Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Prayer: Dealing with Distractions, part 2

Prayer: Dealing with Distractions, part 2

We all get distracted when we pray.  Yesterday we learned from Mark Thibodeaux, SJ that distractions are normal and our guilt over these distractions are worse than the distractions themselves.  But still, how can we move away from them? Today I want to provide an overview of Thibodeaux’s advice for dealing with distractions.  The final two days of this week I’ll give some of his specific prayer exercises.

Here are a few tricks to consider when distracted during prayer (see Armchair Mystic, 122-124):

  • “I don’t fight distractions; I negotiate with them by acknowledging their presence and then letting them leave on their own.  Jesuit Father Thomas Green suggests thinking of them as small children interrupting my visit with a friend.  Instead of arguing or scolding, I simply look at them and kindly say, “The adults are talking now, so please go and play in your room.”  I can also speak to God about the distraction.  I can say, “God, I’m distracted by ER tonight.”  Simply making this acknowledgment will often release the distraction’s hold on me.”
  • “What if they still persist?  I try using a mantra in my prayer [mantra is a phrase that is repeated in rhythm with your breathing to help focus our thoughts.  A mantra may be “Come, Lord Jesus,” or “Father, forgive me,” or “Holy Spirit, fill me..”]. The mantra will serve as an anchor for my boat, keeping the boat steady so that I don’t drown in the waters of distraction.  The sample “ER prayer” at the beginning of this chapter [last post], the repetition of “Come, Lord Jesus,” is an example of a mantra.  By coordinating it with my breath, the breathing itself naturally returns me to the mantra.  Waves of distracting thoughts come by and throw me off course a little, but hanging on to this mantra-anchor keeps me from straying too far.”
  • “What if they still persist?  I vary my prayer activities.  I go back to reading the Bible or praying…the Office, and other ready-made types of prayer.  Like the mantra, they will give my restless mind something to focus on…So I will allow these activities to re-center me when I’m feeling unfocused, but I take care not to become obsessed with them.  Otherwise, I would merely be replacing one distraction with another.”
  • “What if they yet still persist?  Sometimes the only way out of a problem is by going straight through it.  If the distractions do not go away, then I offer my crazy prayer up to the Lord and let him worry about it.  I say to God, “Lord, it seems as though all I can do today is call out your name in a fog of distractions.  Please be present in the fog, Lord, turning its droplets into holy water.”  I laugh at my stupid thoughts.  I accept the messiness.  I embrace the madness.”

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