Q. How do I deal with distractions in prayer?
A. Thanks for your question. In our desire to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ we must strive to become like Him in every way. In His human earthly ministry, Jesus—even though He was/is God—frequently spent long hours in intense, deep prayer with his Father. (Heb. 5:7, Luke 3:21, Mt. 14:23, Mk. 6:46, Luke 6:12, Mk. 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 9:18, Matt. 26:36, 39, 42, 44, Jn. 17: 1-25)
If Jesus—God the Son— needed prayer with His Father, we too need prayer as a mainstay in our lives. Volumes can be and have been written about prayer. I hope these thoughts will help you and the many others who ask this question.
In considering the nature of Jesus’ prayer certain elements seem obvious:
1. He prayed a lot at night. After the sun went down, distractions seemingly were lost in the darkness.
2. He went up on a mountain. Perhaps the obscurity of the location let Him escape the pressing demands of the crowd. (Mt. 6:6)
3. He prayed at length. Scripture says He spent the entire night in prayer. (Mk. 1:35, Mtt. 14:23, Lk. 6:12)
4. He spoke with His Father. (Lk. 10:21, Mt. 26: 36ff., Mt. 6: 5-15). His prayer sought to be in communion with the family of the Trinity.
Now, to your question. My answer is my opinion and a collection of observations borne out of my personal experience. I certainly am not a spiritual giant, but I know the absolute necessity of praying and I try my best to pray at some length every day.
If a person has an innate desire to pray—and I think most people do—take the process of prayer in incremental steps. For me, prayer needs to be comfortable and productive. By that, I mean find a place— at home or in church—that is conducive to prayer, and as a starting point, have a plan. If your parish church is open, try to pray there in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle.
1. I encourage you to set aside a particular time every day to pray and to start simply. Prayer does not need to be complicated. Do not have a TV, radio, phone, another hand-held device or any other noise-producing device on in the background. Shut them off. Especially shut off your cell phone. You must, or it will distract you. Also, beguiling music is not prayer.
2. Find a place that is comfortable. An uncomfortable chair or hard pew makes us focus on those discomforts and distracts from prayer.
3. If you are very new to prayer, perhaps use form prayers like the Our Father (Mt. 6:9-13, Luke 11: 1 – 5), the Hail Mary and a host of other Catholic prayers to begin with. Or you can read good Catholic books, newspapers or pamphlets. They can all be portals to deeper prayer. A couple of good references are: “Our Daily Bread” by Father Anthony Paone S.J. and “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis.
4. Have a reason to pray, for someone or something… any good intention.
5. The acronym ACTS structures nearly all type of prayer:
B.) Contrition (sorrow for our sins)
D.) Supplication (asking for what we need)
It is okay if, at first, much of our prayer is asking. Don’t apologize for asking. (Mt. 7:7-11, Mt. 21:22, 1 Jn. 5:14ff, James 4:3, Jn. 16:24, Mk. 11:23-24, James 5:16, James 1:6-8, Romans 8:26, Jn. 15:7ff, Ephesians 6:18, Jn. 9:31, Philippians 4:6, Lk. 18:1, Jn. 14: 13-14, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Luke 11:9, Matt 18:19, James 1:6, Romans 12:12) Jesus certainly encouraged us—repeatedly—to come to Him in prayer and ask.
There are a lot of good prayer helps available in book and pamphlet form and Internet websites. I am including a partial list at the end of this column.
Be consistent in your time and location of prayer. Predictability and routine, I find, helps the process. That is, look forward to prayer and plan for it. Just schedule it into your daily routine. I have the ability to pray every day in the presence of Jesus exposed in the Eucharist. If there is any chance you can do that I encourage you to do so in your parish church. He is the ultimate time and place.
I find morning to be the best time for prayer. You are refreshed after a night’s sleep. And again, do not turn anything on until you finish your prayer. If not, the jingle of a song or the news from overnight can stick in your mind and distract you from prayer.
If Jesus gives you the grace, ask Him—in time—to move beyond form prayer to a conversational exchange similar to that between friends. Bring your entire person to Him and hold nothing back. He already knows your thoughts, needs and wants. Just lay everything out on the table to Him in prayer. From that conversation ask Him to help you just be silent in His presence. A deeper, more intimate union will form and He will guide you.
Some practical matters: if you have at least 10-15 minutes daily in windshield time—going to work, taking children to school—that is an excellent time to pray the rosary, the chaplet or other prayers. It is better than listening to talk radio. Make good use of your time. If you can pray during this time, there are good CDs that you can use in your vehicle or while walking or exercising that you can pray along with. They can be good helps to prayer.
Every person’s experience is particular to them. I encourage you in your desire to pray. Start with your needs and the needs and the wants of your family. Most likely these intentions will keep you busy in prayer.
Lastly, would you pray for your priest(s) every day? They want to be a spiritual father and to walk this journey with you. Thanks for asking this question.
Recommended podcasts: Christ is the Answer by Father John Riccardo, Catholic Stuff You Should Know, Discerning Hearts, Jeff Cavins, Father Mike Schmitz, Word on Fire. Apps: iBrevary, Laudate, Mass Times, iConfess, The Rosary App, Formed.org, EWTN. Radio: KVSS, 102.7 FM
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.