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How to Pray/My Prayer

I Need a Fidget Spinner for my Spirituality: Combating Distractions in Prayer

Almost every time I talk about my prayer life to a friend, it starts like this: Well, if I somehow stop thinking about the sad Spurs playoff run, or the best kind of noodle, or the fact that I can’t even keep succulents alive, God really speaks to me. My internal monologue sounds more like a babbling, excited toddler home from her first day of preschool than a wise, articulate saint (or even just a normal, conscious human).

Sometimes I’m worrying. Sometimes I’m daydreaming or replaying old memories. Sometimes my brain is just looping a Whitney Houston song while I stare blankly at a stained glass window. There are days when it feels like I’ll never be able to finish an Our Father without wondering what character I’d play in Stranger Things.

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I’d totally be Eleven, BTW.

This can get frustrating, to say the least. I want to be mentally present in Mass. I want to say a Rosary in profound meditation. I want to be attentive to the nuances of the Holy Spirit speaking as I read through Scripture. Most days, though, I cannot make my intention—focused, deep, persistent prayer — match reality — a holy hour where I spend 58 minutes thinking about those fried cheese curds from Wisconsin.

Actually, in prayer recently, this was one of my few coherent thoughts: I could really use one of those fidget spinners for my brain; then, maybe it’d calm me down just a bit so I could pay attention to God’s voice.

The Heart of Calming a Busy Mind

I’ve been blessed enough to have mentors and spiritual directors that have guided me to realize a few things. Usually, I start off by asking them for tips on how to be less distracted, but they—in their wisdom—remind me that “solving the problem” of distraction isn’t the only goal of prayer.

According to the Catechism, “prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours” (CCC 2560). Prayer springs forth from the fact that I seek God and He seeks me. It is always God offering the invitation and seeking me first (1 John 4:10); I can only respond.

This is freeing, because it takes the pressure off. God wants me, loves me, and calls me. Prayer is not about earning His love or approval with my perfect piety or my astounding focus; He wants to hear what I have to say, whether it makes a ton of sense or not. Jesus is working in my heart and we are growing closer whenever I say “yes” to His invitation to pray. It’s not like He takes His mercy away if, while praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet, I think about the hilarity of dogs with human-sounding names.

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Like, what if this dog was named Carolyn? Hilarious.

It’s important to be persistent in prayer and to keep returning to it (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but I’m learning to trust that it’s God’s job to heal, to offer mercy, to give grace, to transform me. Lazarus was literally dead when Jesus resurrected him, so I’m sure Jesus can work on my heart even when my mind is occupied with an idea for the plot of Toy Story 4.

From Fidgeting to Focusing

Though relationship, not perfection, is my goal in prayer, I still think there are some “fidget spinners” for our spiritual lives that can help us become more attentive to the voice of the Lord. If the goal really is relationship, then we should come to prayer ready to engage with Jesus and converse with Him. Jesus raised Lazarus, yes, but Lazarus also had to choose to walk out of the tomb! Here are some conscious choices we can make so that we don’t let the distractions stay in control.

    1. Get in the zone. This world is fast-paced and crazy, so entering into prayer can sometimes feel like slamming the brakes in a speeding car. To start to calm down, you can find a quiet space, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and repeat a simple phrase like “God is here” or “God loves me” before you launch into prayer.
    2. Intercept the interruptions. The things you think are drawing you away from your prayer could be the very things Jesus wants you to bring to Him. Worries, joys, or even the events of your day: if they keep “interrupting” your prayer, maybe they’re exactly what you should include in it. Offer whatever is on your mind to the Lord, no matter how silly or “shallow” it may seem, and see if He wants to speak into those thoughts. Some of my most transformative prayer experiences started when I told Jesus how much I love the soundtrack from Hamilton.
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“Seriously, Jesus, the wordplay is so incredible. You’re the Living Word. I know You understand.”

 

  • All write. Keeping a journal can be a great practice. It keeps you focused in prayer, because it’s a bit more active than something contained entirely in your brain, and you’ll be able to look back at the journey Jesus has taken you on and see just how deeply He’s worked in you.
  • Sleep (before you get to the chapel). If you find yourself dozing off in prayer, or constantly in that weird state where you think you’re praying but you’re really just dreaming about Jesus enjoying some guacamole with you, maybe consider your sleep habits. Not getting enough shut-eye could be making it easier for your mind to drift. Don’t feel too bad about falling asleep in prayer (St. Thérèse and I—and maybe you—have frequent chapel naps in common), but if it’s affecting your ability to think and/or sit up straight, try to hit the hay a little earlier.

 

Whether you leave your prayer time with a heart full of the Lord’s movements or with a profound (unintentional) reflection on the most ergonomic chair design, be encouraged by the fact that you desire to grow with the Lord and that He’s calling you to Himself. He delights in your efforts to pray well, of course, but He delights in you even more. It’ll surely be a lifelong learning process, and it isn’t nearly as simple as spinning a little toy in your hand, but going deeper in prayer is always worth the effort.

About the Author

Courtney Kiolbassa

My perfect day would include morning tea, SNL, the Hamilton soundtrack, praise and worship, and at least one avocado. I’m convinced that podcasts are the future and that my friends will change the world. Being a disciple of Jesus is the greatest journey; helping Jesus make disciples is the greatest mission. You can find me on Instagram (@courtkiol) and performing spoken word poems on YouTube.