Like the prodigal son, my mind wanders recklessly into a far country when I pray. In moments of solitude when I am just getting close to God, my brain shifts into gear and speeds off down the freeway.
I tried making a list. I tried walking around with my eyes open. I tried praying out loud and I tried praying real loud. The harder I tried to eliminate the distractions the more often they came to me and the more frustrated I became.
Then an idea came to me unexpectedly. What if the interruptions are God’s effort to dialogue with me in prayer? Perhaps God has a better idea about what I need to pray about than I do. What if I allowed him to use the distractions to direct my prayers?
I decided to surrender my prayer agenda and to stop fighting the interruptions. Instead of battling my wandering mind, I lift up each random thought in prayer when it comes: "Lord I'm thinking about doughnuts. You got any idea why?" Sometimes praying on it clears the thought away, but other times God uses the thought to speak to me (like convicting me that there’s a hole in our relationship). Besides opening a new world of dialogue with God, my learning to pray the interruptions instead of fighting them, revealed to me other benefits.
At times my prayers are interrupted by what appears to be inappropriate subjects –distracting images, anger about the news that I see, and events that I just don’t understand. My response used to be denial. I didn’t want to admit those thoughts could invade my prayer time. Frustrated, I would push them away. If they came back, I pushed harder. But the pushing became a distraction in itself.
One morning in prayer I was distracted by my irritation with a particular Christian. I was bitter because of by my ineffective attempts to disciple this stubborn believer.
“Just once, Lord.” I prayed, “Could you give me some one I didn’t have to push so hard?”
God answered, “Why don’t you let Me take care of it?” God’s reply showed that I had been harboring a burden that wasn’t mine to carry. Had I ignored the distraction, I would likely have kept carrying it. Sometimes God uses praying through the distractions to cleanse them from my mind. It has awakened a new honesty and transparency in my relationship with God. It has been a great release from the felt guilt of the distractions and comfort knowing that God wants to direct our conversation and not simply sit back and let me ramble.
I have learned to dislike sticking with my prayer list because a list is safe. A list can be used to pray for other people’s needs while conveniently overlooking my own shortfalls.
But paying attention to the interruptions doesn’t allow for that careful avoidance. It forces me to address sins, regrets, short comings I normally wouldn’t choose to include on my list. Now when my prayers are interrupted with, “you need to devote more time to being intimate with God,” I don't just push the thought away, I stop to pray about it.
If there’s guilt tied to the issue I’ve been sweeping under the rug, praying about it brings forgiveness. And since I’m actually praying about it instead of ignoring it, I’m more likely to make changes in those areas.
By taking on the Lord’s prayer list, and by willingly accepting a distraction as an area to explore with Him, I’m doing a lot more listening. My prodigal mind is beginning to follow the path home – the path that takes me straight to the Father.