Distractions during prayer: Can we overcome these chaotic thoughts?

If you're bothered by distractions during prayer, you're among the majority.

Very few people are able to keep their mind so perfectly focused on God that no random thoughts creep in. Sometimes, it seems that the more you try to rein in these distractions, the more active they become.

Is every distraction a satanic attack? No. Many are just the natural wanderings of an active mind that's trying to solve every problem, big and small.

Beating yourself up over the situation only makes it worse. Some people get so frustrated they stop praying altogether. They mistakenly believe that their distractions during prayer are an insult to God.

How many trillions of prayers has God heard since he created the first man and woman? Is there anyone who knows the human mind better than he who brought it into existence?

"That's true," you may be thinking, "but it doesn't help me much."

Can we learn to settle our thoughts enough to completely eliminate distractions during prayer?

Contrary to what some "meditation gurus" might say, I think the answer is no. If you live in the real world--and not a monastery--stimulation is coming at you dozens of times a minute. Your mind gears up to that pace, trying to process it.

Often it feels as if you have no control at all over what you're thinking and how fast you're thinking it. However, that's another wrong assumption.

Our 'trial and error' thinking

As chaotic as our thoughts appear, there's a certain "trial and error" pattern to them. We solve many of our problems by serving up possible solutions, rapidly analyzing them, accepting them or tossing them aside. This happens so quickly we don't even realize we're doing it.

Can we stop this process altogether? Can we squash the distractions during prayer so we can concentrate on God?

We're better at it some days than others, but typically the harder we try to suppress these thoughts, the more vigorously they pop up. It's like trying to hold an inflated ball under water. You can do it for a while, but drop your guard for a fraction of a second and up it shoots to the surface.

No matter how strong your distractions are, never feel that you're helpless against them.

Some people use memorized prayers because they crowd out distractions. Others read prayer cards or read the Bible with a prayerful attitude.

When you get upset, they win

If those methods don't appeal to you, you have to learn to live with distractions. Really, the more upset you get, the worse they become.

Over the years, I've found that the less attention I pay to distractions during prayer, the less power they seem to have over me. The desire to pray is a prayer in itself. Never forget that God is understanding and compassionate.

If you're unable to pray, remember that the Holy Spirit grasps your heart's intentions and prays for you:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

God appreciates every effort you make to speak with him, no matter how choppy it may be. He sees your kind and charitable actions as living prayers. He knows what's in your heart even if you have trouble expressing it with your mind.

In the end, it's not the eloquence, focus, or discipline in your prayers that God is concerned with.

It's your love and sincerity.

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