From The Blog

Mission Monthly – February 2006

“You should not wait until you are cleansed of wandering thoughts before you desire to pray. If you only begin on prayer when you see that your mind has become perfect and raised above all recollection of the world, then you will never pray.”

St. Isaac the Syrian

Being distracted in prayer is something we all must battle against. I had recently been meditating on this when I came across this quote from St. Isaac the Syrian. I am greatly encouraged by his words and I hope you will be as well.

The universal battleground of “wandering thoughts” is probably at Church during the Divine Services, especially during quieter moments when Psalms are being read, or when we are singing something so familiar that one is able to do so and still find himself thinking about something completely different. As we approach the beginning of Great Lent I cannot help but think of the Great Compline service with all its psalmody. It is a very challenging service not only because of its length but even more so because of our need to do battle, maybe even violently, with our “wandering thoughts.” It is the wisdom of the Church to place these services at the beginning of our Lenten fast to rigorously challenge us to defy the disquietness of our lives.

This effort is a great and holy work; a point that can never be forgotten as man faces the reality of his disquieted life. I know how easy it is to become discouraged and tempted to “wait” before beginning the divine work of each days walk with God. From the beginning of the Evil One’s reign his intent has been to embarrass man before God and ultimately destroy him by exposing and subjecting man to his fallen self. All sadness in society is built upon the reality of this subjugation; seen today in the many over-extended aspects of our lives. With evenings spent visiting on the front porch all but gone, our fast paced society leaves little room for clarity of time and thought; and whatever time is left over we usually find ourselves spending it in distraction and escape, rather than in quiet renewal and refreshment in the Lord.

I cannot remember if it is from an old poem or maybe a song, but I am recalling this verse, “Run with winged feet to the Lord.” Whatever the source, its message of urgency is worth emphasizing. The ease with which one might slip into a “waiting” mode: “I’ll go to church next week,” “I’ll start reading my bible tomorrow,” “I’ll get back to my prayer rule once things slow down,” “The next time I have a few minutes I’ll call Father about my struggles,” is an indication of a lack of movement towards God. It may also be an indicator of fear, doubt, or laziness. The important point here is that it doesn’t matter what the reasons are for one’s lack of movement; rather that we must absolutely put an end to putting off whatever necessary movement lay before us.

The truly beautiful aspect of this very common struggle is how God responds and welcomes our effort; in fact, effort is all He requires of us—not success, just effort! If we do not make the effort, as St. Isaac said, “Then you (never) will” Are we silly enough to think that God is unaware of our distracted state? It is time for is for us to realize that whatever state we are in it is God Who is allowing it, and He is allowing it for one reason: our salvation! Can’t we see the absolute pride in our lack of movement and the ease of our excuse making? It would be my guess that God is much more disappointed in our lack of effort than our lack of faith. But let us never conclude that any of God’s disappointment could ever be equated to a lack of love. God’s unconditional love is always revealed when we seek it, and together with our efforts, in God’s time, our lives will be made right! Is there any greater hope than this? There certainly is no hope in the all-subjugating realities of this world! God’s grace is always present and offered, but He also awaits our synergy, our desire, or effort. When we do battle with our distractions, over time, we will see how God’s victory can completely become our own; and there will be no more waiting, except in eager anticipation of the next time we will come before God in prayer.