I live in a busy household. With three sons and my wife, there are always lots of things going on which can make getting some quiet prayer time a bit of a challenge. I prefer a quiet time in the early morning - it helps me start the day well, focused and with purpose. Obviously, finding a quiet time in the family routine is helpful but even still, the house may be quiet but often my mind is running 100 miles per hour.
Maybe you have experienced how difficult it can be to quiet yourself and even when you do it seems that sooner or later, a distracting thought pops up right in the middle of your prayer! Many folks try to deal with this issue with greater volume. This simply means that they increase the volume of prayerful words and the volume which they pray! I suppose this is one way of combating distractions but not a very refreshing one nor is it a relational way to interact with God.
It is very common for even the most seasoned to struggle with distractions while praying and to deal with these distractions can either take you deeper into prayer or make you feel as if you have fought 12 rounds with the heavyweight champ! Many of us are taught to use violent forms of discipline to control our thoughts; get angry, frustrated, try harder, cast it out, but sadly many experience that the harder they fight, the more difficult it is to focus.
I have found that when I've used 'violent' forms of self-discipline, this actually accentuates the distraction while praying - it's like me telling you 'don't get distracted by your email' - in short order, you will find yourself wondering what's in your email. As we deal with the flesh aggressively it only serves to stir it up even more!
One day I was praying about this, and I had a picture come to mind. I pictured of a lovely river with green grassy banks and large full trees. The water was incredibly blue. As I sat and watched the river gently flow, I was waiting on God and noticed a unique piece of driftwood floating down the river. It held my attention as it flowed down the river until my prayer time was up. The prayer time had become about the piece of driftwood and not about God.
Feeling a little ripped off, I took the picture I had to God in my next prayer time. I felt like He said to me that the driftwood was a distraction - a conflict, a worry about something, or something exciting. I felt like the Lord said that the river was my mind, and it is natural that various things flow through it. The challenge comes when I fixate or hold onto the thought - this is when the distraction gets its teeth. Even when I aggressively reject the source of the distraction, it becomes more entrenched. So I thought "Great, so what do I do about it?"
The answer was simple, but I find it much harder to implement. When the distraction enters my mind, like the driftwood, it needs to be allowed to continue to flow down the river - to just let it pass. Important thoughts will be waiting for us when we are done our prayer time, but by simply letting the thoughts enter and then leave our minds positions us, so we are aware of what is going on, but not allowing them to linger and become distractions.
It takes some practice, but next time you are having your quiet time, and a distraction enters your mind, consciously let it keep on going by trusting that God is big enough to hold the worries and concerns of the day while you are with Him and that when you're finished your quiet time, the important things will be there waiting when you are ready. And you will be refreshed and better able to deal with them!