Thank you for the feedback on the posts. It is very motivating for me to know that people are reading, and they are getting something out of what they find here. A note for anyone whose first post is this one. I am currently posting my reflections on a book by Fr. Thomas Dubay S.M. called Fire Within. This means that I am writing my own words, but the insights that have informed my ideas are coming from Fr. Dubay's book.

The topic of the day is distractions in prayer, and in order to provide a more complete look at this topic I will include many insights I have gained through personal direction that I have received and other books that I have read in the past. Distractions are a universal experience in the spiritual life, and for the most part we assume that the distractions that we experience are bad. We hate them, and we wish that our mind and imagination would just listen to our will. It is the insight of St. Teresa of Avila, that we must not be distressed over the distractions that we experience, and we should expect them. First, I am going to provide a three step reflection to shed light on why we experience distractions, and then I will provide what practical advise Fr. Dubay draws from St. Teresa on how to handle distractions.

Why are we distracted during prayer?
Reflection #1: Are we trying? Although this is probably the least common cause for why we are distracted, we must ask ourselves this question first. Do not answer this question by looking at how the prayer time feels, but simply call to mind what you want. If you want to be praying, then you are praying. We also need to make an effort to reign in our wandering mind, but this is often impossible. What is important is that we want to pray and are trying to pray. God sees the intention of the heart.

Reflection #2: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"(Matt 6). Where our mind takes us while we are trying to pray is where it goes during the rest of our day. In fact, if you are attentive, the distractions you experience can be a helpful tool to discover what might need to be changed, purified, or redirected in your life. Bring yourself to the Lord where you are. The place where your mind runs is probably one thing you should pray about. This is not necessarily a sin, it could be, but it could be something that needs to be redirected in your life for the glory of God. We need to seek God with an undivided heart.

Reflection #3 We profit from distractions! (Fire Within p.225) When we are distracted in prayer we are forced to seek God in dark faith. When we experience feelings in prayer or are able to easily create meditations, we approach God through these means. They certainly do make our prayer feel more sincere, but this does not mean that the prayer is better. When we approach God through dark faith, we are actually doing something much more profound, and this prayer itself is a suffering. This unpleasant period of prayer is actually extremely purifying, and through this time spent suffering with our Lord we concretely grow in virtue. Usually there is no noticeable change in us from day to day, but over a period of time God uses this empty feeling prayer to make us more like Himself.

How should we react to distractions?
Tip #1: "No on be distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distracting thoughts"(Ibid.). Distractions are normal, and they should be expected. They are an opportunity and not a curse. Use them to purify yourself, and be assured that God is also purifying you through them.

Tip#2: When the mind wanders off after the most ridiculous things in the world, she should laugh at it as the silly thing it is, and remain in her state of quiet" (p.226). Be light and gentle with yourself. If you try to beat yourself into submission, then your mind will probably become more unruly. Do not give the distractions the time that they do not deserve.

Tip #3 Continue on as you have planned. It does not help to fill the emptiness with extra words. Humbly and simply continue to seek God in the emptiness, but do not give up any exercises you are accustomed to. Continue to say the normal vocal prayers and devotions that you have said in the past.

Tip #4 Focus on God's indwelling presence. If you are in a state of grace, then God is the king of your heart. Although it is extremely hard to see God in ourselves through all of our imperfections, by doing this simple meditation we can (occasionally) focus our minds. This meditation can also help us develop a healthy view of ourselves.

I hope this helps. More to come soon on the types of prayer and conditions for growth in prayer.

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    # by Andrea - July 21, 2007 at 12:55 PM

    this post was a great help as I look at my prayer life- thanks for the input. I will have to check out that book