Sometimes, unwanted images and thoughts run wild through the minds of even the most pious among us.
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Distractions during prayer can occur in any kind of circumstances (private and communal prayer, recitation of rosaries, etc).They largely depend on the temperaments, lifestyles, and experiences of those who pray. Their nature can tell us what we are attached to: our worries and joys, passions and temptations. Even saints could not always prevent their thoughts from straying. St. Teresa of Avila describes distractions during prayer as “unruly wild horses,” frustrating and inescapable. She tells us that occasionally in her solitude she couldn’t turn her heart to God or to anything worthy.One day, she surprised herself counting the nails in the shoe of a nun praying in front of her. All this is nothing serious, but there are some less innocent distractions.
The five senses and the imagination that prevents us from concentrating
Distractions during prayer are inherent to our nature. The five senses continually alert us to what is happening around us. As “disturbers of prayer,” they constantly transmit noises, images, and scents, drawing our attention away from the quiet reflection we seek.
But this is not all. According to St. Teresa of Avila, our memories and roaming imagination also distract us from our main goal: to turn entirely to God.
Faced with these distractions, a worshiper feels frustrated and disappointed. When they become too numerous, he may be tempted to abandon praying altogether. But if we give up praying because of distractions, we will never pray! God offers Himself to us from within, where distractions and senses cannot penetrate. Nothing can stop His work of transforming our hearts.
Distractions are an occasion to choose God
So we must persevere, without attributing too much importance to distractions. As long as we resist them, there is no sin. They can even become a blessing in disguise, according to some priests. They represent so many occasions to turn back to God. Forsaking the distraction is an act of love.
In rendering the act of prayer so difficult, distractions during prayer allow us to seek God Himself instead of the consolations He may provide. More importantly, because of the efforts we make to find God, our desire to join Him can only grow.
Distractions during prayer are also a blessing because they expose our weakness — on the condition we are ready to humbly accept it. St. Paul was of this opinion: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).
The results will be more than we could ever hope for: through praises, acceptance, and mercy, the distractions during prayer allow God to take over our hearts.Instead of being an obstacle to our spiritual growth, they become our path to God.
Élisabeth de Baudöuin
Prayer to reduce distractions when praying the Rosary
Distraction was a problem for medievals too. How did they deal with it?