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I am too tired to focus in prayer, what can I do?

May 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Difficulties, Prayer, Vocal

Dear Dan, I have a question regarding the rosary that I'm hoping you can help me with. I love to pray the rosary and typically I'm able to meditate on the mysteries. Sometimes, I find myself not being able to for post on being too tiredsleep, but tired enough that I'm not able to effectively focus on the mysteries. In that situation, like last night, I focused my mind on each word, it was almost like praying against a white background, while I just focused on each word of the rosary with my intent on being able to draw my heart to God and away from distractions as much as I can. Is this an acceptable way to offer up the rosary?

Thank you for your blog. I am a quadriplegic and don't have access to any sort of formal spiritual direction, so your blog has been a very welcome addition to my regular reading. God bless you.

Dear Friend, your question was moving to me. I am grateful that this apostolate has been a blessing to you. It is amazing how many people we come across who have very limited access to assistance in their spiritual journey. Your situation is a perfect example of the importance of providing this kind of material. With my admiration, here are a few thoughts.

Too Tired to Focus in Prayer

It might give you comfort to know that this is a universal problem. St. Thérèse of Lisieux suffered with this problem. Here's a beautiful reflection of her sentiments on this topic from her Story of a Soul:

O Jesus, Your little bird is happy to be weak and little. What would become of it if it were big? Never would it have the boldness to appear in Your presence, to fall asleep in front of You. Yes, this is still one of the weaknesses of the little bird: when it wants to fix its gaze upon the Divine Sun, and when the clouds prevent it from seeing a single ray of that Sun, in spite of itself, its little eyes close, its little head is hidden beneath its wing, and the poor little thing falls asleep, believing all the time that it is fixing its gaze upon its Dear Star. When it awakens, it doesn’t feel desolate; its little heart is at peace and it begins once again its work of love. It calls upon the angels and saints who rise like eagles before the consuming Fire, and since this is the object of the little bird’s desire the eagles take pity on it, protecting and defending it, and putting to flight at the same time the vultures who want to devour it. These vultures are the demons whom the little bird doesn’t fear, for it is not destined to be their prey but the prey of the Eagle whom it contemplates in the center of the Sun of Love.

As someone who suffers from chronic pain and a very challenging sleep disorder, I understand what it means to be tired during prayer – so much so that I have fallen asleep while standing up during Mass (yes, you do fall down when that happens if you don't catch yourself quickly enough)! That said, I have also taken aggressive measures regarding diet, medication, and sleep pattern modification. There is no excuse when we fail to do all that is within our power to mitigate challenges we face. However, when all of our good efforts fail or fall short, when our bodies fail us as they will all of us eventually, we recognize, as did St. Thérèse, that God is merciful and He understands the challenges we face and the weak vessels that we are. In this light, we can wake up and bring our heart and mind back into focus recognizing that we are loved and cherished and that the effort we have put forth to worship Him is reciprocated with love and tenderness.

The Battle of Prayer

Praying the Rosary one word at a time is an excellent way to work to turn our hearts to Him and to our honoring of Mary! There have been times when I have had to pray my vocal prayers with a measure of determined but gentle force in order to keep my mind and heart engaged. This doesn't sound all that contemplative but these are times when we are wrestling ourselves and our weaknesses to Him and not times of ease and delight. The key here is to avoid getting frustrated. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#572) describes this challenge in terms of a “battle”:

Prayer is a gift of grace but it always presupposes a determined response on our part because those who pray “battle” against themselves, their surroundings, and espectially the Tempter who does all he can to turn them away from prayer. The battle of prayer is inseparable from progress in the spiritual life…

Whatever you are feeling is what you are feeling, whatever you can do is what you can do, no need to lament or allow anxiety to rule you. Simply turn back to Him a thousand times if you must. Remember that a glance toward Him will bring a response of loving grace. I have no doubt that even the smallest acts of devotion, if they are all we can offer, are of great significance in the kingdom of heaven.

An hour of prayer where we struggle and fight to focus on mere minutes or even seconds of attention to Him can be more meritorious than an hour of tranquil unafflicted devotion.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Joanna

    Dear friend, Your question has given me much strength and much encouragement, because even I am often too tired to pray, or too unfocused, after/because of  all the unending and demanding chores of the day.  I do my best but sometimes it is still seemingly rather futile.  Your way of saying the rosary has encouraged me to say it that way too.  What I do during the day is make continuous ejaculatory prayers to Jesus, to show Him that I am thinking of Him, and hopefully… Him with me.  

  • Ramaniew

    Dear Friend,
    I too found it difficult to pray the rosary even though I had a great desire to say the rosary.By God’s grace I found a little book of the scriptural rosary where each Hail Mary had a little sentence to give your mind a picture. This helped me so much that I memorized it . Now I am able to keep my mind on the mystery. Hope you too can get a book on scriptural rosary and give it a try. May God be with you always.

  • Sandy

    Dan, your advice regarding distractions in prayer move my heart because they are so true.  I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t struggle with distractions during prayer.  Grace abounds when we fight against these distractions to return our gaze to God over and over again.  The key part is to not give up to the distractions.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  

    • Well said and worth repeating “Grace abound when we fight” and then rest in the knowledge that He will take care of the rest.

  • Akpennongun Tarbunde

    Thanks, Dan, for the additional encouraging words.

    For me, I place the small statue & picture of Our Blessed Mother, + picture of the Divine Mercy icon, in front of me, to evade distractions.

    I look upon these, each from one to the other, & back again (keeping in mind the Holy person of my mental or vocal prayer).

    The raised hand of Christ in the Divine Mercy icon, seems to wave to me in holy greetings from Christ, Himself; & to draw my attention to His heart, to see the inebriating blood & cleansing water of His Passion.

    Not sure, if I mix too much together, but it helps me focus in praying the Holy Rosary.

    Perhaps, our friend & others may wish to try. Again, thanks Dan.

    -Tarbunde
      

    • Great thoughts Akpennongun – thanks!

  • Corabc

    After reading this sharing, my tears won’t stop dripping because I have the same problem too due to my illness symptoms.. sometimes I feel guilty because my usual tecnique is that I have to have a nap even just less than an hour during the day so that I can concentrate my daily prayer routines but sometimes I thought perhaps it’s not the proper way, I should do the prayer first thing in the morning etc. Somehow, I have learned some tips now.. and will try to practice it. Please pray for me to be more sincere to my daily religious activities as well as the conversion of my family and friends who are away from God. A million thanks always. Sincerely, Cora x x

    • You are welcome. Do all you can and then rest in Him.

  • I have a question… There was a time I was quite tired from lack of sleep days past and hard work during the day and so I kept falling asleep…I woke after a decade of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Normally I’d get angry at myself. But that time I felt consolation it was okay… To sleep a bit then finish the Chaplet later that night. After a few hours, (no alarm set) I woke up again and finished the Chaplet… My question is…Is it okay that I chose to sleep for a bit before finishing the prayer?

    Other times, I beg God for the grace to finish my prayer and kneel down to help stay awake. And say Thank You to Him when I am able to finish it. Experiences like these are good reminders that prayer is a gift and we are entirely dependent on Him even if prayer is dry or are struggling through the prayer. That we finish it at all is a great gift!

    • Hi, Maria. I have a question for you.  If an excited child of say, 4 years runs to her father to pour out all the excitements of the day and then slowly falls asleep on his lap, what would the father do???….we were discussing difficulties in prayer at our Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy Cenacle and each one of us had a different answer.  The one we finally settled on was that, the father would adjust his sitting position gently – in order not to wake up the little darling – and just hold her tenderly and lovingly in his arms as her head lies on his chest…….he would from time to time glance at her peaceful beautiful face and an overwhelming warmth of love would wash his heart…..

      Maria, as my Confessor last week explained to me when I poured out my repentance that my mind usually wanders during prayer and at other times I fall asleep as I am praying my final Divine Mercy Chaplet in bed, that is how God, or our Lady responds when we fall asleep during prayers even though we had prepared ourselves and placed ourselves in His or her Presence before commencing the Prayers…..God understands our weaknesses and loves us just as we are.  Remember, He understands us better than we understand ourselves……our sincere intentions to pray well and remain attentive in His Presence pleases Him immensely……I was advised that as long as I continue to strive to improve my Prayer pattern and attentiveness during prayer, God’s Grace  will sanctify my Prayers even if I feel they are thoroughly imperfect.

  • I have a question…

    There was a time I lacked sleep for two past nights and was tired from hard work in a social action… That might I kept falling asleep. I woke after the first decade. I started to feel angry at myself. But then I felt as though God was telling me it was okay and to sleep a bit before finishing the Chaplet later that night. I woke a few hours later, finished the Chaplet then went to sleep. I’m sure I felt consolation at the time.

    My question is…was it right for me to sleep a bit before finishing my prayer?

    • Is it right for a toddler to chatter away in devotion and peace with her mother and then drift into sleep? How does the mother see the child who his at rest in her lap? What happens when she rises again to resume her delightful ways? If the child is a good child and seeks to please her mother, how will her mother receive her when she wakes?

      •  Thank you so much! Your words are very comforting! I can be scrupulous…and uncertain of my own discernment…

    •  Sorry this got doubled…I thought my computer messed up and I was really hoping for an answer…

  • Spina1953

    Dear friend, many years ago I to would fall asleep while prying the rosary. it bothered me much because of it. I asked my confessor about it and he told me that the angels finished the rosary for me. even now there are times when it seems so hard to pray and sleep seems to want to close my eyes I feel thsat somehow that if I fall asleep that it’s because I have much trust in Our Lord and have no fear of Him as I know that he has never hurt me or harmed me in any way but I do try to pray anyway even thopugh I get so very tired as it’s about spending time with god and not about me. may God bless you always

  • Patricia Palmer

    Wow that is so wonderfull because I too have been struggling because of phatigue do to loss of sleep with eternal lower back pain. Thanks be to God for you and this ministry! I too have not been able to find a Spiritual Director and this is helping me so much to receive these emails each day! There have been so many times that what I am struggling with I find an answer in your respsonses!

    • Dear Patricia – I am grateful we can serve you. Don’t give up the search!

  • Pbclaire

    Thank you – I NEEDED that!

  • NotEnoughFlair

    Seeing as how you quoted Little Therese in your article, I’d liek to share a passage that gives me great consolation when I’m struggling with prayer, especially vocal prayers like the Rosary:

    “However, I would not want you to believe, dear Mother, that I recite without devotion the prayers said in common in the choir or the hermitages. On the contrary, I love very much these prayers in common, for Jesus has promised to be in the midst of those who gather together in His name. I feel then that the fervor of my Sisters makes up for my lack of fervor; but when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her. Now I am less desolate; I think that the Queen of heaven, since she is my MOTHER, must see my good will and she is satisfied with it.”

  • Christopher Bowen

    Thank you Dan, I’ve really been looking forward to your response and I very much appreciate your insight and encouragement. I also very much appreciate all of the comments from you, my brothers and sisters. I love that technology has made it possible to be in such intimate contact with other members of Christ’s body that, we otherwise would not experience until entering the heavenly kingdom. It is a great comfort to know that so many others struggle with the same sort of distractions during prayer but, not in the misery loves company sort of way, if you know what I mean? 🙂

    Thank you for speaking about the issue of anxiety. Sometimes, I do get so anxious about the effort to meditate perfectly on the mysteries that I have become additionally burdened with worrying about the sin of scrupulosity. I’ve many times found myself repeating the Hail Marys a number of times, until satisfied that my mind was properly engaged in the prayer, because either my thoughts have wandered to other things or even to nothing at all. I definitely needed a reminder that while Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” He understands that we are not yet perfected, and is not standing by tallying up the number of times our prayers and devotions were not perfect, to inflict some sort of punishment.

    Your reminder that He loves us and cherishes every moment that we turn toward Him has been gratefully received, thank you. It is precisely by coming to Him in our weakness, that He is able to strengthen us. This is, after all, as you have rightly pointed out, a battle that we are engaged in and I sometimes forget that the enemy is striving to steal our joy and peace, to make us ineffective warriors for Christ. It’s in the desire to love and glorify God, and not in a perfect formula, that He is indeed glorified. For which, in turn, He will pour out his Spirit upon us to empower us to be made perfect. Praised be Jesus Christ!

    May God richly bless you for being a fulfillment of Proverbs 27:17.

    Christopher

  • Generally every night from 11:00 pm to about 1:30 am is my best time to pray.  Like all of you, I have to fight fatigue and sleepiness.  I created my parish website, including a DEVOTIONS page (Here:  
    http://stpaulbr.webs.com/devotions.htm ). 

     I use this page to help me pray and meditate.  At the top is the Mass, a spiritual communion, Liturgy of the Word with text/audio/music,, multiple versions of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and of the Rosary.  Other devotions follow.  The variety helps to stimulate you and keep your attention. 

     Explore the other pages on the website; the website is rich in teachings, prayer, and other spiritual helps.  Over a thousand videos will support you through the church liturgical year and help you to grow in LOVE for the Lord.

  • $1650412

    “Remember that a glance toward Him will bring a response of loving grace. “This is such an encouraging post- both the question from the  person praying and this response! I love this phrase above from Dan’s response. 

  • Rounke60

    This responce was helpful to me.

  • Mobrien7

    Hello,

    Excellent topic and explanations. I will be sharing this with my children to help them in their formation.

    Mike

  • Ickessharon

    I, too, have struggled with prayer and the rosary then I found the Divine Mercy and the 3:00 chaplet that has brought me closer to God than any other attempts I have made during my lifetime. I always felt the desire to pray but could not keep my mind focused for very long. Divine Mercy and their prayer line and devotional materials have helped me immensely. I am now a Marian Helper and spend one hour per week praying for those who requested prayers through the prayer line. I also was fortunate to receive an iPad from my daughter so that I can see and talk to her in Amsterdam and this tool has brought me so much like using the Rosary on YouTube to recite this prayer with others saying the rosary instead of by myself and not concentrating as I should. I thank God for his many ways to open our hearts and our minds.

    • akpennongun_tarbunde

      Brother Ickessharon,
       
      Good to read yours, too. God bless you.

      May I add that often, I ‘join’ Mother Angelica, or Fr. Mitch Pacwa on EWTN to pray the Holy Rosary.

      I so do, also for the Divine Mercy in songs on EWTN.

      It refreshes me, in the tedium & bodily weakness in these devotional prayers.

      Share my experience here, so other brethren may wish to
      try, to maintain fidelity to these prayers.

      May He grant us grace.  

  • Gigi Hugs2

    Dear Dan,
    I thank God for people like you and your faithful readers. It gives me hope. I try to pray always by talking with God, Jesus, Mary and the saints. I try to say the rosary during the day because I usually do fall asleep when I pray at night. One of those nights when I was praying the rosary I fell asleep. I dreamt that Moonstones were falling from my mouth onto a leaf of a Lilly. I became fully awake and realized I was praying Hail Marys. My soul was praying the rosary while I slept. I was in awe.

  • Guest

    It’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one that struggles with this issue. 

    When praying the rosary, I use a trifold pamphlet that briefly lists each mystery with a small picture symbolizing the mystery as well. This normally works to keep me focused.

    However, if I still can’t keep my focus I will look up each mystery in the bible before praying the decade.  I realize this seems counterintuitive because it takes more effort, but I have found that I receive the best graces when I lean on God to keep my focus.  More than once, after praying this way, I have experienced a profound sense of internal joy and peace.

  • Teacher_charity

    Superb! Thank you.

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