How many of you have struggled with distractions when you pray? I am pretty sure every person reading this will say, “I have!” However, did you know every one of us can master our minds in meditative prayer?
I was pretty frustrated with some of my prayer time. I started to wonder, “What is wrong with me? I want to be intimate with you God,” only to have my intent to pray be disrupted with my to-do lists and every other “squirrel” that came into my mind but I wasn’t satisfied with letting this happen. I started doing research on saints, priests and other resources to figure out how to battle distraction while praying.
Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
I was determined to go to battle. There are many resources available to help with distractions in prayer. Some are from the writings of saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, Saint Alphonsus Liguori and St. Mother Teresa to name a few but I sought out a Mystical Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila and her book “The Way of Perfection.” I was also enthralled with Sensus Fidelium’s website. Of course, my Spiritual Director, trained in Ignatius Spirituality, has been such a blessing from God.
My passion is to help others deepen their relationship with God and the Catholic Faith. I want to share a few gems that have helped me fight distractions. However, I encourage you to do your own research and seek out saints and resources to help you where you are in your own personal spiritual journey. Everyone is in a different state of their prayer life. I told a few holy friends a while ago that I was studying Saint Teresa of Avila and they said, “Whoa, she is intense!” To some, she may be incomprehensible but for others, she reads like a children’s book.
I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).
You Need a Regime
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed (Mark 1:35).
Jesus always made time to pray to The Father in order to do His will. He showed us that prayer is not negotiable and a necessity. You will not mature in your relationship with God if you do not set aside time to pray and meditate on His Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit in your daily life. It’s time to admit to ourselves that we are to blame because we do not consistently pray every day in silence in the morning. It’s up to you. Choose a time where you can be in complete peace and commit to that time, no matter what the season. If you commit to prayer every morning you will find it easier to see, hear and feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit all day. If you fall off the prayer train, get back on as fast as you can. We all go through peaks and valleys but the more you put forth the effort, God will help you get back on track. Here are some ways which might help you prepare yourself for meditative prayer:
- Find a quiet place to pray
- Same time – every day
- Light a blessed candle
- Keep a journal with you – have it blessed (jot down your “to-do’s and distracting thoughts and don’t forget to write down what you feel God is telling you in your meditation)
- Sign yourself with Holy Water very slowly. Purposefully stop and say, “In the name of the Father, who loves me, The Son saves me and the Holy Spirit who transforms and guides me”
- Recite the Act of Contrition – ask for forgiveness for all your evil doings or good deeds you have not done
- Pray to detach from all your worries, fears, distractions and anxieties of the world and lay them at the foot of The Cross where Jesus can pour His precious Blood over them.
- Thank God for all His blessings and tell Him you can do nothing without Him. This attitude of gratitude helps foster humility and your desire for a loving encounter in prayer.
Begin your prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well-beloved spouse.” (Double whammy for the Devil and opens your heart to the Spirit)
St. Francis of De Sales said, in mental prayer if we should do nothing else but banish distractions and temptations, the meditation will be made. St. Alphonsus Liguori said we should remember that the devil labors hard to disturb us at the time of recollection in order to make us abandon it. Let him then, who omits mental prayer on the count of distractions, be persuaded that he gives the light to the devil. Whoa, I don’t know about you, but I only want to give light to Jesus.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
It is All About Love
I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first (Revelation 2:3-4).
St. Teresa of Avila says prayer consists not in thinking much, but in loving much. And the devil knows that he lost a soul who perseveringly practices mental or meditative prayer. These two should give you hope and help you push through all that is thrown at you during prayer.
If your morning prayer begins by going through emails of daily readings, reflections, the saint of the day, other inspirational readings and other to-do’s and has turned into a checklist, please stop. Prayer is a time for you to show your love for God, to communicate to Him all of your love and fears and to give yourself freely to His will. My humble suggestion is that you focus on scripture and time in silent meditation if the former is your morning routine.
Preparation for prayer, noted above, is just as important as prayer itself. Diving into prayer or scripture without preparing yourself is like getting into a car with no gas and expecting to arrive at your destination. The more you can get your mind in a state of love you will be more armed to fight the distractions when you begin.
Speaking of which, here are some new practices I have found that help me when distractions arise:
- After my Examen, before I go to bed, I read the following day’s scripture. I pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten my mind overnight. I find it much easier to mediate the next morning because of what He put in my heart as I slept and it helps that I am not reading it for the first time. I almost feel like I am one step ahead of the distractions that await me because the readings are already familiar to me.
- I slowly read a few words at a time and pay attention to what jumps out at me. It might be a word, a phrase or an overall theme of the day’s readings. When I am moved in some way I stop and meditate over it. God always speaks through scripture. I ask Him what is He trying to tell me? I suffer from Psalm sprints. I zip through the Psalms and have to force myself to take my time with them.
- Before meditating I suggest you find an object to focus on like a Bible, a book, a statue or a painting. I use a blessed Mary statue. I look to her immediately when my mind wanders and I pray for her intercession to the Holy Spirit to focus my mind to love God and have eyes and ears only for Him. I use my journal to write down the to-do’s so I won’t forget them or use it as an excuse to stop and “take care of that now” because my memory isn’t all that great. I pray for those people who come into my mind. St. Therese of Lisieux said when she was faced with distractions she prayed for those people who were diverting her attention and this way, they reap the benefits from her distractions.
- Penance and sacrifice help prayer, which is why it is much easier to pray during Lent. I offer up all my distractions to God. I refuse to give into that task or temptation that will take me away from my precious time with God and I say, out loud, “Lord, St. John Chrysostom said that without prayer it is absolutely impossible to lead a virtuous life. Holy Spirit, please give me the grace to practice meditative prayer.”
- If all this fails, I get on my knees and say out loud, “Lord, I only want to love you. Please grant me the grace to show you my love deep in my heart. Jesus put these distractions at the foot of The Cross.”
Meditation is Conforming to the Will of God
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).
St. Alphonsus Liguori says without mental prayer the soul is without light, the interior life needs the light of faith to see. If we don’t pray we lose sight of eternal truths, the importance of salvation and the sight of how to get there.
Without mental prayer or meditation, we don’t have the strength to fight the enemies of our soul or to practice Christian virtue. It is as simple as that. When we practice meditation we are like hot iron which is soft and can be shaped into the will of God. When we do not practice meditation we are cold and the iron will not bend.
We can all master distractions when we decide to pray and humble ourselves to tap into all our resources – the Holy Trinity, Our Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints for their intercession. God will help you if you help yourself and work with Him.