How to pray when you can’t quiet your mind

How to pray when you can’t quiet your mind

These days my mind has been buzzing. How long will my kids be out of school? Is this good for students? What will keep teachers safe? Is it okay to visit that friend in need of a hug? How are families with fewer resources surviving the pandemic? When will we be able to meet together for worship in person? Why can’t we all agree on how to respond to this crisis? When will things be normal again? Your list of pressing questions is certain to be different from mine but I’m sure it is there, looping through your mind throughout the day.

I know that I should stop and bring my worries and sadness to God in prayer but I am tired and it is difficult to stop my whirring mind (or find a quiet spot in my house way from my three kids). Prayer isn’t just for ideal, peaceful retreats. And it isn’t just for those spiritual giants who have an unflappable inner quiet. Here are a few practices that are helping me to pray even when I can’t quiet my mind.

Carve out a few minutes of silence. Maybe your home is quiet and a little lonely or you have to hide in the bathroom to block out the clamor. A few moments of intentional quiet and an open invitation to the Holy Spirit to minister to you is life-giving. Set a timer or try this great Centering Prayer App. Start with ten or five or even just three minutes of silence in the presence of God.

Make a list. Sometimes people suggest writing down the distracting thoughts that cross your mind while you pray. But I love author Marilyn McEntyre’s idea of list-writing as a prayer. When you have errant thoughts running through your mind all day long, capture them on a list and present them to God. Start with “Worries” or “Loved Ones I Miss” or “Reasons I am Angry” and slowly offer this list to God until you feel some peace. You may even want to continue with a “Gratitude” or “Unexpected Blessings” list.

Pray someone else’s words. When I don’t have words to pray I am grateful for the written prayers of other believers. You may find a great prayer that fits the moment from the occasional collects in the Book of Common Prayer. Or look to the Psalms, the prayerbook of the Hebrew Bible, for words to pray. A few of my favorite prayers are Psalm 63, Psalm 91, and Psalm 103. If you connect with a prayer, write it down, revisit it regularly, or maybe even memorize it and see how it enables you pray in ways that you would not have on your own.

Pray in an unconventional way. When you feel like you can’t focus your mind it is helpful to do something different and engage your whole body. You can go for a walk and offer simple prayers that “bubble up” or listen to the songs and prayers from A New Liturgy. Or break out some markers and write a name or a word that is on your heart and doodle as a unique form of prayer. Sybil MacBeth gives great examples and advice on how to pray in this way. Or you can try praying with the original fidget toy–a rosary. Anglicans use these prayer beads to keep to a pattern of prayer instead of letting their minds wander.

Pray with the Church. The Church is always at prayer, morning, noon, and night using the Daily Office. I think of this cycle of prayer like a train that pulls into a station and then continues along its scheduled route. You can ride the train for a few stops or maybe wait to take a trip when it circles around later in the day. The cycle of prayer is ongoing, the Church around the world is always engaged, the words are given and trustworthy, and you are invited to join in. Listen along with Trinity Mission or keep a simplified version in your pocket using the Daily Prayer App.

However you would describe your state of mind, time spent in the presence of God through prayer is not beyond your reach. If you feel disengaged from your usual ways of praying, I invite you to try something different and trust that God will meet you in your need. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you (1 Peter 5:7).