James Martin, S.J.: How to deal with distraction in prayer

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Are you ever distracted in prayer? I bet I know that answer to that question. Yes, of course! Everyone is. It’s one of the most common concerns, or complaints, that I hear about prayer. So how do you deal with them? Well, first you need to discern what kind of distraction it is. To my mind, there are two kinds: important and not so important. What do I mean by important ones? Well, some distractions may not be distractions. A few years ago, a young Jesuit told me he kept trying to do his examen but a guy in community that he was angry about kept coming up in his prayer. Well, I said, maybe God wants you to look at that. It may be an important distraction.

But there are other distractions that may not be so important: thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, for example. The invitation here is to let them go. But sometimes that’s hard. Even impossible, for example if you’re in physical pain. In that case, maybe you can just let them be. And remember that God can be with you even if you’re distracted. Think about it: If you were with a friend who said she was distracted, you’d be forgiving, wouldn’t you? You’d understand. So how much more forgiving and understanding is God? So don’t worry too much about being distracted, especially if you can’t help it. Just be with God.

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