My friend recently shared with me that he feels he cannot truly focus on God in prayer without a host of other thoughts and ideas flooding his mind. Projects, to-do list items, things that need reorganizing, a question we need to ask someone, an appointment we need to set, a thank you note we need to write…
Bill Murray recently tweeted, “My bed is a magical place where I can suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do.” If feel like the same can be said of prayer. If you ever realize you’ve forgotten something important you needed to do, just sit down to try to focus on the Lord in prayer, and BOOM! your lost idea will come rushing back into your memory!
How do we corral our scattered brains during prayer? How do we reign in all those splintered thoughts? (Or do we try to just force them out?) What do we do with all the distractions that fill up our attempts to focus our thoughts on God?
I have five suggestions here that may make this reality easier to manage:
1. There are multiple types of prayer. There is the focused, holistic prayer – where mind, spirit, and body are all praying in unison in focused connection with God. This is the type of prayer that we are seeking when we desire freedom from distractions. This is a valuable mode of prayer, and we should not give up seeking it. We should continue to ask God to help us meet with Him in focused, wholly-connected prayer.
This is what many people think of when they think of the word “prayer”: seated, alone, in silence, in focused communication with God, etc. However, this is only one mode of prayer. There are many others, and we should embrace them as regular parts of a holistic “prayer-life” as well: there’s prayer-as-you-go, breath-prayers, list prayers, and more. I’ll share in more detail about these important modes of prayer in a later post.
2. Distraction-free prayer rarely happens spontaneously. Most often, distraction-free prayer takes planning. You have to schedule this type of prayer into your calendar, as it does not just happen by accident. Plan in a solid 30 minutes to go into a “prayer closet”, which is any space where you can be alone with God, focused, and distraction-free. Leave your phone and other electronic devices behind, as they tend to provide an abundance of distraction-inducing beeps, flashes, and chirps.
3. Distraction-free prayer takes practice. It is a skill that can be developed. And just like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you will get. I promise! All skills are hard the first time you try them: skiing, baking, speaking another language, sewing, juggling, playing an instrument – they all start out difficult. AND they all get easier with practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes better. Don’t give up. Keep practicing at distraction-free prayer, and with God’s help, you will get better at it.
4. Have a pen and paper ready. Dear friend and fellow UGA fan Kaci Lesley says, “When the distractions come in prayer, I just write them down. I let the devil help make my to-do list for me!” One of the surest ways to lodge a distraction squarely in the center of your brain is to try to ignore it. Instead, fight fire with fire: when the to-do list items start interrupting your prayers, just pause, write them down, and continue on in prayer with God. In fact, you might even turn that to-do list item into a prayer item: talk with God about that chore, person, situation, or errand that just popped into mind. That way, the nagging reminder is dealt with, and you can get on with God without it continuing to annoyingly tap on your mind’s shoulder.
5. Give your most present thoughts and emotions to God first. These are our most frequent sources of distraction. Many people think they must brave their way through their current thoughts and feelings in order to be able to pray. I would suggest the opposite: let those things be the subjects of your first prayers. Deal with them together with God first. Then you will be able to move forward in more freedom to talk with God about the other things you had hoped to address together with Him during this prayer time.
What tricks and habits have you developed to maintain focus in prayer? Or, think about the times and places where you feel your prayers have been the most focused. Evaluating these times can provide clues as to what makes for the most distraction-free environment for you to wholly connect with God in prayer.