Praying While Distracted

squirrelThomas McDonald writes on dealing with distractions while praying:

This inane quote from Oswald Chambers showed up in my Twitter feed:

Don’t say, “Oh, Lord, I suffer from wandering thoughts.” Don’t suffer from wandering thoughts.

Scrupulously trying to deny the wandering thoughts that occur naturally in prayer in the surest route to failure. We need to glance at them, acknowledge them, perhaps even contemplate them to understand why they are distracting us, and then gently return our minds to the task at hand. Only the most spiritually advanced can ever really find their way into the Cloud of Unknowing, which means the rest of us need to work with what we’ve got. We strive towards mastery of our thoughts in prayer through awareness and discipline, not denial.

First of all, let me say that I, very selfishly, am delighted to hear that other people have a problem with this. Wandering thoughts have plagued my prayer life for as long as I can remember, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better as I get older.

Throughout my lifelong career as a Christian, I’ve heard lots of people talk about prayer and their own personal prayer lives, but I’ve not often heard anyone else mention this as a problem. Instead, prayer is like a faucet you turn on and off, and when it’s on, it’s on, and it’s on until you turn it off.

My prayers are more like a garden hose full of air bubbles, so that my thoughts come out in fits and starts:

“Heavenly Father, thank you for my children, and be with them and draw them close to You. Help them to grow up wise and healthy, and did Campbell have a poopy diaper today? I don’t think so. I’ll have to check with her mom. Has it been more than a day? I hope she’s not constipated. Do they make suppositories for babies? Wait, what was I supposed to be praying for? Suppositories?

And so on, for about thirty minutes until I finally cover all the ground I meant to cover with the Almighty. Sometimes I’m more focused than others, but there’s always the chance that I’ll stream-of-consciousness myself into thinking about work, or football, or things that I ate that day. All things less important than building a relationship with my Creator, but things that jump in between us nevertheless.

Does anybody else out there deal with distraction in prayer? Is it something you can gain control of, or do you just practice fighting it off as it pops up?

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