By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about how to manage distractions in prayer.
When we pray, we should develop an environment that promotes stillness and quietness within us, in order to be fully present to God without distractions. However, that is not always an easy task. At times, we may find ourselves bored, daydreaming, or feeling anxious or upset while praying. These distractions can be frustrating and even prevent us from praying more often and forming a deeper relationship with God. We may even feel like a “failure” in prayer. Fortunately, there are many ways for us to improve our prayer lives.
We should accept and value the fact that we are embodied persons. Since the body lives in the temporal realm, distractions are inevitable. Because prayer necessarily involves the body, we first should make a concerted effort to put ourselves into a relaxed position and become physically-centered when we pray.
Breathing is critical. Inspiration is like drawing in God’s Spirit. Exhaling is like driving out anything that separates us from God. Focus more on your breathing during prayer, and distractions inevitably will diminish.
Our posture during prayer also is important. Kneeling has been given an honored place in the Western Catholic tradition, but Christians in the early Church also stood to pray, in order show a readiness to go and do God’s work. One saint even prayed lying flat on his back. There is no right or wrong posture during prayer. Choose one that works for you and leads you deeper into prayer.
We also must focus our minds during prayer, using techniques that can help us stay focused. When beginning your prayer session, for example, choose a simple, repetitive chant or hymn that requires little effort and repeat it over and over in your mind. If your mind is stuck in a negative place while praying, think about those things in your life for which you are grateful. When distractions enter, reflect on how you feel about that thought and simply let it go. Imagine the thought drifting out of sight, like a boat floating down a river.
Distractions are a common problem during personal prayer. We cannot stop our minds from thinking, and we cannot stop having feelings. We can, however, learn to listen to those thoughts and feelings, in order to hear how God is speaking to us through them.
Despite the common belief that being distracted in prayer is a nuisance and a kind of spiritual failure, it actually can be a gift. Distractions in prayer can lead us to greater self-awareness by helping us to see the false “gods” in our lives. By experiencing and acknowledging these distractions without self-reproach or blame, we can strive to seek where God is present in those distracting thoughts, which ultimately will lead us closer to the Lord.
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