Tips to help lessen distractions while praying
During this this Lenten season, I decided to work on my prayer life. Like everyone, I easily get distracted when I pray. It doesn’t matter where I am – in adoration chapel, in bed, at my kitchen table, my thoughts wander away from the precious closeness I am trying to establish with God.
When I thought about these prayer distractions, I recalled a story my dad told me about St. Thèrése of Lisieux, the Mount Carmel nun known as the little flower. He said during her prayer time in chapel another nun drove her crazy by making noise. The young Therese at first let it bother her, rendering her prayer time useless. Then, she decided to bear this suffering “peacefully and joyfully, at least in my inmost heart.” She talked to God about this and other distractions and prayed for that nun instead of concentrating on the noise. It’s all in her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.”
I think distraction is probably a top reason all of us have trouble praying. When I searched “distractions during prayer” online to find ways to overcome them, I came across this in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – our humanness and our ability – through the five senses – to see, hearing, touch, taste and smell make distraction easy. In prayer, we try to turn to God, not away from him. So what can we do?
“To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for Him and lead us resolutely to offer Him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2729
Another site – catholic straightanswers.com – also gave words of wisdom, encouraging dedication and a need to prepare our self for prayer. It also quoted St. Thèrése.
“We must be vigilant in our prayer and struggle to grow stronger in the discipline of our prayer life. For me, prayer means launching out of the heart towards God; it means lifting up one’s eyes, quite simply, to Heaven, a cry of grateful love from the crest of joy or the trough of despair; it’s a vast, supernatural force which opens my heart, and binds me close to Jesus,” St. Thèrése said.
So, here are practices I’ve found helpful as I work to deepen my faith.
Find a quiet place to pray. In a household of people, night and day, this can be challenging. So, maybe the answer is to go to an adoration chapel. I’ve found, as have many other speakers who have forged a deeper relationship with Christ, that it is in those quiet moments with the Lord that a sense of peace comes over you. While you may not always hear the Lord talking, your heart seems lighter.
I’ve decided that while reciting rote prayers we learned as children – the Our Father, the Hail Mary – is a great way to start praying, it hasn’t advanced my prayer life. In fact, often I get so distracted while saying those by memory that I have to start over not knowing where I am.
I am now trying the new tactic of being prepared to pray. I know that sounds crazy, but I prepare for interviews, take occasional tennis lessons to prepare for matches and prepare grocery lists to feed my family during the week. Why wouldn’t I prepare myself for God?
In this vein, I find Scripture or a prayer book to read first and let the words ruminate in my brain to jumpstarting my conversation with the Lord. As I do that, I can talk to God about my deficiencies and ask guidance to get closer to him.
Someone I know who is a regular adorer at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner senses God’s presence there and sends these ‘messages’ to prayer warriors in the parish. God’s recent message was: “My cherished ones, you are the desire of my heart! I wait . . . I look for each moment when you turn to me with your thoughts, your actions, your heart. I want all the moments of your life to be our moments! My joy will become your joy! Love has no limit! Come . . . Live in the moment with me! All my love, Jesus.”
During Lent, as we strive to be nearer to God and understand his sacrifices for us, let us try to do it better through prayer.
I found this prayer on catholicexchange.com that might help ward off distractions:
“God, help my thoughts!
They stray from me, setting off on the wildest journeys.
When I am at prayer, they run off like naughty children, making trouble.
When I read the Bible, they fly to a distant place, filled with seductions.
My thoughts can cross an ocean with a single leap; they can fly from earth to Heaven, and
back again, in a single second.
They come to me for a fleeing moment,and then away they flee.
No chains, no locks can hold them back; no threats of punishment can restrain them,
no hiss of a lash can frighten them.
They slip from my grasp like tails of eels; they swoop hither and thither like swallows in flight.
Dear, chaste Christ, who can see into every heart, and read every mind: take hold of my thoughts.
Bring my thoughts back to me, and clasp me to Yourself. Amen.”