Inevitably it happens. You sit down to your time of prayer and instead of things proceeding according to your intentions and plans, a whole host of random songs and thoughts begin to float through your head. Sometimes, such movements of the heart can indicate deep attachments and the sources of pain and anxiety, at other times it can seem like random bits of daily life are bouncing around in our heads. The label  that is often attached to such phenomenon is distractions.

The problem I have with the label “distraction” is that it can hide a whole host of things, each of which are rather distinct. When I hear people talk about how to deal with distractions in prayer, I often feel that the label hides more than it reveals. For example, when our daily lives emerge in the silence of meditation, sometimes they can provide an important opportunity to bring before the Lord our cares and concerns. In the case of music, it may indicate that we are filling our lives with too much entertainment, and instead of our hearts resting in the Word of God, they are more in love with the things of the world.

I don’t want to say that distractions don’t exist, but I do want to say that we need to move beyond the label of distraction. Instead of trying to repress these movements of the heart, we need to learn how to recognize their source and address those root causes. In this way, I believe that many people will find that distractions are not some abstract concept that plagues us in the midst of our piety, but rather a whole assortment of inspirations, each of which requires its own strategies to address.

This makes for a more nuanced approach to our meditation. It helps balance and keep in mind the possibility of a spontaneous movement of the Holy Spirit while also demanding that we consider carefully the source of these movements. In addition, it helps us to look at those habits that we are forming in the rest of our lives and thus might be keeping us from ceaseless prayer. Keep in mind, the goal is not to maximize pious thoughts, but rather to cultivate an open disposition which invites Jesus Christ into the totality of our lives.

Thus, I encourage you to move beyond convenient labels. Instead of generalizing about the things that seem to derail your meditation time, ask deeper questions about their source. Ultimately, such questions will help you descend ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love by helping you to open up new avenues of God’s healing grace. Today, let us dare to ask such questions.