I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of prayer — but I’ve also always been a distracted pray-er. (Prayer-sayer? Thanks for being so confusing, English language…)
I start off with good intentions, I really do. I usually begin by thanking God for my family and then somehow 30 seconds later, I’m wondering if mimes have to go to college. (Only kind of joking… And that is a genuine question I have.) I honestly don’t know how my mind wanders so much, but I don’t think becoming distracted during prayers is uncommon.
In order to make my prayers more meaningful (and less distracted), I did some research on strategies to make prayer a more sincere and spiritual experience — and I hope it helps you, too.
Say Your Prayers Aloud
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the First Vision was the result of a vocal prayer. Joseph had a serious question and he wanted a serious answer — and prayers said aloud, in my experience, tend to be more contemplative and void of the same distractions that accompany a silent prayer.
Similarly, the best kind of prayers are conversations rather than “Hey Heavenly Father, let me talk AT you for five minutes. K thx.” In fact, studies have been done to determine the brain’s response to prayer, and results showed that the same part of your brain that is active during a conversation is also active during prayer. Praying out loud (just as you speak out loud during a discussion with someone) will help to produce a conversation rather than a distracted internal monologue about mimes.
Clear Your Mind
“Before you begin your prayer, take a few moments to think about what you want to say. Consider questions you might have or things that have been bothering you—you can even write them down so you don’t forget. Use this time too to clear your mind from the ruckus of the day so you can focus on the gentle impressions of the Holy Ghost. If your mind tends to wander while you pray, try to visualize Heavenly Father listening. Speak in specifics. Also, leave a few minutes at the end of the prayer to listen to the promptings of the Spirit. You might write down your impressions in your journal.” – Henry B. Eyring, First Presidency Message 2015
I think sometimes we imagine that God operates by waving a magic wand that can make all of our problems go away if we simply say the magic words. But that’s not how He works at all. While He certainly has the power to change and bless our lives, He requires that we ask Him and take initiative to fix our own problems. Because of this, I think God expects our prayers to be more along the lines of “Help me to know how to fix this” rather than “Please fix this for me — and soon!” When we are more specific in our prayers, I believe God will be more specific in His answers. Plus, being specific also requires more conscious thought and focus as opposed to asking for the same things in your prayer every single night, which is a sure-fire recipe for mind-wandering.
Pray for Focus
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re like me and find your mind wandering through most of your prayers, ask Heavenly Father for help. As you begin your prayer, pray that you will be able to focus and that the Spirit will be with you to guide your prayer and help you know what to ask. If we are sincere in our desire to deepen our relationship with Heavenly Father, He will help us and gently guide us back when our minds begin to stray toward less important things, such as what we’re having for dinner tomorrow. (Because to be honest, rarely is there a moment when I’m not thinking about eating.)
Expect an Answer
Richard G. Scott said, “His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. You should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes.”
Although the answer may not come while you are on your knees, the answer will come. If we don’t expect God to answer us, it’s easy for our prayers to become half-hearted or perhaps to even not really pay attention to what we’re asking (or even to our prayers in general). If we pray to our Father in Heaven knowing He’ll answer, we’re more likely to be actively engaged in our prayer rather than just going through the motions.
I’m not going to lie — I struggle hardcore with this. I always tell myself, “My prayer will be longer if I say it in bed because I’ll actually be comfortable and not just trying to end my prayer in a hurry so I can get off my knees.” But whenever I say my prayer in bed, my words turn into snores pretty much immediately. Not only is praying while on our knees more respectful, it’s a way to make sure that we don’t fall asleep (which, oddly enough, is a hinderance to keeping our concentration) and that our prayers are more sincere.
When I think about prayer, I often remember going to a BYU-Idaho devotional before my mission. I can’t remember who spoke, but I remember him telling us, “You know, we pray for miracles a lot — but do we ever stop to think about what a miracle it is that we personally can talk to God, the greatest being in the universe?”
Truly, prayer is a miracle — and focused prayers are the best prayers of all.
How do you keep your mind from wandering during prayer? Share in the comments below.