How I’m Learning to Focus in Prayer

Blog post title + woman praying in sunlightI’m terrible at meditating. Here’s a sample of how it’s gone for me when someone tries to guide a group through a meditation exercise:

Guide: Close your eyes and relax.

Relax? Does she know how much I have going on in my life? She might as well ask me to stop breathing.

Guide: Breathe deeply. In…out…in…out…

Okay, we’ve demonstrated we can all breathe. But if I do this deep-breathing thing much longer, I’m going to get lightheaded.

Guide: Your muscles are loosening, your body is sinking into the ground, you’re completely still and relaxed. Let yourself go.

Oh great, now I can’t move. Maybe if I wiggle my toes in my shoes, she won’t see. Oops, I’m tapping my fingers. I need to stop that!

Guide: Now imagine yourself sitting at the edge of a peaceful lake. The sun is setting, the wind is calm, the water is placid.

I can see the lake. Calm, calm… Ooh, a jet ski just went by! Cool, there’s a sailboat passing. Wait, is that a pontoon with a party on it? Geez, it’s a playground out there on my lake!

Yeah, I have a really hard time relaxing, emptying out brain, and staying still. I’ve always been a fidgety person, and my mind is no different—it’s a madhouse in there.

So then I decide I’m going to pray. And you know what happens? I start out really well, getting right through the Dear God and gratitude for His glory parts, but a few minutes in, it’s like that jet ski goes by, followed by a sailboat and a party pontoon. My thoughts diverge into all kinds of rabbit trails that lead me off in wild directions.

It’s hard for me to let everything else fall away and be meditative before my God.

It's hard for me to let everything else fall away and be meditative before my God. Click To Tweet

BUT I discovered something really awesome when I was in France at a recent writers’ retreat. Once again, I was in a circumstance where a leader was guiding us through a meditation. It was supposed to be about our writing specifically, but I used the experience to learn more about how I can better meditate and pray.

For those of you who are fidgety and/or brain-busy like me, here’s what finally worked!

I imagined myself moving in my meditation. That is, once I had that body of water in my mind (it was an ocean actually), I put myself on a horse riding down the beach, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and the ocean waves crashing on the sand. It was an extremely relaxing picture for me, but it wasn’t still. Then guess who showed up? Jesus. Oh yeah, riding on a horse beside me. He and I went galloping down the beach, talking and laughing. It was awesome!

And suddenly I thought, Hey, if I pray like this, I might make it all the way to more Amens!

Hey, if I pray like this, I might make it all the way to more Amens! Click To Tweet

Maybe trying to pray for your marriage and your sexual intimacy hasn’t been effective because you have a preconceived notion of what that prayer is supposed to look like. I know I’ve had one: It involved quietly bowing my head, talking in my head or whispering, and then being uber-silent while waiting for a word from God. I often didn’t make it all the way to “Amen” before 5,000 things came careening into my mind and interrupted my prayer.

Instead, I’m learning that to pray effectively, I have to move. I need to pray while walking, write or type out my prayers, or even imagine myself riding horses with Jesus on the beach. (He was quite the equestrian, I’ll tell you.)

For all I know, when Jesus went off on his own to pray, He traipsed around in circles or strode slowly through the garden. At least sometimes. It’s possible.

Yes, I love the idea of kneeling and praying, and I still do that sometimes. But God wants us to communicate with Him — about our lives, our marriages, and yes, our sexual intimacy — and I believe He’s okay with us inviting Him for a walk or a ride while we chat.

What struggles do you face staying focused in prayer? What have you learned works for you?

13 thoughts on “How I’m Learning to Focus in Prayer

  1. E

    You might like the podcast Revelation Wellness. It is a Christian fitness podcast, most episodes are either endurance or interval training, but with scripture and music. It can be quite the experience!

    She also quotes an African proverb ‘pray, but when you pray, move your feet’, which I think means don’t just pray, act. But it could also mean that movement is helpful when praying.

    Personally, my ‘best’ prayers are usually said when I am driving alone on country roads, probably because there are very few distractions, but I am still doing something.

    Reply
  2. Lynn

    I took a 6-week course in centering prayer. The main thing I took away was, don’t get distracted by fighting distraction. Recognize the distraction, gently push it aside, and move on. I try to keep a sense of humor about it, too.

    Personally, I find movement helps me. I pray best when I’m walking.

    Reply
  3. Matt

    Blogs like this are why I visit this site. Real life stuff about our attempts to honor Christ in daily living that is not mixed in with American churchianity.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thank you! I believe in being real about our Christian walk and encouraging others to do the same. Blessings!

      Reply
  4. Bridgett

    I’m not usually one to leave a comment on blogs, but I wanted to raise my hand wildly the whole time while reading this a say, “Me too! Me too! Me too!” Thanks for the helpful tip. I’m a prayer journalist otherwise I’m off on lala land in 10.9 seconds.

    Reply
  5. Alicia

    Love this post, particularly the mental picture about riding horses with Jesus. That’s so cool! When I’m home, I move around while praying. If I’m not in a good position to move around, I listen to praise and worship music, and sometimes keep myself focused by praying the lyrics, so to speak, or using the lyrics to bounce off of to give me things to pray about. Sometimes I write while I pray. either write the prayers out, or just write like I’m writing a letter to God, and write what I feel I’m getting from Him. I love me some journaling. I should try mental pictures. I hadn’t thought of that, so thanks!

    Reply
  6. Melissa

    Love this article, it allows me to get an idea of how to connect with God without feeling overwhelmed at times.

    Reply
  7. S.

    I have found that it is helpful to have a pen and notepad nearby during prayer. I jot down the distracting thoughts so that my mind can then be freed up to focus on prayer. The “distractions” are usually items on my to do list for the day, but I’ve also found that the Lord impresses upon me kind / thoughtful things to do for others in this way during this time.

    Reply
  8. Chris

    I often struggle to pray with words. I’ve found that I pray most deeply and meaningfully when I pray through images. Instead of “God, please comfort my friend who is hurting,” I picture my friend sitting on God’s lap, wrapped in His arms while my friend sobs. Instead of “Thank you, God, for your creation,” I picture forests, mountains, rolling hills, the north woods, and so on.

    I’m glad you’ve found something that helps you.

    Reply
    1. js

      Thank you J! I too get really distracted. It is nice to know I”m not the only one who hears “meditation” and your mind immediately starts sprinting in circles. And I also often have times when I’m troubled by something to pray actual words. I think, for me, it is a sort of cross between feelings and images. I hold on to the verse about the Holy Spirit helping communicate for us because I am so uneloquent. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Diane

    I struggle to keep my mind focused also. I have taken a clue from my widowed grandmother. I pray out loud. Sometimes I sit and pray, sometimes I do simple tasks like sweeping the floor or making the bed. Hearing my thoughts keeps my mind focused and insures I reach Amen!

    Reply
  10. Jenny

    I thought you were describing me. I’ve found my best time to converse with God is while driving alone. Doesn’t happen enough but I think I end up like Anne of Green gables talking non stop on all different subjects! I try to pray at night but 9 times out of 10 I fall asleep mid thought miles way from where I started.

    Reply

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