We all have experienced distractions in prayer. For example, when kneeling in adoration we can’t stop noticing an annoying repetitive cough three pews over or when praying the Rosary, we can’t stop thinking about the to-do list. We also know what it’s like to try to pray with a foggy a brain, especially during allergy season. Meditating on scripture becomes more like a silent dictation exercise, if that.
There are however prayer distractions that are more indicative of mental conditions than spiritual annoyances. Consistently ruminating in progression from a simple worry to multiple catastrophic conclusions is one example. Another is when your mind fills with unrelenting self-recrimination. At first you think God is convicting you of sin but then one sin turns into many until even the littlest daily imperfection becomes mortal in your mind. Another indication of a mental problem is when you find yourself getting extremely upset because you lost count of your Hail Mary’s or feel like exploding inside when your small child shows up at your prayer corner before you are finished praying.
From inside one’s self it is very difficult to discern the difference between normal distractions and the signs of mental illness in prayer. So, let me give you a few red flags.
- First, you cannot take a third person perspective and smile at your inability to concentrate
- Second, you feel deeply ashamed, inept, or angry at yourself because of your prayer experience.
- Third, you are unable to enjoy the little gifts God provides to encourage you along the way. For example, a bird lands on your windowsill and begins chirping or the fact that your small child who interrupted your prayer time was bringing you a cookie.
- Fourth, you recognize these things I’ve just listed apply to you and so you are beginning to beat yourself up because it or vehemently deny its application– “thou protest too much”.
Sometimes we must leave our prayer corner to find God. So, if you are experiencing any of these things in prayer it’s time to make an appointment with a priest, deacon, religious, or lay spiritual director to lend an objective viewpoint. Likely, you will end up in a doctor or counselor’s office. Believe it or not, you can find God there too.
Picture is my own.