Posted On March 31, 2021

Obstacles in Prayer: “I am distracted”

Men and women alike struggle with distractions in prayer.

  • “I wonder if they responded to my email.” 
  • “What time is it? Is it time to get back to work?” 
  • “Should I make spaghetti for dinner or get take-out somewhere?” 
  • “If I get a B on the next exam is that enough to get a B in the class?” 

Let’s admit it, distractions are a part of our human nature. While listening to a homily, engaging in an online class, praying the rosary, or reading this blog, you might catch yourself getting distracted dozens of times. Oftentimes you might not even notice that your mind has wandered off. To add to this, we live in a fast paced, technological world where we are constantly being bombarded by distractions that are vying for our next click. Can we find peace in the midst of so many internal and external distractions? Are we, as a people living in the 21st century, capable of giving our full attention to God in prayer?

We know from experience that distractions can be rather detrimental to relationships and can easily ruin conversation. How many times have you felt the sting of talking with someone and suddenly they look disengaged and distracted? Have you ever wondered if God, likewise, gets frustrated or disappointed with us when we disengage and get distracted in prayer? That subtle question can stem from an accusation that the Enemy tries to sow in our hearts: “Look at you, always distracted. Why do you even try to pray?” What the Enemy does not want us to know, though, is how distractions can propel us to profound acts of love for the Lord and thus deeper communion with God. Let us consider a few ways our distraction can turn into an attraction towards God.

Firstly, it can be helpful to name our distraction. If it is something that we need to remember to do (example: “pick up more milk at the grocery store”), then we can write it down and address it later. Other times, our distractions are deeper (example: “tensions at work”) and are things the Lord wants to talk to us about in prayer time. This can bring about more authenticity in prayer.

But not all distractions need to be given attention. In fact we could be “falling into their trap,” the Catechism says. “All that is necessary is to turn back to our heart for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to.” Thus, the simple gesture of naming  whatever we realize to be an attachment in prayer time can lead to a beautiful act of trust and surrender. This “awakens our preferential love for God and leads us resolutely to offer Him our heart to be purified.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2729).

The Catechism also says that distractions reveal the reality of having to choose over and over which master we will serve in life. The word “master” may be quite unconventional in our society today, but it evokes a powerful analogy of a dog going on a walk with his master. While taking a dog on a walk there may be many moments where the dog runs ahead or starts sniffing about and exploring. We can say the dog gets distracted from being with the master. The master is usually patient with the dog’s distractions, but in order to stay on the path together the master may call the dog back or tug on the leash. Thus, when we find our minds wandering from our Master during prayer, we should gently return, without guilt or fear, and as often as necessary (Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, Fr. Joseph Esper). Even our own sudden awareness of being distracted again in prayer can be like a tug on our heart from God the Father saying, “Hey there, let’s keep on the path.” The Father knows we are going to be distracted because that is a part of our human nature, but He also does not want us to leave His side and leave His company, so He calls us back.

Therefore, when we feel the tug again, let us humbly name our distraction and see if it is something that would be good to talk to the Lord about. If it reveals itself as a potential attachment to something other than God, then we can boldly choose the Lord to be the Lord of our life once again. He is not upset at us and neither should we be with ourselves. We are called to communion with God in prayer and He does not want to lose any opportunity to attract us closer to Him. Let us remember that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39), not even a distraction.

Suggested concrete resolution: 

  • Name your distractions and notice what gets between you and God. Is there anything you need to surrender to God today?
  • Be gentle with yourself, as the Master is, when you find yourself distracted. However, resolve to use that awareness of your distraction to turn back to the Master. Make an act of love by choosing again to be with Him.

This month’s reflection is by Sr. Tatum, AVI.


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