Monica McConkey offers reassurance that if you're distracted in prayer, you're not alone—plus tips for staying focused.
I think the resounding answer is YES for anyone who prays!
Most people are frustrated by distractions and interruptions in prayer. Perhaps we assume that holier people are perfectly focused during prayer, but everyone including priests and nuns and even the canonized saints have all struggled with distractions in prayer.
The saints have written about it. Way back in the third and fourth centuries, the Desert Fathers recommended frequently repeated, short prayers as the winning approach to praying unceasingly and overcoming distractions.
Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Teresa of Avila (in earlier stages of prayer), Saint Francis de Sales, Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), and Saint Teresa of Calcutta (among many other saints) favored short, mindful prayers over flowery monologues or superfluous "multiplying words," recognizing that our human attention spans are prone to distraction.
Here are a couple of practical tips for dealing with distractions in prayer:
ONE. We should be gentle with ourselves as we reign in our thoughts and try to refocus our prayer, recognizing that the effort we make to return our attention to prayer is already, in fact, prayer. Our struggles with distraction humble us and remind us of how much we are in need of our Lord and His Grace for everything, including prayer.
TWO. Prayer is a conversation; we can talk to the Lord about the distractions we’re facing, and then return to our interrupted prayer. If it’s a looming to-do list, we can stop to jot down a few things we need to remember before we return to our prayer. If we’re already prayer journaling, we can write a little note in the corner of the page and we’ll know where to refer to later.
THREE. If it’s a recurring thought or worry that is distracting us, maybe the Holy Spirit is prompting us to pray about it, inviting the Lord into our decisions and concerns. We can set formal prayers aside in favor of deeper, more personal, and intimate conversation. We can share deeply and try to listen for the Lord’s response.
BONUS TIP: Pray frequent, short prayers throughout the day.
We will inevitably continue to struggle with distractions, but the Lord is pleased with our persistence and our efforts to return to attentive prayer. And our every prayerful effort draws us into a deeper relationship with Him!
Copyright 2023 Monica McConkey
About the Author
Monica, mom of 5, blogs about Catholic crafts and family traditions at EquippingCatholicfamilies.com. She is an author and creator of Super Saints quizzing cards and over 45 Saint, Sacrament, Catechism and Prayer-packed Craft Kits to help teach the Catholic Faith. The Catholic teaching tools and gifts are available through Arma Dei, the Catholic family publishing company founded with her husband Bill.