Question: I get annoyed with myself when I am distracted while I pray. Is it a sin? How can I be more attentive?
Answer: The mind is a marvelous and complex thing, producing amazing thoughts, images, wisdom and inspiration. Yet at times it is like a two-year-old: it does not follow directions, does what it wants and loves to tell us “no!” This is probably the oldest and most common problem in the spiritual life-dealing with distraction. It comes in all forms: good intentions forgotten, wandering thoughts at Mass, daydreaming, etc. A little poem says it all: When the soul begins to pray, the brain always wants to play! There are many ways to handle distractions. If we are distracted by thoughts about our families or friends, we should pray for them. If we lose our focus, we need just “re-collect” ourselves. If some worry or concern just won't leave our mind, then we deal with it and come back to prayer or make it part of our prayer. And when words just won't come, the only prayer we might offer is our presence, our suffering, and our desire to be close to the Lord. Most importantly, we need to be patient with ourselves. These things are not sinful, but reminders of our human frailty. Our weaknesses and good efforts are all acceptable to God, who reads the love in our hearts and the good intentions of our minds.