Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Prayer: Dealing with Distractions, part 1

Prayer: Dealing with Distractions, part 1

Let’s face it, all of us get distracted when we pray.  This is one of the reasons that prayer is so hard and was one of the concerns Martin Luther’s barber.  So what should we do with distractions during prayer?  Can these distractions be overcome?

One of the best little books I’ve ever read on prayer is titled Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ (in case you are wondering, the “SJ” stands for “Society of Jesus.”  He is a Jesuit.  He is Catholic.  But boy can he pray!).  It provides a wonderful discussion on prayer and over 20 prayer exercises that I have personally found very helpful.  Many of them will appear on this blog.  But for awhile I want to interact with his discussion of dealing with distractions in prayer.

I love his introduction:

“Here’s a not-so-unusual sample of what’s going on inside my head during prayer:

“Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…<burp> Oh, that barbeque just isn’t sitting right in my stomach…still, it was nice of Fred to grill some burgers tonight – Pray, Mark! Pray!…Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…Fred has really been a great friend to me.  I hope he wasn’t offended when I teased him about his cooking.  That was a really stupid thing to say.  I can’t believe I said that – Come on, Mark!  Pray!  Sorry, Lord.  Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…Shoot!  I forgot that ER is playing on TV right now!  I hope somebody’s taping it.  Come, Lord Jesus…Or maybe it’s just a rerun anyway…Come, Lord Jesus…Come, Lord Jesus…I can’t believe I’m thinking about ER during prayer.; what the heck is my problem here?  Come, Lord Jesus…I guess I’m just distracted.  Come, Lord Jesus…as distracted as Mark Green was on ER last Thursday…Come, Lord Jesus…”

OK.  So the book is a little dated with the ER reference, but Thibodeaux’s little scene is exactly what a lot of our prayer lives look like!  So what do we do?

Before I get into some of his practical suggestions, I want to conclude today’s post with some of his words about distractions in general.  I think these are very helpful:

“No one is impervious to distractions.  One of the most important mystics of our day, Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, “If you have never had any distractions, you don’t know how to pray.”  These random thoughts are normal and natural phenomena of my mind, and while they can be diminished, they can never be fully expelled.  I am created with this wondrous contraption called a brain, which, praise God, cannot be turned off at will.

“While there are a few tricks that will help me focus better, they are not the most important things to learn about distractions.  This is what is important to know: My anxiety, distress, guilt and anger about the distractions are far more detrimental to may prayer than the distractions themselves.  The most effective way to diminish distractions, then, is not to worry about them at all – I don’t give them a second thought (literally).”

Wise words.

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