By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.
People who pray often get upset with themselves because they get distracted at prayer. They have trouble focusing on the content of the prayer, whether in private or with a group, such as Eucharist. Maybe the first suggestion is to notice that one is upset, but then choose to simply turn back to the prayer at hand.
Our minds and imaginations are active, taking in all sorts of information, and sometimes it is hard to focus on just one thing at hand. Teachers of prayer and meditation often refer to our “monkey mind.” Our minds can be like monkeys jumping around in the trees. That’s how we are, and there is no need to be upset by that.
We can choose to respond in different ways, beyond getting upset or even angry with ourselves. We try to calmly call ourselves back to what we are doing: private prayer or group prayer, and focus again.
Sometimes the distracting thoughts can be part of our prayer. We might be told to “pray our distractions.” Maybe we are concerned about a problem or about other people we care about. We bring them back with us to the time of prayer.
Another useful point to remember is that, no matter what else is going on, a basic issue with prayer is that we simply “show up.” We come to our time of private or community prayer with the intention of being present. On a given day, maybe that is the best we can do. God accepts our presence and our good intentions. We want to pray, to be conscious of God’s presence, no matter what else is distracting us. God, always present to us, accepts our gift of presence. From Psalm 40: “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.”