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Video – Struggling with distractions in prayer

March 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Difficulties, Prayer, Videos

Struggling with Distractions in Prayer

Since this has been our most popular video to date,  I thought I should send it again. Please forward along to email and Facebook friends who might be blessed by insight on how to overcome this universal challenge. In this video, Fr. John Bartunek and Dan Burke talk about how we can better understand and overcome distractions in prayer.

for video post on struggling with distractions in prayerFather John and Dan Burke discuss many questions in regard to this topic, among them: What are the steps to meditation without distractions?  What are the two types of distractions that the spiritual writers talk about a lot? How do we eliminate voluntary distractions? How do we deal with involuntary distractions?  What virtues do we exercise when choosing not to deal with involuntary distractions? How is the Christian battle fought in this regard?  What do the saints have to say about distractions?  Should we become discouraged?  And, where does that discouragement come from?  When do distractions in our prayer life stop? Does God ever take away distractions in prayer?



Art for this post on struggling with distractions in prayer: Still shot of struggling with distractions in prayer provided by Dan Burke and Fr. John Bartunek, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, 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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  • Does falling asleep count as an involuntary distraction? What if in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet,after praying for help and trying again and again, you can’t even get past the “Our Father”? Is it okay to just sleep and pray it in the morning? 

    • Dear Mary, you would find a great deal of comfort reading St. Therese of Liseaux on this topic. Sometimes falling asleep can be a result of a choice of an imbalanced life but when it is otherwise, we shouldn’t worry about it.

      • Thank you! I looked them up and they very comforting. 🙂

    • LizEst

      Mary – It’s OK to just sleep and pray it in the morning. It’s sounds like you could use some rest! The Divine Mercy Chaplet, while encouraged to be prayed at 3 pm, is also permissible to be prayed at any time, especially at the bedside of someone who is dying. And, don’t forget, no matter when you pray it, it is 3 pm somewhere in the world. God bless you, Mary.

      • Thank you! I really wanted to be sure it was okay. Cause I promised to pray it once a day. Good to know 3 elsewhere! Can’t always pray at 3 cause of classes. God Bless you too!

      • Mary, remember Jesus told Saint Faustina to pray this Chaplet unceasingly, for every purpose, at all times. But – and this is where we Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy are finding misunderstandings – is that the Hour of Great Mercy is at 3.00 O’Clock.  Why so?  Because this is the Hour when He died on the Cross.  At this Hour ( that is 3.00 to 4.00 p.m.), He has promised that “the floodgates of Graces are open……whatever you pray for at this Hour with total Trust, it shall be granted if it is in conformity with the Will of God…” And surely as  believers we accept that the Holy Spirit will inspire one to pray for that which is in consonant with God’s Will.

        • LizEst

          Yes, of course, this is true. Three pm is when Jesus died for us and this is the hour of great mercy. It is most beneficial to pray at that time because of his promises. But, that should also not stop us from praying the chaplet at other times, if we cannot do so at the appointed hour. If someone suffers from scruples, this will drive them crazy when they cannot fulfill the 3 to 4 o’clock time. So, even in this regard, we must be merciful in allowing that sometimes that time cannot be fulfilled.

          Again, it is best to pray at this hour and to make that effort. But, when not possible, it is better to pray the chaplet than not to pray it at all. Even still, the chaplet is a devotion, not a requirement (for most). This relaxation in rules (for good reason) can even be seen in the relaxation of the requirement to fast before receiving the Eucharist when someone is ill, or when someone is taking care of someone who is ill. In this case, no fasting is required (as per Canon Law). We must always be careful of laying heavy burdens on people and not lifting a finger to help them (cf Matthew 23:4). “Nothing graces the Christian soul as much as mercy” (St. Ambrose).

          God bless you Mary. You are a true apostle of Divine Mercy! Thanks for highlighting the importance of the 3 o’clock hour.

        • Hi Mary@42! As a
          fellow Divine Mercy devotee I thought that I would share this with you. One
          day, shortly before 3pm, I was on the way to the adoration chapel in my college
          when I passed by a blood drive sponsored
          by the pre-medicine students. While praying the Chaplet and meditating on
          how our Lord shed His blood for our sins, I remembered the blood drive. I took this to mean that our Lord wanted me to donate my blood in the
          blood drive. A small way of imitating Him and how He gives Himself to us. I’d
          never donated my blood before. I was a little scared , but felt that this what God wanted. A week or so later, I read an article that talked about how blood donation could be considered a corporal or spiritual work of mercy! I
          knew this was God confirming His Spirit’s prompting. I am grateful He gave a chance to do that for Him! 
          I wanted to share this with you because I thought you’d appreciate it. I don’t if you and your fellow apostles already have an advocacy like this. 🙂

          • LizEst

            If there are no advocacies like that, it sounds like that could develop into a beautiful new ministry. Thanks for sharing that Mary.

            …and, some day when you have a little more time, if you are still in the mode to donate, try donating some plasma. It takes several hours to do, but also has many applications. It’s harder for medicine to keep as much on hand since not as many people donate plasma because of the time constraints…and some folks don’t even know they can do so.

            God bless you, Mary. What a wonderful advocacy this could be.

          • Thank you Mary…..I truly appreciate your sharing your Spirit-inspired move and your “Yes” response to Him……that is how the Holy Spirit works…..He is talking to us all the time and directing us where He wants us to serve Jesus.

            And you are spot on. You imitated Him, especially when He gives Himself to us, wretched sinners, in the Holy Eucharist. And that is how He “donates” His Pint of Divine Blood to us to cleanse us and strengthen our Sanctifying Grace.

            And yes, this is also one of our Corporal Works of Mercy as Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy – it is beyond “Visiting the Sick” in that we heal the sick by donating blood regularly.

          • Maybe I should try to do this regularly too! Thank you for the affirmation and kind, loving words! I can’t really join any Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy while studying. Maybe someday… 🙂

          • Hey, hey, come on, Mary.  You can become an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy.  You do not have to wait until you complete your Studies!!!!!!!

            Even if there is no Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy Chapter where you live, you can get yourself a copy of Saint Faustina’s Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul.  Read it prayerfully, and Saint Faustina will intercede for you.  You can also learn more about this Devotion on the Intrernet.  And if you are truly interested in this  Devotion, you can contant Rev. Fr Seraphim Michelenko, MIC of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 01263.The Marians will send you relevant materials to get more information about this Devotion. And yes, being a regular Blood Donor is a Grace-filled Corporal Work of Mercy and God will bless your abundantly

          • I’m a subscriber to the Marians Divine Mercy page on Facebook. I have the diary but not been able to read it completely. But the Facebook page posts quotes everyday which I love.
            I’m sure there is a Chapter in the Philppines but my studies and internship are too workload heavy to join right now. After I take the Bar exams. I promise to look them up! 🙂

  • Danboyi Gomsuk

    Sometimes, during prayer, an involuntary thought breezes into the mind with a voice saying things that are uncomplimentary of God and other holy beings! What is the meaning of this, and how could this be eliminated from one’s mind? Is it a sin for such evil thoughts to fly into one’s mind during prayers?

    • Dear Friend, this is probably the enemy. Simply say something like this, “In the name of Christ I reject you and command you to leave.” Then, simply turn your thoughts to Christ and don’t worry about it.

  • GAartist

    I always enjoy these posts and liked this video clip too. I have shared the site with like minded friends. -What I would call “serious” Catholics. (forwarded emails)….and came across an odd struggle.
    I was about to post the video on my facebook to promote this good video clip, and your Good works (I think I had posted another one in the past)…But then I stopped…Why did I stop?..unsure. (Now understand, my facebook has little, to no personal info, mostly pro-life material, and some political views defending my church.)
    So why did I hesitate to post this subject? Did I not want to be seen as  “too” Catholic?. Afraid to appear vain, too pious, or holier than others? Too preachy? Am I embarassed by my own desires to be holy and have a deeper spiritual life? Am I denying God on some level if I can’t put this out there without worrying about what others think? I also question my labeling of my church acquaintances as “serious” or not. Does that make me a spiritual snob, or a realist about too many people not giving enough thought to the gift of God in our lives?…An assumption I came to from seeing poor interest and participation in Adoration or the rosary at church.

    All theses questions came to mind, as I was thinking of a comment to post about the clip.
    What does St. Ignatious say about theses self doubts?
    Talk about distractions……I was supposed to be having my quiet prayer time, and instead I’m on the computer asking more questions, and praying less….Help.


    I may be able to answer this my self…Tell me if I’m on the right path. ..The answer to most of these doubts is a question …What is my INTENTION. If my intention is to help others (Charity), grow in their own spiritual journey, then do not be afraid, embarrased or ashamed.
    (Did Dorothy just find her Ruby slippers?).
    And that comment about “serious” Catholics..that’s Judging and I know better than that.

  • Now, Father John and Dan.  You will never, ever realize just how greatly you have encouraged this old lady by this Video. I have to fight distractions not only during prayers, especially during my daily Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, but in whatever I am doing during the day. Now you have confirmed to me that the method I use to fight them off during Prayers is the right way to perservere in my time with God. May He bless you always

  • BTW. This Sunday Minute Meditation says what I pray for; to remember at all times, that the Time I spend with God is all that matters;  and it is the sole reason why God is adding days to my life

    “Keep Me Focused, Lord.  Time is what I pray about most. The older I get, the more I appreciate the preciousness of time. I only have so much of it allotted to me, and there are no reruns. I have to be busy attending to my Father’s work before the sand in my hourglass runs out.”

  • LizEst

    Ha, Dan! I had to chuckle about your comment re football. My husband and I just returned last night from going to a sports bar/restaurant. We both love football and, if possible, sit so we can each view a TV, then tell each other what is going on.

    At first, I thought I would not post this. But, in thinking about where the Lord is in all this, the thought came that, in our prayer life, not unlike watching football, if we could just get as excited about what the Lord is excited about (our salvation), we would enjoy our faith journey so much more and, perhaps, have greater focus when we take a time-out for prayer. Even though we’re sometimes unable to see/know how the Lord is leading/guiding/coaching us, by trusting Him, the end result is a big win even though Coach sometimes seems to give away the store. (He does know, after all, what He is about: He already took a big one for the team!). It’s much more spiritually satisfying (though not necessarily “fun” in the dark night of the soul). We can talk to him in prayer and rejoice in the plays He calls (let’s not forget the “Hail Mary” pass!), all the while partaking of His many gifts. We can even wear the uniform that St. Paul talks about, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. By being part of His team, we can help draft players, go to the combine, pick up walk-ons, garner support, and lead others to His team and ultimate final victory.

    God bless you, Dan. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Enjoy the games!

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you – gave up television more than a decade ago… no football today.

      • LizEst

        Thank you for your good wishes.

        No TV? Ah! Your place will be great in heaven! I don’t watch much TV these days but I do enjoy seeing my team (pro and college), also some news, etc. Gotta watch to stay on the treadmill (I tried the rosary and the Hours on it but attempting to do that was enough to make me want to give up on both the physical and the spiritual exercise. Ha!).

        …so, not even EWTN? They have good shows there, too, like that Marcus Grodi “Journey Home” program!

        • Ah well – since I work for EWTN it wouldn’t be wise to say that I don’t watch… In reality, I do watch EWTN sometimes via Youtube.

          • LizEst

            ; )) Catholic programming has been of great benefit to many and a wonderful tool in the new evangelization. Ditto for Catholic stuff on YouTube!

          • Sorry for butting in.. but seeing as how you do work for EWTN… Do you know where I could find the program schedule for the Asia-Australia region? Just in case you know… Cause I wanted to see Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s “Hobbit” interview… 

          • Oh Right! Thanks!

  • $1650412

    I love all these videos, but I like how you guys mentioned here not allowing being distracted to become an overarching issue invading the soul because it can be pretty ‘normal’ in prayer. I love the standard guidance to gently reorient everything on Christ with persistent effort or perseverance. I think that sense of steady strength in peace is really great counsel in so many things in helping us to pursue God in the interior life and also in our actions- I found this a particular consolation and encouragement today!  ;O)

  • Ramanie

    Dear Fr John and Dan,
    Thank you Thank you. Thank you. All your videos and articles are so very helpful.Please keep these up as we need your inspirations which is a source of great help. May God Bless you both abundently always.

  • mickie72

    Fr. John and Dan. Thank you so much for this video and all that you post. When I first got this email I didn’t open it . Sometimes there is just a feeling that I should wait. I have been realizing more often that it is God working in me. I finally opened it tonight and watched the video. I now understand why I was to wait. I met with my spiritual director yesterday and we had some good discussion on how to be silent and learn to avoid distractions. How perfect to watch your video after this. I really do love this site. Thank you so much for all your hard work. God bless you always.

    • Thank you for your kind words Mickie. It really is an honor to be able to serve you and all of our readers.

  • nosidam

    Hello!  Thank you for your input.  But so far no one has answered my distraction question.  There is a lady who whispers her prayers in the adoration chapel I go to.  I want total silence yet she whispers and I cannot connect with God and end up leaving.  Any suggestions? I am going to have to kindly ask her to be aware of this.  It is so distracting! Thank you. Julie

    • 24Mark10

      St Therese was distract at prayer with a sister who kept on moving. Instead of becoming frustrated she prayed for that individual. So through prayer for the sister it became an act of love for which Christ has called us to do. This person may not be able to do quiet prayer and so she whispers. Instead of being frustrated by her, pray for her, do not leave and it will become a source of holiness for you and your prayers a blessing for her. 

    • Rita

      Ear plugs work wonders.

    • Becky Ward

      Dear Julie,

      I am very much like you……I feel I NEED quiet in order to pray. However, concerning distractions, Fr. Pinto, the founder of the Disciples of Jesus and Mary, teaches us that it is US we need to be working on. The same distraction does not bother everyone…….SO, it is not a question of, “How am I going to deal with this distraction?”, but rather, “How am I going to deal with myself who gets distracted?”

      This is the evil one at work….it’s like the ticking of a clock. I can go for days without hearing the clock on my wall….then, out of nowhere, it’s the only thing I seem to be aware of!

      Pray for this woman that she might be inspired to pray silently, and be grateful that she attends Adoration. Choose another time to attend adoration. Tell Jesus, “I accept this distraction, which you have allowed Lord, and I offer it to you. Please teach me to find my way to you in spite of distractions.”


      • Becky is exactly right on this. Without the development of an interior discipline, you will never find real peace in prayer. The opportunities for distractions are endless.

        • Dear Dan: In reference to distractions, I have the same problem when praying, especially when I’m at church–the Adoration or Holy Hour. I notice every sound, however small, even when the door is opened! I think this is the action of the Devil. I am a few weeks away from being received into the Church at Easter, and I feel the presence of the Devil going full out to distract me and turn me back from the peace of Christ. The posting today was apt for me at this time. Thank you and God bless you and the others who have commented on distractions.

          • LizEst

            Donald – You are not alone. A friend of mine is going through the same thing. She hopes to enter the Church at Easter and is feeling the full assault of the devil. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus and the Cross. God bless you, Donald. You are only a few weeks away. The Lord, our God, is your strength and your salvation. Your are not alone. My prayers for you.

          • Becky Ward

            Dear Donald, As St.Teresa of Avila would say, “I smell the devil. It is a good sign!” 🙂 He wouldn’t bother us if we weren’t doing things that were good for us. I also know that fears and doubts plague religious as they approach the time of their vows.

            You are in good company!! 🙂 Wishing you a blessed Lent and a Glorious Easter Season!! I will be praying for you.

  • Eastlest

    It is comforting to read other believers comments.  I am glad I found this place.


    • LizEst

      Welcome Maggie! It’s great to have you with us. God bless you.

  • Distractions will never go away unless God quiets the soul. Distractions did drive me crazy. I am however learning to see through them and move on. Some distractions don’t leave right off so as Fr. John and Dan have pointed out we have to keep steering ourselves back to God. Disturbing distractions which are offensive really bother me so Offten I do get hesitant to even pray. I don’t like to battle of fight and I am tired. But if God wants us to be in a constant struggle with distractions to exercise faith hope love and humility and trust, so be it. This video has given me peace and comfort we all go through this. It is something we can’t deminish I mean involuntary distractions and thoughts. It is going to happen! Thanks for pointing it out we just need to steer back to God even if it is 200 or 1000 times this happens. Do distractions and thoughts the involuntary ones happen more as one deepens in prayer and relationship with God. I figured it would be less. I thought I was doing something wrong or not being sincere in prayer and meditation. Exterior distractions are so Offten too. I have to pray and meditate with ear plugs and often I do this when everybody is not home. I know the importance of a distraction free enviroment. I have not found one yet. I really do not have any privacy often I need to find an open church or go to the library to get some quiet. It is hard even to get a holy hour in church without exterior distractions. I have asked for some time free of quiet but my husband likes noise. It drives me crazy. Lately there has been a family emegency and crisis and i have to put alot of my fretime on hold just complete daily tasks and meet my class assignments deadlines. Anybody else living with such difficulties similar to mine? Thank you Fr.John and Dan for explaining the struggle with distractions and God Bless!

    • CLudwick

      Oh my, yes, Teresa! My husband also likes “noise”. He watches the TV a lot. I sometimes go into my room, shut the door and then have less distraction. I have to pray NOT to be resentful of this and my husband, however, or I fear my prayers will just be noise themselves. I sometimes find myself drawn to pray so often that it would be an injustice to my husband and marriage. My spiritual director recently reminded me that I am NOT a nun! 🙂

      It is truly a gift of God that you seem to be able to work through all the distractions. I find this advice in this video to be of great comfort and very helpful.I have found myself getting very frustrated and been tempted to give up. I once heard a priest suggest that if a thought just won’t go away give it 30 seconds and then gently turn back to God and prayer. Dan, Fr – what do you think about this? I still seems to be giving the thought too much importance.

      I, too, have a family situation that is filling much of my time and thought. I just last week in my Holy Hour tried to incorporate that into my prayer time. If something comes to mind regarding this I turn it into a prayer – intercession, praise, thanksgiving, etc. May God continue to bless you in your struggles!

      • I would tend to agree that paying attention in any way to distracting thoughts is problematic. They simply need to be endured and ignored.

  • Robb777

    However, what do we do when our distractions are so intense that we repeatedly fail to notice them until the 7th or eight Hail Mary? Pray them over again?

    • Rob – If you struggle with scrupulosity, simply, calmly and gently turn your attention back and complete the rosary. If you don’t struggle with scrupulosity, you are free to pray them again if you feel you should.

  • Sherry Maghsoodloo

    Very informative. I didn’t realize distractions were either voluntary & involuntary. I learned to turn back to God when they happen. I have a lot of work to overcome them. Thank you so much.

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