By Amber Kinloch
Anyone who makes a serious effort to engage in prayer will almost certainly find themselves struggling with distractions. Sometimes distractions come from outside ourselves (e.g., a ringing cell phone or some chatty fellow parishioners). Other times, our minds are restless, or we’re assaulted by interior temptations.
Thankfully, there’s no cause to be discouraged. True prayer in which we make a sincere effort to talk with God and listen to Him always bears fruit. Frankly, the times we don’t draw any satisfaction from prayer are likely the most profitable, for it is then that we show God that we love Him and want Him for Himself and not just for the consolations He can give us.
That said, there are practical steps we can take to combat distractions. Here are some examples.
#1: Bring the Distraction to God
Distractions have a way of souring our mood, don’t they? It’s tempting to groan or grit your teeth when a cell phone goes off for the third time during Mass, or to shoot a glare at the toddler who chatters incessantly at his mom. Our instinct is often to focus on the perceived injustice to ourselves. “Come on!” we might think. “How hard is it to remember to silence a cell phone before entering the church?”
Interior distractions can be even more tormenting. Here we are in the Presence of the Living God and our minds are fixated on our next meal, a bad memory from last night’s date, or an item we need to pick up at the grocery store.
In both cases, an easy starting point for dealing with the distraction is to transform it into a prayer. Thank God for those two old ladies chattering in the back. Maybe they’re lonely and don’t have the energy to stand and talk after Mass in the vestibule. Ask God to give the priest the grace to stay focused when a cell phone goes off during the Consecration. Pray for the grace to let go of the anxiety plaguing you about that upcoming meeting. In this way, you weave each thing into your chain of prayer.
#2: Ask Mary, the Angels, and the Saints for Help
Unite your prayer to Mary’s and ask her to offer it to God. Anything that passes through her hands is most pleasing to Him. One prayer to her that I came across and especially like says: “Blessed Mother, unite your concentration to my distractions so as to make a most perfect prayer to your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Similarly, seek your Guardian Angel’s help. Tell him what you’re distracted about. He will help you tend to it and put it into perspective.
It’s encouraging, too, to seek the help of the saints and remember that they also struggled in prayer. They will surely sympathize with you if you seek their aid.
#3: Focus on the Physical
When your mind’s a whirlwind or the environment’s chaotic, offer God the effort to discipline yourself physically. Stand up straight or kneel. Fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your head. Keep your gaze fixed on a religious image. Hold a Rosary or a Crucifix.
Remember, man, as a physical creature, worships God with his body as well as his soul. Exhibiting love and reverence through little outward gestures fosters our interior life.
#4: Be Flexible
Sometimes, we get distracted and worried because our prayer isn’t flowing as it usually does. In this case, don’t be afraid to do something different. Sometimes, I rely on vocal prayers like the Rosary. Other times, I write on paper.* Still other times, I just look and listen.
God makes use of many varied channels of grace. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
*Paper (or the note taking app on your phone) is helpful if you’re the kind of person who likes spiritual journaling, whether it’s your own thoughts or just jotting down an inspiring point from the Mass readings or the priest’s homily. It’s also a good means for dealing with distractions rooted in the human fear that you’ll forget about something (e.g., “buy detergent on the way home”). By writing these things down, you ensure you’ll remember them and free your mind to focus on prayer.
#5: Make Use of Alternate Environments
If you are sorely lacking in peace and quiet (e.g., parents of young children), seek it out in unusual spots. Lock yourself up in the bathroom, or kneel beside your bed for a few minutes when you wake up in the middle of the night. Change your driving route so that you pass by a church on your way home and can greet Jesus as you pass by. God takes notice of these little things and will reward you.
#6: Cultivate a Right Atmosphere Outside of Formal Prayer
It is easier to enter into prayer when we practice the virtues and strive to maintain a sense of God’s Presence in little details throughout the day. Examples include: not wasting time on the Internet or checking our phones excessively; casting loving glances at a Crucifix; avoiding frivolous talk; keeping our minds focused on our duties; and living in the present moment and not indulging in fantastic, negative, or pointless roamings of the memory and imagination.
All of this takes work and effort, but it will bear fruit a hundredfold. In this chaotic world plagued by so much darkness and indifference, God aches for our loving presence. Let’s give it to Him.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.