Distracted Prayers: Hidden Reasons for Avoiding God

Jan 25, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts members,

Journeying together over the past few weeks, we have been exploring the inner psychological factors that fuel our distractions in prayer, impelling our redirection and ultimately undermining our prayer life, causing us to avoid God.

Hidden reasons of the heart

Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French Catholic mathematician, philosopher, physicist, inventor, and lover of God wrote in his Pensées:

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.

The origin of so many of your distractions is not your mind, though it may seem that way to you. Rather, the origin of so many of your distractions in prayer is your heart. And I mean that literally – biologically.

Your heart has 40,000 neurons, which some scientists refer to as the heart’s own “little brain” or more formally as the Intrinsic Cardiac Autonomic Nervous System. Your heart is intimately connected to the limbic system in your brain, which is the anatomical seat of your emotions.

Fr. Jacques Philippe in his excellent book on prayer Thirsting for God writes “… in the spiritual life it is absolutely indispensable that our feelings and emotions play their parts. If we have never actually tasted God’s presence and tenderness, he remains a stranger for us, far off, an abstraction, purely an idea.” (p. 41).

I am so invested in the salvation of hearts, not just souls. If your heart is saved, the rest of you will be saved as well. That is why our outreach is named “Souls and Hearts;” I am so committed to praying with our entire being, not just with our minds, our thoughts, but with our hearts, with every fiber within us.

Over-analyzing distractions or ruminating on them won’t help them go away. Although many Catholic spiritual writers counsel ignoring distractions as the best solution, the unaddressed distractions do find their way back into our prayer time repeatedly. Simply willing distractions to disappear does not provide the answer.

Seek and ye shall find — these words of our Lord hold a promise. Seeking, addressing, and understanding the underlying needs of your heart will calm down or quiet your brain and create a space for prayer. I want to help you develop a prayer life like St. Therese of Lisieux described:

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” (Manuscrits autobiographiques, C 25r; see also the Catechism, 2558).

I want you to be able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) – To experience, in every fiber of your being, the love, goodness and mercy of God. Not just in your head.

So many people pray just in their heads, just in their thoughts. They are saying prayers, but not entering into prayer – into a quiet, calm, dynamic relationship with a loving, attentive, present God.

In the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27), Our Lord expresses His deep desire for union with us. He asks for much more than just our thoughts, minds, heads…

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Notice that God desires your mind – but your mind is mentioned third in this Commandment, following your heart and your soul. God wants your heart first.

God wants your whole being.

An answer to distractions in prayer

In this weekly reflection, I offer you keys to access the hidden, underlying whys that drive your distractions in prayer. Not by thinking, not by engaging your frontal cortex, but by entering deeply into your own heart and listening to the reasons for avoiding God by distractions.

We need to speak the language of the heart if we want to connect with ourselves at this deep level. Books, thoughts, philosophy, concepts, and analysis are not the language of the heart, as important as they may be in our other endeavors.

So what is the language of the heart?

Experience.

And more specifically, the lived experience of love. The lived experience of love is the language of the heart. God made our hearts to experience love deeply. Real love. His love.

Many of us have hearts plunged in darkness – with deep loneliness, isolation, disconnection, alienation, abandonment, betrayal, shame, and other wounds.

Reflect on Isaiah 9:2: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. The light and love of God is not just for the unchurched living in remote tribes in the Amazon rainforest or those living under religiously intolerant regimes in North Korea and Afghanistan.

This passage from Isaiah is for us. This message of hope is for the parts of us who are suffering in the darkness within our hearts. Those parts of us who live in terror of God, who are angry at God, who rage at God because of perceived injustices, who feel so alienated from God.

You have those parts whether other parts of you are willing to admit it or not. We all do, a result of our fallen human condition.

Our parts holding fear move toward self-protection, and away from connection with God. I detailed this process in Episode 89 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast titled Your Trauma, Your Body: Protection vs. Connection. We pull within ourselves, we close ourselves off from relationships, licking our wounds and rejecting the vulnerability required in love. In short, we harden our hearts. We harden our hearts against ourselves, against others, and against God. Not necessarily because we are malicious and want revenge – but because we are afraid and desire to protect ourselves.

If we close ourselves off from love, we abandon love, no matter what the underlying reasons. We have fled from God, who is love. We have sinned against Love.

Ways we avoid God and flee from Love

We avoid God and abandon love in two primary ways:

  1. Through not setting aside time for prayer (see the reflection from January 4, The Secret Psychological Reasons We Fail to Make Time for Prayer for more on this); or
  2. Through consciously or unconsciously entertaining distractions in prayer (see January 11 Distraction and Prayer: Satan, Symptoms, or Something Else? and January 18 Distractions in Prayer: When our Parts Cry for Help for more on this).

God will not avoid us

But God promises to help us. He tells us in Ezekiel 36:26, A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. God offers us a heart secure in Him, and secure in our identity as being His little beloved sons and daughters.

Our eternal goal is heaven, and by God’s grace when we reach the beatific vision, we will enter with all our parts — healed, ordered, and integrated. No parts left behind.

You as your innermost self can start now by reaching out to the parts in the recesses of your heart, and connecting with them and their needs. You can learn to love yourself better in all your parts. A series of my recent reflections delved into the reasons for loving yourself in an ordered way, to satisfy your intellectual parts’ needs to understand why experiencing love is so important:

Experiential exercises

Many of you are familiar with experiential exercises from the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast; here are some recent recordings:

Action Plan

Now, I am inviting you into a 22-minute experiential exercise titled Finding the Hidden Reasons Why You Get Distracted in Prayer to help you understand your own heart much more deeply, especially on this topic of why you become distracted in prayer.

Here is the challenge – find 22 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time, and listen to this exercise. I will walk you through a guided reflection to help you begin to connect with parts of you whom you may never have recognized before.

After this exercise, share your experiences with someone. Put them into words, to the degree you can, and bring them into relationship – with a spouse, a friend, your spiritual director or confessor, someone you trust. You are welcome to share them with me. You can email me at [email protected] and share what the experiential exercise was like for you. Text me or call me on my cell phone (317.567.9594) during my conversation hours, which are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time, and let me know how the experience of going inside to explore and connect went for you.

I also encourage you to pray the Litanies of the Heartthe Litany of the Closed Heart, the Litany of the Fearful Heart, and the Litany of the Wounded Heart. Downloadable PDFs are available on our landing page. Dr. Gerry Crete, co-founder of Souls and Hearts and licensed marriage and family therapist, was inspired to write these litanies. Prayerfully holding the isolated, disconnected, wounded, hurting, ashamed and abandoned parts of your heart close in prayer will be healing.

Interior Integration for Catholics – new episodes

Don’t forget to catch the experiential exercise in Interior Integration for Catholics podcast episode 104, released on January 16, 2023, titled Connecting with Your Angry Parts. This recording guides your innermost self in helping your parts who bear the burden of anger, resentment and bitterness as well as parts who work to protect you against your anger.

The Resilient Catholics Community

Experiential exercises are a core part of the curriculum in the Resilient Catholics Community, where more than 100 of these recordings are archived. If you resonate with this type of interior work, visit our landing page to learn more.

Please share these resources

Please keep sharing these reflections and the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast with those whom you think might benefit and continue to spread the word about Souls and Hearts. In recent days the IIC podcast has exploded with downloads, nearly doubling our recent average rate of downloads. That’s because of you. We don’t spend money on advertising Souls and Hearts – we’re a grassroots movement that relies on the passion of our members to spread the word to those who can benefit from what we have to offer. So thanks to all of you who have been sharing these resources with others.

And most of all thank you for your prayers. This whole enterprise is fueled by prayer. Please keep Souls and Hearts and me in your prayers, every day. I am praying for you as well.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Again, here is the 22-minute experiential exercise titled Finding the Hidden Reasons Why You Get Distracted in Prayer. Don’t forget about it! It is the ‘key’ I have been promising you, and I really do believe it can help you understand your own heart much more deeply, especially on this topic of why you become distracted in prayer.

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