Have you ever sat down to pray, and before you know it you find yourself thinking about the next item on your to-do list? Your fingers may have been moving on the Rosary beads, and your eyes may have been scanning the Scripture passages, but your mind was a million miles away.
Distraction during prayer is a common struggle, but it doesn’t have to be discouraging. Msgr. Stuart Swetland offered advice and encouragement on a recent Go Ask Your Father™ for those who struggle with distractions in their prayer life. He said:
“Anybody who prays seriously is going to be beset, at times, with distractions. I have found it to be one of the first things in spiritual direction or in counseling that I have to help someone with, when they are trying to enter more deeply into the mystery of faith through prayer. And so, all of us are called to have a daily prayer life of depth and substance and all of us are going to have to deal with distractions.
As the Catechism says, the distraction itself is a sign of something that attracts us. It wouldn’t be a distraction unless it was something that attracts us, for whatever reason. One of the things that I’m distracted by in my meditation is often the work I have to do. And so I’m thinking about this thing or that thing that fills my day – perhaps a report that needs to be done, a letter that needs to be written, someone I need to see – these kinds of things are all important. They attract me because they are part of my vocation as a priest and educator.
They are not unimportant things, and yet they are taking me away from my focus on the Lord and His word. And so what I have to do is show that discipline – that I love the Lord more than I love my work – by immediately, when I realize I am beginning to drift and focus on my work and not on the Lord, offering that distraction as a petition.
So I offer it to the Lord as a petition, and then I make an act of love to come back to my meditation, to come back to His word, to come back to my focus. So I’m making the choice to love, and in my prayer I’m turning those distractions into petitions and acts of love.
So even in a 30-minute meditation, if you’re distracted 30 times you’ll at least have 30 petitions and 30 acts of love that you will have chosen to do in that period of prayer. And that’s good prayer. It’s maybe not the ideal prayer that you wanted … but it still is good prayer.
So don’t think that the battle of prayer is that you have to get to the root of distraction and root it out. Because all that does is take you down the rabbit hole of being distracted all the more.
The thing to do is to turn those distractions into petitions, and then make a gentle act of love to come back to the Lord, back to His word, and to continue your meditation, continue your prayer.”
Listen to the full reflection below: