In one of his talks on the spiritual life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen shares a wonderful story about distraction during prayer:
Saint Bernard, the holy Abbot of the monastery in Clairvaux, was once strolling through the French countryside with a local farmer. The farmer noticed that, rather than marvelling at the beauty of the countryside, the Abbot kept his head bowed and his eyes on the ground. Curiosity got the better of him. So he asked the Abbot why he kept his eyes focused downward.
“I don’t want the sights of the countryside to distract me from my prayer,” the Abbot replied.
The farmer began to boast that he himself never got distracted during prayer.
“Really?” Saint Bernard replied. “Then let’s make a bet. I’ll give you my mule if you can say a single Our Father aloud without distraction.”
It was a fairly straightforward bet — yes?
The farmer began praying, but when he reached the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread,” he stopped, turned to Saint Bernard, and asked, “Can you please throw in the bridle and saddle as well?”
Were the saints distracted during prayer?
Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray fervently and sincerely; he emphasized that a brief amount of time spent in focused, intentional prayer is the most spiritually valuable to us — more so than simply going through the motions.
But even in the most peaceful, quiet prayer space, it’s so easy to get distracted — even by your own thoughts.
If you’re easily distracted during prayer, take comfort. Even the saints, who lived the holiest of lives in service to God and neighbor, were often distracted while praying:
- Saint Teresa of Avila compared her distractions to unruly wild horses. When she experienced these moments of distraction during her prayerful meditations, or even after receiving Holy Communion, she didn’t get discouraged. Instead, she chose not to give her thoughts undue attention, but gently brought herself back to the Lord’s presence.
- In The Story of a Soul, Saint Therese of Lisieux writes of being so distracted and irritated by one sister’s noisy fidgeting during their group Rosary, that by the end of it she’d be soaked in sweat from the strain of her efforts to stay focused.
- Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina gently reminds us, “When you have distractions, don’t distract yourself still more by stopping to consider the why and the wherefore.” It sounds to me like he might be speaking from experience!
Our Father, Who art in… squirrel!
You see, everyone gets distracted during prayer.
Each time your mind wanders during prayer, don’t beat yourself up. Just bring yourself gently back — time and again.
One way to achieve this is by learning to “redirect your gaze.”
Like the rest of us, you have a million and one distractions all around you. It’s so easy to let one small distraction lead you on a path away from your original intention to pray with focus and fervor.
If you’re at all like me, you’re probably asking yourself something like:
When I’m praying my Rosary, how do I keep my mind from settling on my to-do list, or my two o’clock meeting, or the incessant ticking of the clock?
Here’s a suggestion…
Get a couple of icons or a statue for your prayer space.
Religious icons — paintings of holy figures like Jesus, Mary, and the saints — are a useful tool for focusing your mind on God. These images aren’t idols to be worshipped, but are intended to remind us that we’re in the presence of God and His saints. Keeping a beautiful icon of Mary in your prayer space can be an effective way to redirect your spiritual gaze toward the sacred when you’re distracted.
You don’t need a huge collection of icons or other images; often, a single pamphlet containing beautiful images of Our Lord and Our Lady can bring your wandering thoughts back to your prayer.
Consider finding a collection of images relating to the individual Mysteries of the Rosary.
Some rosaries include little icon-like picture beads in the places where the Mysteries belong, and in the absence of other icons or pictures, these tiny images may help bring your focus back to your prayers.
You can find endless resources online, including our free PDF Booklet Download [LINK] which includes lovely images on which to focus.
Without guilt, without fear, and without beating yourself up—each time your mind begins to wander away from your “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys,” simply turn your eyes to the holy images you’ve selected.
Remember, distractions are a part of our humanity, and God Himself, who became human, fully embraces this aspect of our prayer.
Encouragement from the saints
I’ll leave you with some encouraging quotes from a couple of saints:
If you have many distractions at prayer, that prayer of yours may well be upsetting the devil a great deal.” ~ Saint Alphonsus Liguori.
If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And if you did nothing during the whole of your [prayer] hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales
I also have many (distractions), but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people the thought of whom is diverting my attention, and in this way, they reap benefit from my distractions.” ~ Saint Therese of Lisieux
Keep in mind that your prayers are a conversation with the Lord. When you’re conversing with a friend or loved one, you are both bound to become distracted — by children, the telephone, a pressing work matter — the list goes on.
In a conversation with your friend, once you’ve attended to (or put off) the distraction, your focus returns to the person with whom you’ve been conversing. Allow your conversation with God to follow suit.
If you’re committing to praying a daily Rosary this Lent, please let us know!
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and join the growing Rosary Crusade community. Go to our Facebook page to share pictures of your rosary, your prayer corner, or to post what you’re doing to stick with your prayerful commitment. May this Lent and our community both inspire you to continue praying a daily Rosary — even after the Lenten season has passed!