Prayerful Distractions

As I bowed my head and knelt to thank Our Lord for having come to me in Holy Communion, suddenly I felt two little hands begin to attempt to pry my eyelids open. I knew the hands belonged to my one-year-old daughter, whom I was holding, so I gently removed the hands, opened my eyes momentarily to give a reassuring smile, and then closed them again, trying to recapture my pious thoughts when I felt the attack of the hands again. Poor little girl! She had been good as gold all Mass long, whether Mommy was standing, sitting, singing, or listening. But Mommy closing her eyes? That was one thing she couldn’t put up with.

Is this what the saints were referring to when they talked about distractions in prayer? Somehow I always thought of distractions as occurring in the mind. I never pictured them as feeling so — well — concrete.

Take Good Friday this year. We were doing fine. The children and I said a short version of the Stations of the Cross. Then the children sat around the table, coloring pictures of Christ dying on the cross, while I folded laundry, the house silent except for the CD of Gregorian chant I had playing. Finally I went upstairs to get my toddler up from her nap so we could all go to the Good Friday service at three. I was just in the middle of changing a diaper when I heard my older girls giggling and calling me about some water dripping from the downstairs bathroom ceiling. Leaving my oldest to watch the tot on the diaper table, I rushed to check out the upstairs bathroom, and found water shooting out of a hole in the shower wall. My husband was dashing to the basement to look for the hot water valve, instructing me to call the landlord.

“What do I say?” I inquired helplessly.

“Tell him what you see in the bathroom!” he replied sensibly.

Well, we did get the hot water turned off in a few minutes, but let me say that our solemn mood had disappeared completely. The girls were hopping around on one foot, so elated by the excitement, asking questions like when our landlords would come, could they go potty, and would they be able to get baths before Easter?

You will gather from all this that I do not live in a convent. Nor do I live with nuns. I live in a fairly normal household with a husband and six children, and I sometimes find books about saintly hermits and monks a bit beyond my reach. Wearing hairshirts, eating nothing but herbs, praying all night, and such activities of the saints tend to discourage me. After all, I can’t even make my thanksgiving after Holy Communion without little hands prying open my eyelids! That’s why I like reading about saints like St. Frances of Rome, a wife and mother. One day she was reading in her prayer book and was interrupted no less than five times for household concerns. Each time, she calmly left her prayers, took care of the problem, and returned to her reading. The last time, she found the prayer she had been reading was written in gold.

We can’t give up trying to find a time to ourselves so we can pray and be alone with God. Barring emergencies, we have to teach our children not to interrupt us when we’re praying, or our relationship with God and our spiritual growth will suffer dramatically. Nevertheless, when we find ourselves becoming frustrated by the hundred and one things that distract us from our devotion — the antics of toddlers, plumbing crises, and so on — we must remember that God wants us to find holiness in our vocation, not in spite of our vocation. All our little duties from holding a baby to folding laundry to disciplining a disobedient child are part of our vocation as wives and mothers and, therefore, our path to sanctity. These are the prayers that gain us the most merit.

Let us embrace the path the good Lord has mapped out for us.

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