Distractions During Prayer
Brother John Raymond - Community of the Monks of Adoration 12/12/93: "Many people complain of distractions during prayer. One must not think that this is only a problem for people of today. Shakespeare writes the following for one of the characters in his plays: My words rise up, My thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts seldom to Heaven go.
What is a distraction? Let me describe some. I start praying perhaps by meditating on a Mystery of the Rosary. I am thinking about the Presentation in the Temple while praying the Hail Mary when all of a sudden I am thinking about a baseball game, what's for lunch or what I'm going to do the next day. Now if I did not mean to think these distracting thoughts then my prayer has not been in vain. Remember that prayer is not an intellectual exercise but a conversation or a desire for a relationship with God. Still, many people would like to have less distractions during prayer. Here are some suggestions that might help.
When you realize during prayer that you are no longer in the Presence of God but have wandered somewhere else then throw the distraction out. But one must do this gently and not with violence. A violent return to prayer can be a bigger distraction than what one is trying to throw out. The spiritual writers of old used to advise that one simply brushed distractions away as if they were annoying flies. This is a good analogy for the problem. I know that when I am talking to someone and a fly takes a great interest in me I am only momentarily distracted from the conversation. But let a bee instead of a fly landed on me and we have a totally different story. The conversation with the other person would be abruptly stopped while I tried to avoid being stung. My total concentration would be on the bee and not on the person I was talking to for some time. So treat distractions lightly and don't worry about them.
Another technique to overcome annoying distractions is to make them part of one's prayer. For instance I remember once while praying the Rosary being distracted by thoughts of my sick cousin. Instead of throwing this out I began to pray for my cousin. Even a distraction as unrelated as a baseball game still involves people who could use one's prayers. Mention these people to Jesus and ask Him to help them. Jesus told Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity, a Poor Clare, concerning distractions to "use them by praying for what is presented to you."
Health and environment do effect the number of distractions one has during prayer. Being sleepy or tired causes the mind to wander much more easily. Other factors such as not eating properly, tension, worries, etc. can lead to a very distracting time. I remember being told once to pray now while one is healthy because it is almost impossible to do so when you are sick. A bad headache can make just thinking, let alone praying, a very challenging task. If possible try to minimize these problems. If you can't then pray about them or pray for the grace to pray with them.
In passing I must say that our present world environment is not conducive to prayer. Our minds are overwhelmed with images from the television, sounds from the radio, horror stories from the newspapers, etc. The media feeds our minds with many thoughts for distraction during prayer. These things whether we like it or not become impressed upon our minds. They make it difficult for one to raise one's mind to God."
St. Therese of Avila, a Doctor of the Church called the Doctor of prayer, taught that most of the problem one has during prayer is related to what one does when one begins to pray. She really emphasizes the importance of beginning prayer by placing oneself in the Presence of God. Another term for this recollection. This fancy term means nothing more than collecting your thoughts. Give yourself time to settle down to prayer. Breathe deeply, find the best position, forget about what you were doing a few minutes before, etc. Don't begin your prayer already distracted. In whatever way is best for you, maybe a picture of Jesus, imagining Him before you or by another method place Him before you.
There is a Saint to pray to for help in this area. The French Carmelite nun Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said before she died that when she was in Heaven she would help people to be recollected.
Finally, consider praying out loud when distractions are really bad - if you are alone. This technique is especially helpful while doing what is called "conversational prayer," that is talking to God. By praying out loud at least if you get so distracted - and stop praying - you'll notice it!"
Image Source: Altar Boy Society at St. Anthony of Padua
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