From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Distractions in Prayer”

“Distractions in Prayer”

We live in a noisy busy world and we’re all human. So when we enter our prayer time, it is probably not long before we get distracted by exterior or interior noise. But there are preparations we can make and tactics we can employ to reduce their likelihood slightly and to deal with them when they arise.

First, try to pray at a time and in a place where you are less likely to be distracted, with minimal artificial and human noise and conversation. Birdsong and gusting wind can be loud but are generally less intrusive. So prepare by telling your family, switching off your phone, removing the ticking clock from the room, and so on.

It is easier to be silent inside in a silent place, but we can be silent inside even in a noisy place. We are all different, so find something that works for you. Even in a silent place, we can be noisy inside. When I pray, it often doesn’t take long for an internal monologue to pop up: thoughts about what I need to do today, or ruminations over a disagreement, or …

Distractions happen! The tactics that help me start with entry into prayer: begin by asking the Spirit’s help and consent to God’s presence and action in your heart. Then, as and when you notice that you are distracted, the key is not to follow that noise or thought. A vague awareness or musing can be let go, but following it gives it solidity and might add emotion, and you can get stuck there. Also, try not to judge yourself. This is another way of solidifying distraction. As I said, we’re all human. Simply turn your attention back to your prayer.

[Note that your deep mind might surface an issue you do need to look at, that needs healing or forgiveness, for example. In this case, stay with it and ask God to guide you, heal what needs healing, or help you to forgive or ask forgiveness. If need be, seek professional help.]

Last week, I described Centring prayer and the use of a sacred word. When you notice distraction, gently recall the sacred word once as a means of refocusing your attention. Sometimes you might sink deeply into prayer. Sometimes external noise can be helpful and make you realise you are distracted. Sometimes internal thoughts can drive you to distraction! Just keep on returning to the sacred word – it is a good thing to keep turning your attention to God.

Your surface mind is not a good gauge of the quality of your prayer time. You might feel as though you have been continually distracted, while in the depths beneath your surface mind you have drawn near to God. So at end of your prayer thank God for what you received, and pray for the grace to carry it through the rest of your day.


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.