Overcoming our expectation for perfect prayer

Do you struggle with distractions while praying? You’re not alone. It’s a very common frustration that many Catholics struggle with on a regular basis. We sit down for a moment of prayer, peace, and silence at home or in an adoration chapel, yet we find our minds wandering to what we’re going to eat for dinner, our to-do list, or that person who is a sneezing a few pews away. How can we bring our focus back to God and give Him the quality time that He deserves?

“This is one of the top five questions that we get as a priest, one of the top five topics for people that are concerned about praying or their spiritual life, in confession or spiritual direction,” says Fr. Daniel Schuster, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Green Bay and regular contributor to The Inner Life®. “I’m not an expert at getting rid of distractions but I think over the course of the spiritual life, there’s a way of coming to arrive at a more peaceful way of prayer.”

Distraction is normal, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better. “When we use the word, normal, sometimes the temptation there is to say, ‘It’s fine. You know, normal is normal, why should I be concerned about something that is normal?’ So, I will say it’s normal but I don’t want anyone to take that as an ‘out’,” says Fr. Schuster. The word he prefers to us is ‘natural’. Distraction is natural in our spiritual lives because we’re human, but “let’s not settle and say, ‘well then it’s normal’, because I think the Lord wants to purify our prayer.”

A major type of distraction is the busy lives we lead that follow us into prayer. This “gets harder and harder because of the world that we live in and because of the amount of stimulus, the amount of noise, the amount of technology. It’s not magic—you can’t just take one step from one room” and leave all the distractions behind, explains Fr. Schuster.

It’s important to set aside the expectation of ‘perfect’ prayer. Fr. Schuster says that God want us to “experience the peace of prayer but not necessarily in a perfect way.” It’s not realistic to expect to be able to set aside all distractions and immediately be at peace in your prayer. “Prayer is a battle and a purification that has to take place.”

He warns against frustration and blaming yourself when you don’t meet that unrealistic expectation. This frustration towards imperfect prayer can lead to wanting to give up in your prayer life. It can be a big danger to your spiritual life. “It’s the evil one saying, ‘I got him!’ … ‘I was able to get them to just give up!’”

“You can expect that prayer is going to be a journey, it’s going to be a purification, that it’s going to take time. You can expect that the Lord wants to give peace through prayer and speak to your hearts, but the expectation of that perfect focus immediately, that’s probably a number one barrier to good prayer.”

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The Inner Life for January 10, 2018