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Obstacles to Prayer: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you ever struggle to pray? Perhaps you have difficulties staying focused with ADHD, or finding time to pray in a busy schedule. Or maybe you've experienced dryness in prayer or found you have nothing to say when you come to pray. In this blog, explore some common obstacles to prayer and discover how to overcome them, with the help of Fr Ed Broom, OMV.

This blog is exracted from the CTS book How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer by Fr Ed Broom, OMV.

I cant pray because I have ADHD. I literally cannot sit still or focus my mind.

Admittedly, that is difficult, but be assured that you can pray, and you will be able to follow most of my Ten-Step Programme, even with ADHD. I want to encourage you with this thought: Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three shepherd children in 1917 and told them that souls are going to hell because there is no one to pray and suffer for them. So, each day, offer your prayer and the sufferings you experience with ADHD to Our Blessed Mother for the saving of souls. Only in heaven will you know how many souls were saved because of you.

You just need to find ways to pray that work for you. Here is some helpful advice. To begin with, if you make no other prayer at all, beg Jesus for the grace to pray. That is a prayer in itself, and it is very pleasing to Jesus. Second, develop strategies to “distract your distractions”.

Pray while taking a walk, and if you notice the beauty of nature while walking, that in itself is a prayer of praise. Do you need something in your hands, such as a rosary? That’s perfectly fine. Think of holding the rosary beads in your hand as holding the hand of Mary! Maybe you need to have a short prayer to bring you back the very instant you notice your mind wandering or notice yourself starting to do something besides praying. Something as simple as, “Lord, I love you; help me to pray” or, “Mother Mary, pray for me” will do. If you have to pray these a thousand times, that is very pleasing to Jesus and Mary. Above all, keep going, and do not be discouraged. Jesus is very pleased with you and your efforts, and he will shower you with graces.

I cant pray because I am a busy parent and my children take all of my attention. I am not so much distracted in prayer as focused on them.

Naturally, you need to take care of your children, but that does not mean that you cannot pray. In fact, one of your jobs as a parent is to teach your children to pray, to pray with them and to pray for them. Have a prayer you say together when you get up in the morning, say grace before every meal and have a prayer you pray before leaving the house together. In fact, let your children see you putting prayer before everything else. For example, “I know we are running late, but we are still going to take one more minute to pray before we leave to ask God to be with us and bring us all home safely.” End the day by saying prayers with them at bedtime.

There are two more very important ways to bring prayer into your home.

First, as many days as possible, take fifteen to twenty minutes after dinner or before bedtime to pray the Rosary as a family. Our Lady of Fatima told the three children of Fatima to pray the Rosary daily for the salvation of souls. Venerable Patrick Peyton promoted the family Rosary, saying, “The Family that prays together, stays together.” In the movie Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton, former Major League Baseball player Mike Sweeney describes how his marriage was on the rocks when he and his wife were encouraged to start praying the family Rosary – which he believes saved the marriage and the family.

During the Rosary, involve your children: let each child pray a decade and say their own intention for that decade. Remind them that this is a great act of charity. Only God knows how many souls will be saved because of your daily Rosary. That was the promise of Our Lady when she appeared at Fatima.

Second, purchase a children’s Bible of the Old and New Testaments, and for half an hour on Sundays get the children to take turns reading aloud a Bible story. There are stories of great heroes in the Old Testament. The Gospels are about Jesus, what he is asking of us, and all that he did on earth for the love of us. An activity such as this helps their reading skills and their confidence in reading aloud before others and makes God come alive for them. The more they know and learn about God as children, the stronger their faith will be as they get older. Make your children, your household tasks and your family time together be the reason you pray, rather than the reason you don’t. The more you do this, the more natural it will become for your mind to turn to God, rather than your phone or the TV in your spare moments.

I cant pray because I have a demanding job/I’m too busy with my studies. Work/school takes all my time, and if I take time out, I won’t be any good at my job/studies, and I will fall behind or even get fired/fail my classes.

This is your personal experience of the seven distractions I talked about in the fourth chapter. It is the devil telling you that your job or schooling is the most important thing, which you accept, because your mind works in a fundamentally utilitarian way, meaning that your value and self-worth depend on how much you produce, fostered by materialism – how many goods and honours of this world you can accumulate and enjoy. The decision to put God before all else is the most radical one you will ever make, but in another way it should be the easiest, because everything good in our lives is made better through a deepening relationship with God. If your job, education or other commitments truly prevent you from praying, the question is not whether you should pray, but whether your work and schooling will bring you true happiness – not just in the next life, but even in this life. St Augustine chased honours, riches and sensual pleasures for the first thirty-one years of his life and was never satisfied. Only when he surrendered his life to Christ was his heart satisfied: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

A good reflection would be to weigh the material things and the pleasures of this short life on earth, on the one hand, against eternity, which is for ever and ever, on the other hand. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).

I cant pray because I don’t know what to say, so I just end up thinking about other things.

You are not alone in this! Learning to pray is like learning a new language. It takes effort and discipline, and a good prayer method that is suitable to us.

Most people don’t know what to say; that is why there are different prayer methods. Two are introduced in this book. The penultimate chapter presents a classical method of prayer encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI called lectio divina (see “Praying Lectio divina, pp69- 72), teaching us how to pray with Scripture, and when we pray with the Gospels, how to enter into the life of Christ and become present to him and he to us.

“Building a House of Prayer in Our Soul” (pp73-79) gives us a second method of prayer building on lectio divina by introducing Ignatian Contemplation given to us by St Ignatius of Loyola. In this prayer, praying with the Gospels, we are attentive to all the scenes in the life of Jesus and we imagine being present at these events – his birth, his private life, his public life of preaching, healing, and casting out demons, his suffering and death on the cross, his glorious resurrection.

As an example, imagine yourself being present when Jesus is born in the stable of Bethlehem – see the poverty of the stable, the humility of Mary and Joseph making the best of these surroundings, the humble and lowly shepherds who are the first to adore the Lord of lords and the King of kings! You are there, you are part of all this, and your heart is filled with awe and wonder. When you are more experienced in this type of prayer, you may find Mary offering you the baby Jesus to hold and adore in your arms.

Picture another scene – stand with Mary, John, and Magdalene beneath the cross. Jesus is nailed to the cross, his body covered with blood from the deep wounds of the scourging, his face covered with blood from the crown of sharp thorns on his head, for an agonising three long hours! St Ignatius assures us that if you were the only person in the world who needed to be saved, Jesus would have suffered and died on the cross for your eternal salvation!

As Mary stands beneath the cross, Jesus says: “Woman, behold your son”… and to John, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). By giving Mary to John, Jesus is giving Mary to each and every one us to be our mother! What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Knowing that Jesus is giving you his own mother to be your mother, to watch over you and guide you, to pray for you? Knowing that Mary is willingly enduring her great suffering in Jesus’s death on the cross for your eternal salvation?

A second and essential component of practising Ignatian Contemplation is bringing to Jesus your own needs, desires, concerns and wounds. Jesus is the wounded healer! He will comfort and console you in all your trials, and help you discern your path of true happiness in life. Open up to him, talk to him, let his love and concern for you be like a sweet balm on your heart.

In addition to this method of prayer, Ignatius teaches us how to have an ordered prayer life. This is discussed in “Building a House of Prayer in Our Soul” (pp73-79). He gives the reasons to pray, how to pray, when to pray, how often to pray, what to pray, how to handle dryness in prayer, how to get back when we lapse in prayer, ways to see the fruits of our prayer over time, and so much more. Once we learn to pray using Ignatian Contemplation with Jesus in the Gospels, we will find that the whole of Sacred Scripture, both the Old Testament and New Testament, open up to us in a wonderful way for Ignation Contemplation in prayer!

What is clear, is that Jesus is calling each one of us to enter into “the one thing necessary” – a deep, intimate friendship with him through prayer, and not sometimes, or when we feel like it, but all the days of our life!

What do I do when I encounter dryness in prayer?

Dryness is a form of suffering in prayer that we all experience for a variety of reasons. Here are a few of those reasons and some suggested remedies.

First, having unconfessed mortal sins means that we are no longer in a state of grace, which blocks our friendship with Jesus and inhibits our prayer life. Examine your conscience and ask yourself, “Have I committed serious sins that remain unconfessed?” The remedy, of course, is to confess any mortal sins to a priest as soon as possible, restoring grace and peace to our soul and our friendship with Jesus.

However, even venial sins, especially repeated ones – such as gossiping, using bad language, overeating, telling small lies, harbouring a grudge, and scandalising others by our dress, speech or actions, to name but a few – can cause dryness in prayer. For this reason, though not required, the confession of venial sins as well as mortal sins is encouraged by the Church. The grace of confession is curative and preventive. It makes us conscious of these smaller sins and gives us the grace to overcome them.

Second, being overworked or overtired can bring about dryness in prayer. If this is how you are feeling, it is best to pray a Rosary for the salvation of souls and catch up on your sleep. Then, start afresh again when your strength is restored. However, if this is a recurring pattern, examine your life. Make a list of your daily activities and prayerfully decide what has to go so that you can be faithful to prayer, your daily conversation with Jesus, who will always provide all you need if you place your trust in him.

Third, sickness or illness can bring about dryness in prayer. In this case, our suffering is doubled by the very fact that we cannot pray.

Short aspirations can help, for example, “Jesus, make haste to help me!”; “Jesus, I love you”; “Jesus, I trust in you”; “Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, help me now.” It is important that you call your parish to see if a Eucharistic Minister is available to bring you Holy Communion. To the extent that you are able, do passive things. Watch or listen to the Mass online. Listen to the Rosary recited on the radio. Have peaceful religious music playing in the background. All these things can ease your pain and bring peace to your soul. Finally, and of paramount importance, remember to join your sufferings to the sufferings of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of souls, especially those of your loved ones who have strayed far from the Church.

Finally, dryness in prayer can be a suffering sent from God for our purification and sanctification. In this case, persevere in prayer! We know by faith that we are present to Jesus, even when we cannot feel his presence. This is a matter of faith and trust in Jesus built on a foundation of daily prayer. And our prayer is even more fruitful because we are not getting anything out of it. Again, remember to offer this suffering for the salvation of immortal souls, as Our Lady of Fatima taught the three children of Fatima to do. Only in heaven will we know how many souls were saved because of the suffering we offered for them.

Find more advice on prayer in How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer

Prayer can be a struggle. Whether it’s because of busyness at work or school, the chores and clamour of family life, intrusive worries and anxieties, or ever-present digital distractions. Many of us struggle to form a habit of prayer. Fr Ed Broom is here to help Catholics learn to pray. In this book, he teaches us to recognise the causes of distraction in our lives and gives simple, practical advice on how to overcome them so we can speak to God with our whole heart and mind.

Order your copy of How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer today to find this blog and much more helpful advice!