When I first became a Sister of the Holy Cross it was the practice to meditate for an hour a day. To a 17-year-old extravert this hour seemed like an eternity. I operated under the notion that good prayer happened only when you were totally focused on God and God alone.
With so much time, I found myself fighting many distractions. That is what I thought meditation or contemplation was. In my feeble attempts to do this I would spend a lot of time chasing other thoughts from my mind. I got discouraged and thought I was not growing in my spiritual life.
After a few years of this, what I thought to be an impossible exercise, a wise spiritual director suggested to me that when these distractions invade my consciousness I hold them up in prayer. His advice liberated me and helped me see there was more to prayer.
That wise, holy man helped me to realize that our persistent distractions can become our prayer. God has a way of putting certain people and events in our minds for a reason. When our minds drift off and we continue to think about someone or some thing, perhaps we are being encouraged to pray for that person or event.
Another tip was that if our thoughts are about our to-do lists or what we going to have for supper, it often helps to write those thoughts down in a notebook or on a piece of paper so we can deal with them at another time. Otherwise it is hard to focus on the Lord. It is like when you’re having a conversation with someone who is constantly looking at her watch. You get the idea that she has more important things on her mind.
It is also good to remember that we are whole persons. We are not simply creatures with bodies and souls, as if they can be separated from each other. Our person is integrated with our spirit. We must not divide our prayer life from the rest of life.
Our relationship with God touches our whole life, not just when we say prayers or go to church. What is important to us in our daily lives is also important to God and we should discuss our lives with him.
Prayer is not meant to be a discipline or a dirge. I sometimes hear people say, “I have to go say my prayers” or “I must get my prayers in,” as if their prayer is merely an obligation. The idea is to integrate prayer with our lives. God is interested in everything about us. I think he would rather hear about us rather than always receiving formal, already written prayers.
So the next time your mind wanders during Mass or when you sit down to pray, it might be something you should bring to your prayer. That is one way God speaks to us. Listen to him.
Sister Margie Lavonis is a Sister of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Ind., and writes “The Cutting Edge.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.