Dealing with Distractions During Prayer

Have you ever been watching a movie or TV show and begin thinking about what other productions the actors on screen have been in or what their name is?

Josh Raymond of The Inner Life recalled a recent evening when he had sat down to watch the acclaimed Ben-Hur­, featuring Charlton Heston and Jack Dawkins. In the middle of the movie, Josh had pulled out his phone to read more about the movie. As he scanned the Wikipedia page, he opened a link to Charlton Heston’s page. After checking out a few other actors, Josh landed on the page of George Ralph, the actor playing Tiberius Caesar. Josh opened the link to Tiberius Caesar, which led him to Caesar Augustus, which led him to Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Brutus, Longinus, the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory XIII, etc.

In the end, Josh never did get back to his movie. The internet rabbit-hole had kept him distracted, showing him article after article until he realized that it was too late to continue the movie. While ultimately a harmless set of distractions, there are times when getting distracted can harm us or keep us from benefiting, primarily during prayer. Josh welcomed Father Scott Bailey onto the show to discuss distractions, why they are problematic, and how we can minimize them.

At times, the distractions can be a product of our methods, said Father Scott. Often, we attach semantics and words to our prayers in order to give them structure. And while this can be good, it can also lead us to a sense of monotony or tedium. We begin saying the words without any meaning and our minds wander.

Josh pointed out that excessive structuring can lead to a lack of fulfillment in prayer because you’re merely talking at God without letting Him talk back. He likened this to the one we might spend time with a spouse or friend. Yes, you may want to have a general idea of the things we want to do with our companion, just in the same way that you may have petitions in mind when going to Our Lord in prayer. But in the end, the setting for quality time is a background for growth in the relationship. When we pray to God, we need to not only go to Him with requests and thanksgiving but allow ourselves to receive the message He is trying to send us.

Josh recalled the passage from Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus walks across the water and calls to the apostles to come to Him.

“At once [Jesus] spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’

He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’

After they got into the boat, the wind died down.”

(Matthew 14:27-32)

Peter had the courage to approach our Lord, in spite of the fact that it was dangerous, stormy water and he could have easily drowned. But at the Lord’s request, Pater would do anything. However, even St. Peter is not perfect. When he sees how dangerous it is, when he takes his eyes off of the Lord and gets distracted by all of the danger around him, he becomes scared and begins to sink. In the same way, we are so vulnerable to the temptations and distractions of the world. But all we have to do is keep our eyes on God and our faith in Him.

From a practical perspective, Father Scott said that in order to eliminate distractions from our lives, we need to prepare for prayer. Our lives are filled with so many hectic, stressful situations that if we abruptly attempt to sit in silence, our minds aren’t going to let us focus on God. We need to train our minds that this time of silent communication is for God and God alone. One practice that Father Scott employs is to write down all of the things that are on his mind and could potentially distract him. In that way, he gets permission from his brain to stop thinking about it and come back to it later.

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.