What to Do When You’re Distracted While Praying

These past six months, my husband, Ben, and I have had very

little quiet time. Now the parents of four young children under the age of eight, we intend to enter Mass with a few moments of meditation beforehand, but we’re instantly interrupted with a crying baby or a toddler wandering off by the baptismal font.

The same is true for daily prayer. We were discussing this a while back: we sit down with fifteen minutes of what we anticipate will be uninterrupted time spent with God, and inevitably something unexpected happens. This could be very early in the morning, very late at night, during the kids’ naptimes, or any time in between.

We all know that distractions happen. And we often blame ourselves for them. Others will tell us repeatedly that desolation is directly related to the reality that we need to increase our prayer time, or at least the quality of it. That means meditating on Scripture and quiet contemplation, not just rote rehearsal of memorized Hail Marys, right?

Well, yes and no. A friend of mine, who has a grown son with autism, told me several years ago that there were seasons of life when Stephen was young and she was so exhausted that all she could do was turn to the rote prayers she knew — the Hail Marys, the novenas, the chaplets — and try her best to be faithful to them.

 On a final note, St. Francis de Sales leaves us with spiritual wisdom on the fruit of our good intentions during distractions in prayer:

“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in the Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour [of prayer] but bring your heart back and replace it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”