3 Practical Tips to Deal with Distractions in Prayer

The Catechism states plainly: “The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction” (#2729).

The constant battle of wayward thoughts is something we all face as humans. We must accept this reality. To deal with distractions in a holy way, let us listen to the advice of the saints.

3 practical tips emerge from St. Francis de Sales’ advice:

First, we must “gently recall it.”

Do not get frustrated when you realize that you are distracted. Just say to yourself, “Oh, I’m distracted” and peacefully acknowledge it. As long as distractions are not deliberate and intentional, they do much less harm than you think.

St. Teresa of Avila, a woman who experienced both the heights of divine intimacy in prayer and struggled daily with a wandering mind, said: “It is very important that no one be distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distracting thoughts… think of distractions as mere clouds passing in the sky, momentarily taking your gaze from the Sun of Righteousness.”

Second, “place it once more close to its Divine Master.”

Since Jesus is the focus of our prayer time, we must continually bring our thoughts to Him. When distracted, recall once again that He is present, looking at you with love, and desiring to speak to your heart. In this way, distractions become a great opportunity to deepen our focus on Jesus – what a gift!

“When your mind wanders or gives way to distractions, gently recall it and place it once more close to its Divine Master. If you should do nothing else but repeat this during the whole time of prayer, your hour would be very well spent and you would perform a spiritual exercise most acceptable to God.” – St. Francis de Sales

Third, trust.

We need to trust that if our whole time of prayer was nothing but bringing our wandering mind back to Jesus, we had a very good time of prayer that will bear fruit in our lives – this is a true act of faith.

“We must be thoroughly convinced of the fact that all God asks of us, in this conversation, is good will. A soul pestered by distractions, but who patiently comes back, each day, like a good child, to talk with God is making first-rate mental prayer. God supplies all our deficiencies” (Dom Chautard, SA, 213).

Final advice from Matthew Kelly

Distractions are an inevitable and unavoidable part of prayer. There are things you can do to minimize them, but you cannot eliminate them. Some days you will have fewer than others—resist the temptation to equate that with good prayer. There will be other days when it seems that all you do the whole time is get distracted. Don’t equate that with bad prayer. Are distractions good or bad? Neither. Like so many things, they are neutral until we touch them. How you respond to a distraction is good or bad, but not the distraction itself. First, you cannot do anything about the distraction until you realize you are distracted. Once you realize it, that is your moment. What will you do? Get lost in the distraction or return to your prayer? Which is better for you, ten push-ups or one hundred? One hundred. Why? Every push-up strengthens your muscles. Every distraction is an opportunity to strengthen your spiritual muscles. You realize you are distracted, you return to your prayer, and in that moment what happens? You choose God over the distraction, you pull your mind and likely your heart away from the distraction, and you align your heart and mind with God. That’s a spiritual push-up. Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover the Rosary: The Modern Power of an Ancient Prayer (pp. 45-46). Blue Sparrow. Kindle Edition.

Important distinction = distractions should be dealt with differently depending on what type of prayer you are engaged in.

If you are engaged in intercessory prayer, distractions might be from the Lord to intercede for that person.

“I have many distractions, but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people, the thought of whom is diverting my attention. In this way, they reap the benefit of my distractions.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

If you are engaged in meditative prayer, distractions are to be avoided because this is like answering a text message while you are in the marital embrace.

If you think you should answer a text while in the marital embrace, you have serious problems (cf. Dan Burke, Divine Intimacy Radio).

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