Reconciling with Distractions

porch swing - photo by James Garcia on Unsplash

“God, reveal my hidden flaws to me,” I prayed one evening. Nothing happened. No insights surfaced.

“How can I reform my life if I don’t even know my faults?” I thought, remembering St. Catherine of Siena saying that self-knowledge was a form of prayer, because it was critical to relating to God.

I felt sad thinking how blind I was to my own failings. St. Ignatius would name this progression of thoughts a step toward desolation, because I was tempted to beat myself up.

God’s voice doesn’t berate; God speaks lovingly and gently to me. When I’m wrong, God corrects me with steps that don’t reduce my self-esteem or make me feel bad about God’s creation. God reminds me that I am a loved sinner.

The morning after asking God to let me see my unconscious faults, I was praying on a friend’s front porch, where I was taking time for a silent retreat. Distracting thoughts took over when I noticed my friend’s fire truck parked out front; it reminded me of an unfriendly neighbor, who calls animal control every time my friend’s dog barks. I imagined myself telling that neighbor in veiled language to watch out; if his house caught fire, my friend might just let it burn down as payback. I was savoring thoughts of revenge. Suddenly recognizing how I’d become distracted, I stopped short. “Wow. I’m supposed to be praying. And here I am imagining retaliation!”

Something unusual happened in the next second. It was an answer to the previous night’s prayer. My natural reaction to feel ashamed immediately shifted. My gaze turned to the vibrant blue sky and a fresh insight.

God quietly helped me notice that I keep a record of wrongs. I brood over injustices done against me and those I love. I harbor hurts. God gently revealed a sinful progression that ensnares me.

Immediately St. Paul’s words came to mind, that love is not arrogant or rude, seeks not its own interests, nor does it brood over injuries.

All these communications beyond words happened in a burst of a split second. I was drawn to gratitude for the insights. I learned something else. God works on a divine timeline and can use distractions during prayer to speak directly to my heart.

Now I truly understood something a wise spiritual teacher revealed once: God may be using my distractions during prayer to get my attention and to point out an area where I need to grow. It’s not always a digression on my part.

I need not fear distractions during prayer. They may have something to say, something to teach. Silly me thinks that I control my prayer time. It’s actually God wooing me to a relationship on God’s terms, which are always loving and even more gentle than I can imagine.

Photo by James Garcia on Unsplash.

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Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and author of Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. Loretta has six years experience as a spiritual director and was trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. She is also a workshop presenter and retreat leader on Ignatian spirituality and prayer. Loretta is a founder of Women’s Ministry at St. Francis in Sacramento, CA. With more than 20 years in ministry, including Christian Life Community (CLC) and small group leadership, Loretta is an expert in being busy. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.

18 COMMENTS

  1. I just came across this now a month after it was posted and it is just what I needed to read. I too have distractions during prayer. I’ve often been annoyed at myself for wasting prayer time with these distractions. I often ask God to help me to listen to him more closely but have always tried to turn away from distractions not realizing that they might be Gods way of pointing out something to me. From now on I’ll pay attention to what he might be gently pointing out to me.
    Thank you so much for this post.

  2. I just stumbled on this blog whilst looking for a fresh guided EXAMEN – needing to quieten down and not be robbed by the demands and distractions already experienced today before I prepare and lead a time at The Lord’s Table on this Palm Sunday.
    Truly thankful – Holy Spirit led me here my burden already lifted and I’m realigned, refreshed and uplifted by the exchange of such peace and loving acceptance the kindness and grace of our Lord is coming to me and ridding me of the inherent go to harsh critical judgments; simply by your light and insight, THANKYOU!

    I come just as I am ..
    My Lord is my refuge. His word a lamp unto my feet and a light untomy path .

    What love is this?

    No other love nothing at all compares with the intimacy of Christ. He alone meets my every need and satisfies my hunger my thirst is quenched . ( The interruptions of the day are simply that now as I reconnect.)

    Now prepare me Lord create in me a clean clean heart for blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. I need to see You, hear You and walk more nearly with You.

    Watch and pray – help me Lord the flesh is weak but the Spirit is willing just like the disciples at Gethsemane.

    Oh make me a channel of your peace.

    Show me oh Lord what is on Your heart and how to pray in accordance with Your will for such a time as this .

    Come Holy Spirit revive me / us – Your Church, Your body and, give us oil in our lamps so that we are ready for your return .

    May You use all distractions to serve for Your kingdoms advancement always .Yes Lord all things work together for the good of those who love You.

    In Your name I pray please bless and edify those who need refreshing and stillness as I do.
    In Your presence there is fullness of Joy .
    The Joy of the Lord be all our strength now and forever. May Your love keep growing in our hearts so that the overflow will nourish and bless all we encounter . Now May the Holy Spirit drench us afresh with a new anointing to undertake that for which You have taken a hold of us .Amen

  3. Wow…..you really ‘nailed’ this one Loretta! I will never distract from my distractions again! Thank you for your insight that God speaks to us and guides us through our seemingly aimless thoughts. It’s no secret that each of us has been led to your reading by the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  4. Thank you. I have similar prayer requests and similar distractions, this is such a blessing to read and to remember when it happens. God answers our prayers in many ways.

  5. Thank you for this! As someone with “ADD” tendencies, I appreciate knowing that God can use those distractions to help me see what God wants me to see.

    • God can and does! God is pretty creative and has been known to use a donkey (think Balaam), words said by “enemies,” a cloudy sky, and even pandemics.

  6. I agree with Jeff > Thanks Jeff!Especially lately my mind is wandering off while I am trying to take in the readings and Reflections and catch up on other prayers that I haven’t been getting to. When I read the first readings (which are from the OLD TESTAMENT) I get really amazed and wonder, can this be really what happened??? So When I read from the time of Jesus I feel a bit better. Maybe I would be better off just sitting quietly and concentrating on Jesus dear face and hope He will Steer me back on track. I am old, ill and so very weary. A.M.D.G.

  7. I’m reminded of Romans 8:26: For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.
    To place ourselves in those everlasting arms. And silence.

    • What a great scripture! We really don’t know how to pray as we ought to. I sometimes nag God by asking for the same thing over and over and over and over. Today, I will instead pray, “Thank you, God, for holding my sick friend in your loving embrace; now I’m going to stop fretting!”

  8. If distractions make the prayer…I must be a saint! Odd, tho, how no one’s noticed…

    all kidding aside, this is a good reflection and most helpful.

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