There is no one, at any time or in any place, who does not experience distractions when praying. All sorts of disconnected thoughts and emotions sweep through the one praying, kidnapping focus and intention, often for the entire prayer time. While batting away such distractions sometimes proves effective, efforts to banish them can just as often intensify them, so that the harder one tries not to be distracted, the more distracted one becomes.

A potentially more productive response might be to give those distractions some attention. What seem initially to be nothing more than distractions could be something in us that is being overlooked and deserves our consideration, even though we may have judged it inappropriate and unwanted as a subject for prayer. If the thought or emotion truly is nothing more than a distraction, so much inner clutter that is stirring, then that will soon become apparent. We seize it, we study it, we offer it to God in prayer—and it dissolves. Those distractions which are worth our attention will reveal their meaning for us once we place them deliberately in a prayerful context.

Sometimes the distractions can be a kind of warning that we are not being honest in our prayer. The teaching we receive of the values we want to embody, of patience and kindness, of fairness and compassion, may lead us to conclude that when we pray, God only wants to see our best selves. So we come to prayer with nice words and a nice demeanor, all the while trying to hide the turmoil within, the very not nice emotions of anger and bitterness. Tamping down our real feelings can send them sideways into the shape of distractions.

God invites us to bring ourselves, our whole selves, just as we are, to prayer. In fact, God prefers us just as we are over any manufactured or pretend version of ourselves, however pretty and admirable that might appear. God wants to be in communication with the actual person as we have been created. That is more than good enough for God.