Down with Distractions During Prayer
Apparently our brains have more than one track. Maybe as you’re praying the rosary, you’re planning what you’ll have for dinner and before you know it, you’ve prayed the closing prayer. Maybe you’re reading a prayer, like the Divine Office, and your eyes are following the words, but when you’re finished, you don’t know what you’ve said to God because you were dwelling on a problem. During prayer, stray thoughts can pester us like gnats. Buddhists refer to “monkey minds,” that is, just as monkeys leap from tree to tree, our brains leap from one thought to another. How helpful it would be if we were rapt in ecstasy as some saints were! Praying would be much easier. Many suggestions are given to combat distractions: focus on a candle, play music, look at a religious picture, weave them into your prayer. However, I’ve found one ploy to be 100% effective.
When I was writing a religion series, my meditation time was usually invaded by thoughts for the next lesson plan, the format for the pages, and how to deal with the publisher. Frustrated, I asked my spiritual director, a good Jesuit, “Can you help me?” This is what he said:
Every day take out a pen and paper and begin, “Dear Jesus.” Then write him a letter telling him whatever is in your heart. This may be about your upcoming day, your worries, people you care about—anything. When you are finished, sign the letter, “Love, Kathleen.” But you’re not done. Begin a new letter, “Dear Kathleen” and write a letter from Jesus to you. Sign it, “Love, Jesus.” My first reaction to this second letter was that I didn’t want to be putting words in Jesus’ mouth. But Father said, “Don’t consciously think about what Jesus would or should say to you. Just let the pen go by itself. This is important. You will be surprised.”
The next morning, being a good sister, I did what the priest had advised. There was no room for distractions! Amazingly, that afternoon something happened that Jesus had referred to in the morning’s letter. I continued this practice of letter writing day after day. Some of the things Jesus wrote to me were powerful and touching. But then it occurred to me that because my work entailed writing all day long, my precious prayer time had become too much like my work. I got tired of writing letters. When I told Father this, I asked if I should stop. He replied, “No. Just make your letters shorter.”
So each morning I wrote only one or two sentences in the two letters, like postcards. (“Wish you were here!”) Surprisingly, the words had the same benefits. They made me realize Jesus’ presence more. His words to me were moving.
Father also suggested that after a time I go back and read the letters, maybe annotating them. When I did this, I found I had a record of my life during that period.
Once after I gave a weekend retreat on Scripture the man who came in the evening to provide entertainment said, “I’m sorry I missed the retreat today. Tell me one thing you said.” I shared the letter writing idea with him. He said, “I did that once on my computer. In Jesus’ letter to me were things I did not know. It scared me and I never did it again!”
I pass this unusual prayer idea on to you. Try it and let me know what you think.
Perhaps you already write such letters. If so, what has been your experience?
I have been writing a letter to God and Jesus every morning for the past eight years. This has freed me to talk to God and Jesus in all ways. I have never wrote a letter to me from Jesus though. I think it might me be difficult at first, but I plan to try. After writing my letter I have tried to be calm and listen for whatever God would want to say to me. Thank you for sharing. Joyce
Eight years! You are more persevering than I am, Joyce.
It sounds like something to try. A little focus will take away some of the distractions, maybe all. I’ll let you know if the idea works for me.
Good luck, Kathleen. Hope it nurtures your prayer life.
My spiritual director suggested something similar to me: letters to God. I did that for awhile, but I don’t remember it too well. Your post is encouraging me to do it again, perhaps during Lent.
I no longer worry about distractions in prayer, though. I deal with them by “repenting”. That is “returning” to the prayer. I do that as often as necessary, telling God I precfer Him.
Sometimes we’re able to weave our distractions into our prayer. Maybe they are graces prompting us to pray about someone or something.