While it is often necessary to overcome general distractions during prayer, from time-to-time there do exist “good” distractions. Our mind can wander during prayer and sometimes God uses that to His advantage. Instead of taking us away from God and His plan, these distractions are designed to help us focus on something or someone and are inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
Often when I pray I find myself thinking about a particular person. Sometimes, I have not seen this person or talked to them in years. Then the memory bank starts to work and I dwell on the good (and bad) memories. After that, I sense I must pray for that person. I do not know why, nor do I ever find out.
What started out as a “distraction” from praying my prayers, results in a new prayer for the people who pop into my mind. I try to imitate Saint Thérèse of Lisieux who explained her approach to “distractions” while talking with a fellow sister,
“I also have many [distractions],” she said, “but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people the thought of whom is diverting my attention, and in this way they reap benefit from my distractions” (Story of a Soul).
Sometimes God wants to divert our attention and shed light on a struggling friend or family member. They may need our prayers or our charity.
On other occasions God could be trying to focus our attention on a decision that we must make or an event that he wants us to attend. The key is to open up our heart. Saint Josemaria Escriva instructs us that,
“The closer an apostle is to God, the more universal his desires. His heart expands and takes in everybody and everything in its longing to lay the universe at the feet of Jesus” (764, The Way).
We must be open to the different ways that God wants to move us and realize that he may be giving us a distraction to wake us up from our slumber. God also may be wanting us to become more aware of the many challenges of humanity and to offer our prayers, works, joys and sufferings for that intention.
On the other hand, a distraction could simply be a “distraction” that has its origin either in the promptings of the devil, or our own human nature. Those distractions take us away from our conversation with God and do not inspire in us a call to prayer.
Before we can understand if a distraction is from God, we must first reflect on the state of our soul. Then we can discern God’s movements in our heart and see where he is leading us. As in all things, we must bring the distraction to God and let him guide our prayer (a priest can also aid in discernment when it is brought to his attention during confession or spiritual direction).
As the Catechism states, prayer is a “battle” and does not come easily (cf. 2726). So the next time you find yourself distracted during prayer, God may be trying to tell you something or open your heart to a particular person for whom he wants you to offer your day.