3 min read
It starts by choosing to do only one thing at a time.
I know that prayer is a challenge for many – across the religious spectrum. The Almighty is intangible and almost too awe-inspiring. We feel disconnected. It seems unnatural. We have too much on our minds and are constantly distracted.
The latter is not just a problem in prayer. It affects our work life, our friendships, our marriages and our children. We are always multi-tasking – reading emails while talking on the phone while making dinner while supervising homework.
It used to be a badge of pride – look how many activities I can be engaged in at once! But now I’m ashamed of it and try to avoid it. Because it’s not really possible to concentrate on so many things at once. Something has to give.
I’ve come to believe (and I’m sure it’s backed by studies if I could only focus long enough to find one!) that the one-task-at-a-time model is the way to go.
Do one thing with all my energy and then move on to the next. I may get fewer things done but I hope I will do them better – with fewer mistakes (I’ll check with my editors and get back to you!).
Nowhere is this need to bring single-minded focus more important than with prayer.
It is a truism noted by many that we travel the world during our formal prayers. I wish my distractions were so lofty and exciting – in fact they are usually much more mundane – there’s laundry to fold, what should I make for dinner? Do I have time to go on the treadmill before I leave to teach? These thoughts go round and round in my head as I utter the words of prayer and try (mostly in vain) to connect with the Almighty.
I am (constantly) working to change this, reading books on prayer, making new commitments. I know it has to be a priority. I know I have to set aside time. I know I can’t rush through it (I’ll be right back; the phone is ringing).
It’s always lofty goals – and simple, small-step responses. So I’ve added a new tool to help me focus. It seems trivial, so small, so obvious.
I’m turning off the sound on my phone while I pray. It’s not just the ringing that distracts me, it’s the ring of the texts coming in, the sound of new emails arriving (still seductive long past the early days of “you’ve got mail”). As I struggle to concentrate my phone beckons.
Turning it off and turning it over has provided big relief. I think I may even put it in another room. It sounds so silly but it makes a real difference. When my husband goes to synagogue in the morning, he leaves his phone at home. Just because I don’t leave the house should my behavior be any different?
I still need to focus. I still need to ignore my surroundings. I’m still taking to the King of Kings! I know it’s better to pray than not (as one of my teachers once said of her own hurried prayer, “At least I made the call”) but I’m “praying” that if I silence my phone I can hopefully do more than that; perhaps I can have a real conversation.