A Real Woman's Guide to Devotions, Part 3: Dealing with Distractions!

My favorite Purdue fountain. Isn't it peaceful?

Women are masters at juggling a zillion tasks simultaneously. A mother might nurse the baby, work through a spelling list with a child, oversee three others playing nearby, and cook dinner all at once. Multi-tasking keeps us on our toes, and can be just plain fun. Sometimes I create extra layers of complexity by having many things going on at once simply because it keeps things interesting. Like right now in my sewing room where I'm working on three quilts at the same time.  Crazy. But not boring.

But did you know that true multitasking is a myth? Instead of really being able to handle many things at the same instant, our brains rapidly flit from one area to the other and then on the the next. And instead of greater functionality when we multitask, our thinking speed slows down and becomes more muddled. One researcher, Dr. Joann Deak, says, “When you try to multitask, in the short-term it doubles the amount of time it takes to do a task and it usually at least doubles the number of mistakes.”

One of the results I've found from constantly trying to multitask has been a decreasing ability to concentrate on one thing for sustained times. Even sitting still has become more difficult after years of constant motion caring for many children.

And when it comes to prayer, I need to learn to quiet my heart, my mind, and my body. I need to let go the idea of accomplishing multiple things at once to focus on communing with God.

Having difficulty focusing one's thoughts on the Lord in order to speak with Him is nothing new.  The 1928 Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer for family worship called “For the Spirit of Prayer.” Here's how it goes:

ALMIGHTY God, who pourest out on all who desire it, the spirit of grace and of supplication; Deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with stedfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Don't you love that? "Wanderings of mind” so aptly describes the crazy zigs and zags my brain takes from moment to moment. If you're like me, the instant you close your eyes to pray, a zillion different things fly into your brain. 

- I need to get busy canning that bushel of peaches!
- I must remember to pick up the dog from the boarder, a son from his friend's house, and the 4H materials from the extension office
- I'm running behind on my school planning. How ever am I going to finish...
- And on and on

Or, as soon as you start to pray, the toddler runs in naked, the four year old says she can't find her favorite dress, and you smell the cinnamon rolls you just put in the oven burning. Distractions!

Real life continually presents both mental and physical distractions. So how are we to find mental and physical space for sustained times of prayer? (Of course we ought to be praying throughout each day, in the midst of all the activity and commotion. But here I'm not talking about the continual prayer as commanded in I Thes. 5, but of set apart longer times of prayer.)

First, find a time and place to be alone.
Luke 5:16 says that "Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." 
Prayer of the sustained type is best done in solitude; in a closet, as the King James Version puts it. (Matt.6:6) Solitude allows me space to fully enter into communion with My Father, speaking aloud at times, silently at others. I crave pure solitude for earnest prayer, so I usually wake (moderately) early, and then if others are up, too, I head onto the front porch.

Get away from your phone and computer!
Incoming notifications are distractors par excellence. Oh wait! What's this? And suddenly your mind is a million miles away. If you have a morning prayer time, I'd recommend not even looking at new text messages and opening emails before your devotional time. Thinking about how to respond to someone's email is not how I want to spend my prayer time. 

Loeb Fountain at Purdue
When can you find solitude? 
- Before everyone awakes
- Naptime
- After children are in bed
- In the middle of the night (Yes! Sometimes this time leads to the sweetest times of fellowship with the Lord!)
- Something else entirely!

Think through your life and consider what adjustments you need to make in order to have a set apart time of daily prayer. Maybe it will mean rising 30 minutes earlier than you've been accustomed to. Preparing breakfast the night before is a great morning time saver. Maybe you can shift some other tasks to a less busy time. Sometimes it might even mean skipping a meal in order to make time for prayer. 

Don't pray in bed!
No, no. That's not right. DO pray in bed. When you are sleepless, prayer is exactly what you should do. Before you fall asleep and as you awake in the morning, your heart should turn to prayer. Psalm 63:6 says "When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches."

What I mean is, DON'T make your bed the place for your concerted times of prayer. Because the obvious pitfall of praying in bed is that all too often you drift off. Paul tells us to be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. (Col. 4:2.) And for me to do that, I need to get out of bed.

Teach your children to give you time alone with God
Teach your children to respect the time you spend in Bible reading and prayer. If that is early in the morning, teach them to stay in bed until a certain time. If it is later in the day, they can also learn to give you some peace for a set time. Susannah Wesley, mother of something like 19 children, would famously throw her apron over her head when she needed solitude to pray, and I imagine every one of her children knew better than to interrupt her at those times!

It's OK to separate your Bible reading from your prayer time. 
Sometimes that's just what works best. Finding several smaller snatches of time often is easier than finding one long time, especially when children are young.

Mind still wandering? Here are a few other ideas:

- Pray out loud! This really works to reign in a mind that wants to gallop off in other directions.

- Write out your prayers

- Use prayer cards or some other organizational help.

- Pray through Scripture.  Start with the book of Psalms.

- Use a prayer app. My daughter Kara likes Prayer Mate.

Distractions are omnipresent. But making efforts to find a quiet time and place in your day to spend in fellowship with God will repay you with a deeper walk with Him and more strength for your daily tasks.


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