this already, but back in January of this year, I was diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. I was diagnosed by the therapist I’ve been seeing for a little over three and a half years, and almost everyone I’ve shared this information with has had pretty much the same reaction, which is: “Huh… actually yeah… yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” 😅

For most people, ADHD is the kind of thing that you associate with hyperactive little boys who can’t sit still or pay attention – it’s not something you expect to find in an adult woman, so it’s often overlooked. Our hyperactivity tends to get internalized as anxiety (100% me), and we get pretty good at hiding the way we struggle with things like concentration and impulsivity and time management – largely because it’s embarrassing; there’s a lot of social stigma around struggling so much with these things. 

But just like those hyperactive little boys, our brains are literally wired differently. Our brain biology is different from the average person’s. My brain has neurological differences that affect things like: the way I perceive and experience time, the motivation and reward centers of my brain, and my ability to block out stimuli and resist impulses so that I can direct my focus where I want it to go. (As most folks with ADHD will tell you, it’s actually not really the case that we have a deficit of attention; on the contrary, we often have an overabundance of it – and in my case, at least, that abundance of attention behaves a lot like a large, poorly leash-trained golden retriever 😜)

I’m still working on reconciling this diagnosis with the feelings of shame I’ve carried my whole life around these things that I was always taught to believe were personal failings. Knowing now that my brain literally just works differently from most people’s has helped make sense of a lot of things for me. It’s helped me understand why I have always felt kind of out of step with the people around me. We live in a culture dominated by morning people – so, in many ways, I am just not built for this world; and it isn’t built for me either. In this culture, blessed are the early birds, for theirs shall be the worm; blessed are those who go early to bed and are early to rise, for they shall be healthy, wealthy, and wise. And woe to me, because I am none of those things, haha.

Anyway, ever since being diagnosed, I’ve begun to notice that every time I turn around, it seems like someone else I know has been diagnosed with ADHD, or they tell me that they’ve suspected for a long time that they had it. I know an astonishing number of clergy in particular who have ADHD. Sometimes, it almost feels like it’s catching on like some kind of hot new trend. I asked my therapist why this seems to be the case, why it seems like so many people are suddenly turning up with ADHD diagnoses. And the reason she gave is the same reason why a lot of things are more terrible than they normally would have been: the pandemic. It’s not that the pandemic somehow suddenly gave a bunch of people ADHD! But for people who were already kind of maladapted to this world, the disorder and the isolation and the trauma of the pandemic especially intensified the struggles they were already dealing with. 

And this trend is not limited to ADHD. There’s been a troubling rise of mental health issues across the board over the last several years. Young people in particular are wrestling with the stress and trauma of the last few years while also feeling (understandably) worried about a future threatened by climate catastrophe.  Depression and anxiety are on the rise everywhere in response to all these challenges, for people of all ages. 

I have no doubt that many of you know these feelings all too well. You know what it’s like to feel this sense of weariness that goes beyond just being tired. We’ve had so much to carry these last few years, from the worry and fear and isolation of the pandemic to the tension of a reckoning about race, to the deep political division at the heart of our country – division that has left many of us feeling like we can’t fully trust our system of governance or its leaders. We are all struggling forward into an uncertain future in a world that has changed practically overnight, in ways that we never saw coming.

We tend to handle mental health as an individual issue; we encourage people to go to therapy or to spiritual direction to work on their issues – and, for the record, I am currently in both, and I highly recommend them! But at some point, we also have to recognize that many of the problems we’re wrestling with are not just an individual thing; they are problems that exist on a systemic, societal scale, symptoms of much broader, more far-reaching issues. At some point, we have to own that the problem isn’t always with the individual who struggles to adapt to societal expectations. Sometimes the sickness is in society itself. And in such cases, being discontent, maladjusted to the ways of society, is in reality the only sane way to live in a broken world. Especially as followers of Christ, our hearts and souls chafe against the wrongness we see so much of in the world. We find ourselves longing for the better world that God has promised.

This grating contrast between the world as it is and the world as God envisions it is at the heart of our gospel reading for today. The beatitudes are some of the most countercultural verses in the entire bible. Jesus names as blessed those whom this world would never consider blessed. We of this world might say, “blessed are the rich, for they have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps” or “blessed are the corporations who don’t pay their fair share of taxes, for they are smart enough to game the system” – and with the same breath, we might say, “woe to the poor and homeless, because they probably made bad choices and brought this on themselves.” 

But in response, the beatitudes say: “Nuh-uh.” Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the grieving. Blessed are the excluded and the hated. Blessed are those who are maladjusted to this broken world. Blessed are those who feel this weariness they just can’t quite shake. This is the reality of the life of discipleship in this age. To some extent, being a follower of Christ means signing up for a life of discomfort, a life of being perpetually maladjusted to a broken and hurting world. 

And that sense of maladjustment, of discomfort, is actually part of our witness. This sense of persistent weariness and sorrow that we carry, the ways that our hearts chafe against the wrongness we see in this world, all this points toward the better world that we hope for in Christ. 

There are many people who content themselves with the rewards of this world – the wealthy and the powerful and the well-connected – people who benefit from the inequality and brokenness of this world as it is. Woe to them, Jesus says. Woe to them, for they have received their consolation.

As followers of Christ, however, we have our sights set much higher. Our discontentedness with this world as it is points toward the hope we carry of a future world in which God’s kingdom has fully come. It points toward the hope of a world in which all people find a welcome, a world where creation is cared for, a world which celebrates people exactly as they are – quirky brain chemistry and all – a world where there is space and care and community for everyone. 

And our hopes go higher still. Our second reading from the letter to the Ephesians phrases this beautifully:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you:… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, …the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.

Ephesians: 1:17-20

The hope we hold onto is hope that goes beyond the grave. We hold onto the hope of God’s promise for the redemption and renewal of all things, the promise of resurrection from the dead. On this day especially, we hold onto the hope of eternal life among the great cloud of witnesses, the hope of everlasting life reunited with the many, many saints who have gone before us, gathered together in joy around God’s throne.

Blessed are those who set their hopes on God’s promises instead of on the fleeting things of this world. 

Blessed are the anxious and the depressed. 

Blessed are those who carry this sense of weariness and sorrow they just can’t shake. 

Blessed are those whose hearts are bruised by the roughness of this world. 

Blessed are all these, for to them indeed belongs the kingdom of God.

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Allison Siburg

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