Lost in meandering, distracting thoughts while you pray? Here’s a simple suggestion to regain your focus.
Posted in , Dec 2, 2019
I hear this question all the time, “What do I do when my mind wanders while I pray?” I found a great answer in a book written hundreds of years ago.
The authorship of The Cloud of Unknowing is a mystery. Maybe he was a monk, maybe a priest, writing in English—Middle English—sometime in the late 14th century. Giving a younger friend advice on prayer.
I depend on a translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher to penetrate the depths of The Cloud’s practical wisdom. As Butcher points out, the author wished to remain anonymous for a reason. The light was to be shone on God, not him.
“God’s not asking for your help,” Anonymous writes. “He wants you to lock your eyes on Him and leave Him alone to work in you. Your part is to protect the door and windows, keeping out intruders and flies.”
Those intruders and flies? Our interrupting, unwelcome thoughts. In my prayer practice, when I sit on my sofa and close my eyes, inevitably I’ll start thinking of something I need to do at work, an email I should send, a question I need to ask. Intruders and flies indeed.
Then I do something Anonymous suggests, which is to use a single word to pull me back to my intent. “The shorter the word, the more it helps the work of the spirit,” he writes. “God or love works well. Pick one of these or any other word you like, as long as it is one syllable.”
Why only one syllable? Maybe it’s so we don’t get caught up with anything too complicated, too stuck in our minds. As he says, “Nobody’s mind is powerful enough to grasp who God is. We can only know Him by experiencing His love.”
Prayer is a chance to sit and savor God’s love, to remember how important it is. “We can’t think our way to God,” the author writes. But we can meet the Lord in prayer.
“That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know,” he writes, “to love the one thing I cannot think. He can be loved, but not by thought.”
Lost in prayer? Good for you. Lost in meandering, distracting thoughts? Try this: focus on a single short powerful word, say it quietly to yourself, and go back to your prayer.
You’ll be doing something believers have done for hundreds of years.