Question Box: Responding to distractions in prayer


By Father Thom Hennen
Question Box

Q: How should I deal with distractions in prayer? When I am praying the rosary or other prayers I often find my mind wandering and wonder if my prayer is any good.

A: Distractions are inevitable in prayer. I can tell you that priests get distracted in prayer too.

Fr. Hennen

I think our Lord is very patient and understanding with this. One wonders if in his sacred humanity Jesus also found himself distracted in prayer. What if a fly landed on his nose or his knees started to ache or he saw a bird out of the corner of his eye? What if his stomach started to growl or he suddenly remembered something his mother had asked him to do? I am not saying that Jesus willfully distracted himself or that he wasn’t trying to give his full attention to the Father, but simply that being fully human (even as he is also fully divine), his own attention span was subject to the same interruptions and agitations as all of us.


In time, we need to learn to live with and pray through our distractions. We might even pray about them. I often tell people, “Don’t be distracted by your distractions!” What I mean by this is don’t make your distractions bigger by dwelling on them. Refocus, resettle, re-center. You might even laugh at yourself or at the situation and smile as you turn back to God and say, “OK, Lord, I’m back.”

At the same time, if you are burdened by a persistent thought, maybe this is the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention. Rather than being frustrated by your distraction, you might turn it into a prayer and address our Lord, saying something like, “Lord, I find myself so distracted, consumed by this thought. I give it to you. What are you trying to show me or teach me through this?” You might pray for the people or situations that keep springing to mind. In a sense, nothing is unworthy of bringing to God in prayer.

You mention the rosary in particular as a time when you might easily become distracted. Again, I am guilty of this too. I am a runner and I often tell myself that any run is better than no run. In the same way, I think any rosary, however imperfectly prayed, is better than no rosary. Any prayer is better than no prayer. Because of our distractions and our own poor estimation of the quality of our prayer, I think we can easily talk ourselves out of praying. This is certainly not what God wants. Good prayer is as much about consistency as it is about content or duration. The more we develop the habit of prayer, like learning an instrument, the more we can freely improvise.

One of the beauties of the rosary is that it is meant, I think, to allow us to drift somewhat between the repetition of the prayers, the meditation on the various mysteries, and more personal intercessory prayer.

A related question that often comes up is about falling asleep in prayer. I recall once during a holy hour on a retreat practically falling out of my chair before catching myself, eliciting some chuckles from those around me. Our weariness in prayer is no doubt a direct result of our weariness in our life or work and the feeling of being truly at peace in prayer. I advise against settling down to prayer with a pillow, blanket and glass of warm milk, but don’t be too bothered if you start to doze a little.

Be at peace about your prayer. Keep praying and let God be the judge of it.

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to

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