Distraction and PrayerNov 30, 2022
Blog by Alan Fadling
I wonder if you ever experience the same thing I sometimes do when I sit down to pray and be still in the presence of God. Suddenly, I think of all kinds of tasks needing my attention. They may be perfectly legitimate administrative responsibilities. They may even be important projects I’m currently working on. But they aren’t the way I intended to engage in prayer.
I find these lines from Rev. Henri Caffarel’s little book Being Present to God to be quite helpful:
If you have no sooner begun your mental prayer, than you feel the urge to return to your professional activities, is it not because you are driven to prove to others (and first of all to yourself) that you are a “capable” man, creative and efficient? Be on your guard. I fear that you are yielding to an insidious, dangerous temptation, that threatens to throw you into the company of those whom Christ condemned: the rich. A rich man is a “somebody” who can, who has, and who is.**
That last line calls to mind the insights of another Henri—Henri Nouwen—who said that we’re tempted to define ourselves by all the things we do, all the things we acquire, and all the good things others say about us.
The Spirit of God would gladly empower my resolve to sit quietly before God when that’s what I intend. However, I’m sometimes tempted to view silent prayer as unproductive and fruitless. I’m tempted instead to get to work. But often that impulse to get busy does not lead to anything fruitful that I care about. The “return to my professional activities” usually just means distracting myself with administrative tasks that may eventually need attention but don’t matter that much in the long run.
It’s interesting that Caffarel uses the common biblical metaphor of “the rich” to describe those who rely on their own resources and initiatives rather than learning to act from a place of rootedness in trust and inner stillness. I will never do good work if I think it mostly grows out of some sense of being a “somebody.” I will do good work only when I remember and welcome that God has prepared good work for me to do each day. All that I need—energy, creativity, perseverance, focus—I have in abundance in God as I step with him into the work. I may not feel that abundance if I sit idly and let fear, anxiety, or self-doubt hinder my activity.
All this abundance is not like what the rich hoard for themselves. It is abundance to be shared, to be given away. This is the way of entering fully into God’s abundance and multiplying it through good work. This is the way that abundance becomes a source of joy and well-being for me and for those I serve. Amen.
- Can you identify with the temptation to “get busy” when you sit down to pray? How might you resist that voice the next time you pray?
**Rev. Henri Caffarel, Being Present to God: Letters on Prayer, trans. Angeline Bouchard (New York: Alba House, 1983), p. 53.