10 Strategies for Minimizing Distractions at Church

There’s a lot going on at church and it can be distracting.  I imagine that for priests, it takes all of the charity in them to have patience with those that come to church.

Think about it,

•  People arrive late

•  Phones go off

•  No one sits in the front rows

•  People read the bulletin during Mass

•  People are chewing gum

•  And the list goes on and on!

Notice that I didn’t add crying babies to the list- at least they have a good excuse for not paying attention to what’s happening while church is “in session”.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

From a prayer perspective, church is hard.  We feel like we should be able to pray while we are at Mass.  We probably want to pray but there are just so many distractions.  It’s also hard to simply leave our busy lives at the door and then flip the switch into prayer mode.

As you can imagine, I do have some recommendations for how you can make your next visit to church more prayerful.

1.  Leave your phone in the car. Unless it’s the dead of winter (or summer) and you deliver babies for a living, you can probably get away with leaving your phone in the car. 

2.  Check yourself before walking in the door.  Take a breath.  Remember that your life is about to take on new meaning.  Pause.

3.  Make a profound sign of the cross.  Don’t rush through this ancient practice of the church.  Make a slow sign of the cross.

4.  Give yourself permission to close your eyes.  Not while you’re walking! Rather, when you are kneeling or sitting in prayer, give yourself permission to listen, to pray and to be focused with your eyes closed.

5.  Choose a spot that will minimize distractions. This will, of course, depend on your church.  One church I visit has a terrible spot right by the air conditioning floor vents while another is too close to the choir.  Find a spot that works for you.

6.  At the sign of peace, make someone’s day with a smile.  Don’t rush through this moment... make a brief connection through your joyful smile.

7.  Listen with eagerness to the readings.  Really enter into this moment and use the books in the pew if that is helpful.

8.  As you are walking up for communion, develop a prayer mantra.  Ask God to make you a better person.  Tell Him how you feel about your relationship with Him.

9.  After communion, enter into this moment.  Close your eyes and just be with the Lord.  This is sacred time.

10.  10 minutes after Mass, try to remember that you’ve just received the Lord in communion.  I often forget that I’m supposed to live, in faith, as a changed man after I have received communion.  Be mindful of this. Speak with charity.  Express gratitude. Be patient with yourself and others. 

What strategy would you add to this list? How do you minimize distractions at church?

prayer, Noise, FaithMike StPierre
Resources, Role Models and Routines

In his recent exhortation, Pope Francis talks about the context of becoming holy.  He wants us to ask, 

  • Can I become holy in the midst of my busy, daily schedule?
  • Do I need to become a nun or a priest in order to be holy?
  • What is a realistic path for me to become holy?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly asked these questions over the years.  As I get older, I see my daily life, with its warts and blessings, as the “container” for me to become holy.  

As an encouragement, the Holy Father points to the ultimate context for learning the be holy: the Church.  He says,

In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 15)

If you were trying to get in shape, where would you turn?  Most likely to a gym with personal trainers and a community that supports you.  Right?  This may explain why CrossFit is so popular in the United States- it offers just the right amount of support and guidance for getting fit.

Pope Francis is telling us that the Church is the “gym” for individuals who want to become not just more prayerful but more human, more whole.  St. Iraneaus famously said, “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”  This is holiness, to be fully alive and rooted in Christ.

To do this, we need three things: Resources, Role Models and Routines.  The Church provides all three and in subsequent posts, we will explore each in detail.

In the meantime, spend some time today considering the ways in which the Church is your personal gym for growing in holiness.  

How Prayer is Like Productivity

There’s a lot of talk around a new version of OmniFocus that is coming out soon.  If you’re not familiar, OmniFocus is a productivity app that is quite popular with enthusiasts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology.  Because of its following online, OF will likely get a hero’s welcome when it finally is released.

People will download it.  About a week later, many of those same folks will stop using it.  Life will have gotten busy.  The shine will have worn off. Old habits will creep back in.  That powerful new productivity app will feel somehow, “ordinary”.

Folks will realize that, at the end of the day, no app can do the work for you.  You are the one who has to do the work. 

How similar is this to prayer? Let me share a story to answer that from my own life. 

A visit to my spiritual director a few months ago had me complaining about one thing or another.  The man is an absolute saint for putting up with me.  I don’t know how he does it.  When I came up for air and stopped talking, he calmly said, “and have you been praying about this?”

Right... praying about it, that would have helped. 

Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.
— St. Ignatius of Loyola

What he was really saying is this, “you can’t expect God to step in and make your problems go away if you’re not even willing to do the slightest bit of work”.

I’ve heard that mantra many times in the months since then, you have to do the work, you have to do the work, you have to do the work.

In this way, productivity and prayer are very similar.  There is one significant difference that is probably obvious by now.  With productivity, it’s all about you and your colleagues.  When it comes to prayer, God is in charge.  He’s doing the heavy lifting.  His grace is mysterious and can be hard to figure out.  His ways, as the passage says, are not always our ways. 

Still, you’ve got to do the work.

7 Sincere Ways to End Your Prayers
End prayers.png

We’ve talked about easy ways to begin your prayers. (hereBut what should you do at the end of your time of prayer?

Think about it another way- you’re at dinner with someone very important. After you pay the bill, you wouldn’t walk out of the restaurant without saying anything. Rather, you would be sure to thank the other person, look him in the eye and leave things on a good note.

It’s no different with prayer.

After you’ve spent 10,20 or even 30 minutes in prayer, how you “leave things” with God is worth some thought. The following are seven ways that you could conclude your prayer:

1. With a formal prayer. This could be as simple as the Our Father or a prayer from a saint that is meaningful to you.

2. With a quote or mantra. Do you have a saying that resonates with you? Is there a line that moves your spirit?

3. With the sign of the cross. Enough said here- you can never go wrong with the sign of the cross.

4. In silence. While Mother Teresa said that at least half of our time (in prayer) should be spent in silence, there’s nothing like concluding your time with the Lord in silence.

5. By looking at an icon. You might place an icon in your prayer spot and conclude your prayer by gazing at the icon- taking a long, meaningful look at its deeper message.

6. By writing. In your journal, you might conclude your time of prayer by writing down something similar each day. I like to do this and it brings a sense of closure and a “sending off” to the day.

7. By invoking a saint. I will often conclude my prayer by asking for the prayers from Mary, St. Joseph, my Guardian Angel and St. Michael the Archangel. Who might you ask for prayers?

The key in all this is simple- be thoughtful and find what feels right for when you conclude your prayers.

Try This If You Struggle With Silence

Silence is scary.

I was reminded of this during a recent 5am shuttle to the local airport.  There I was with the driver and two men who I did not know. Let’s just say that there wasn’t a whole lot of small talk.

Only silence.

You have probably had that same kind of experience.  You’re with strangers and simply have nothing left to say.  That’s perfectly acceptable but we often feel like we should be filling each moment with at least some form of noise.

When it comes to prayer, silence can also be scary.  We aren’t sure what to do.  We want to hear the Lord’s voice but He rarely speaks audibly.  We wait and nothing seems to happen. 

All of this is normal.  Don’t stress.  I have this happen too.

So here’s a simple trick for when you have a silent moment of prayer- be still and let the thoughts come and go.  You’ll be bombarded with random thoughts, odd things that pop into your head.  You’re not sure why.  You had no idea that your head was so noisy.

Imagine that you’re on a beach and looking out on the water.  You see a boat come into your sight.  You could swim out to that boat and get a closer look.  After all, it looks so interesting and the people on the boat are having a great time.

Or, you simply let it go.  You could just go back to whatever you were doing and just let the boat sail by. 

Now apply this same trick to your prayer life.  You’ll close your eyes when you are praying, wanting to just “be” with God.  You’ll want to enter into the silence and then a random thought will pop into your noggin.

Like the boat metaphor, let it go.  Sure, you could linger with that thought and really get a better look at it.  It’s probably interesting and worth your time.  But now, for at least a few minutes, just let it go. 

You can do this.  I’ve been using this trick for years and it works nearly every time.  It can work for you too.

Four Things That Make Morning Prayer So Difficult

Think of the last time you jumped out of bed and started your day with a smile.  Now look back at what made that morning work so well- what made the difference?  

When it comes to morning prayer, it’s easier for things to go off the tracks than for your morning to go smoothly.

Why is that?

In my experience, our mornings are the result of our evenings the day before.  I had one of these “good mornings” recently and it felt so good.  I got up at the right time, my morning prayers went well and my workday seemed to just “flow”.  

Most mornings get sidetracked as the result of the following:

  1. We stay up too late the night before.  If you’re tired, you’re less likely to get up and get going in the morning.
  2. We don’t have a morning routine down.  It’s a good idea to do the same things every morning in the same cadence- it cuts down on decision fatigue which can influence your desire to pray.
  3. We haven’t laid out our tools in advance.  If you don’t know where you put your Bible and your journal, you are less likely to have a good experience of prayer.
  4. We lack a structure for our prayers.  This is why the ACTS formula makes so much sense. It just works.

How are your mornings going lately?  Which of the factors above can you improve on?