Thursday, June 8, 2017

When Our Mind Wanders in Prayer: Advice from Bonhoeffer

It is a common frustration for me and for other Christians to be distracted by wondering thoughts during times of prayer and meditation. Perhaps while seeking wisdom from the Lord in prayer you find your mind wondering off about people you haven't spoken to for months or about a situation that just took place the night before. It can be tempting to feel guilty at these moments believe that God must be disappointed with our poor prayer lives. However, in his helpful book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers different counsel:
It is one of the particular difficulties of meditation that our thoughts are likely to wander and go their own way, toward other persons or to some events in our life. Much as this may distress and shame us again and again, we must not lose heart and become anxious, or even conclude that meditation is really not something for us. When this happens it is often a help not to snatch back our thoughts convulsively, but quite calmly to incorporate into our prayer the people and the events to which our thoughts keep straying and thus in all patience return to the starting point of the meditation. (85)

In other words, when our thoughts begin to focus on a particular person in prayer, intercede on their behalf. When we begin to replay a specific situation, perhaps repentance is in order. Is this not the purpose of prayer and meditation?

Although I still believe we should be focused in prayer and would recommend praying through Scripture (especially the Psalms), in those moments perhaps God is leading us to focus on someone or something for a reason. Don't waste those opportunities.
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