Don’t you just love those prayer apps? Having a smartphone is like having a Bible, the Catechism, and your favorite prayer book in your pocket at all times. But there’s a downside. When you’re steeped in iBreviary and that notice flashes across the screen telling you “Amelia just responded to your Facebook post,” whether you tap on it or not, your smartphone just became a distraction.
To be fair, there are plusses and minuses when it comes to using your cell phone in prayer. iBreviary is a godsend for those of us who travel. Laudate has enough prayers and novenas to keep us all praying until the end of time. You can look up anything in a matter of minutes in the Bible and/or the Catechism which has enabled many of us to put aside that old tote bag with the faded logo on the front that we used for 20 years to tote around our books.
But along with these conveniences has come more than enough temptation. How many times are you in the middle of the Office of Readings when a long-awaited text message flashes across the screen. You don’t want to tap on it, of course, but it becomes just another thing you have to remember to do later. In the very least, it’s a distraction.
I don’t know about you, but I come to prayer with a head full of distractions as it is. Being a writer by trade, even after the day is done, my mind is still crafting headlines and opening paragraphs. I’m also involved in a variety of other ministries, have a busy speaking schedule, own a home and always have something going on in my family. My mind is always chattering away and usually takes a good 20 minutes to quiet down before I even start to focus on the Lord.
Thankfully, someone suggested years ago that I keep a notepad and pen near me at all times so that when something pops into my head that I need to remember, I can jot it down and forget about it. This worked great until the iPhone Reminders app came into existence. Now, you can not only make a note of it, you can tell it the exact day and hour you want to be reminded! Terrific! Only now I’m sitting in the chapel with a cell phone in my hand, plugging away at the screen, trying to figure out the best time for the reminder. And while I’m at it, the Facebook notices begin flashing, my Twitter feed starts going crazy and I see that my friend finally answered my text message.
The problem with the cell phone in prayer is that it rarely stays where it belongs, in your pocket or purse and out of your mind.
One year for Lent I told myself that I would not bring the cell phone to my daily holy hour. I would leave it home and use my Breviary instead. That lasted two days. What if the next adorer doesn’t show up and I need my phone to call and find out where they are? What if I plan to run errands after my holy hour and can catch up on some phone calls while I’m driving around? Before I knew it, the phone was back in my purse.
No worries! I told myself. Just turn it to vibrate. But that didn’t go so well either. I could tell by the vibration if it was a text, phone call, reminder, email, or social media alert. Not that I picked it up, but it still distracted me.
What bothered me the most was that it was taking this precious time away from my Love, a time that really belonged to Him alone. I can answer that text or check my Facebook page any other time of the day. When I come to prayer, that time must be sacred.
In the book, Temptation and Discernment by Segundo Galilea, he warns us about exactly this scenario – not being fully present when we pray. He wisely reminds that prayer is one of the ripest areas for temptation, mostly because the devil knows if he can keep us from prayer, he can keep us from God. This is why the demons that plague our prayer life are particularly persistent.
And one of these “demons” is the one that comes into our prayer life via our smartphone. This attack of the devil involves tempting us to come to prayer physically, but with our minds not entirely focused on the Lord.
“We have one foot in prayer and the other outside. When the prayer time ends, we have prayed but we have not prayed, in that the quality of prayer has been poor.”
Each time we pray, we must make a conscious decision to pray, which can sometimes feel almost impossible, especially when we’re in the middle of a hectic life with many concerns on our minds.
What is needed is a firm commitment to come to prayer just for prayer – not for checking Facebook or seeing who just texted us.
Here are a few tactics to avoid becoming a victim to this demon.
If you’re a busy person like me, you know what happens the minute you sit still. Everything you have to do comes flooding into your mind. This is only natural. Give yourself a few minutes to work through this. Post the most important reminders in your phone, then put it away and only use a notepad from that point on. Paper and pen is not nearly as distracting!
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recollect yourself and reach for whatever means you find most effective. It could be reflecting on a favorite Scripture verse, reading a paragraph or two from a spiritual book, anything to get your mind headed in God’s direction.
The way I jumpstart my evening prayer is to review the day and thank God for all that happened – the good and the not-so-good. For some reason, this helps me to get out of the minutia of the day – the same stuff that makes my brain chatter – and into a broader perspective of the life He chose for me that day. Reflecting on this has often led me to much deeper reflection on God and His attributes – His tenderness, His wisdom, His power, His generosity – and has not only helped me to get to know Him better but has stoked my confidence in His providence. I can really “see” how He cares for me in ways that I used to miss before I took up this habit.
From there, you’re ready to let the Spirit lead, be that into a recitation of the Rosary, meditation, mental prayer, or just quiet time enjoying His presence.
The rule of thumb for cellphones in prayer is to remember that it’s not the cellphone that’s bad – it’s knowing when to put it away.
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If you want to get more out of your prayer life, check out our upcoming webinar, “Pray Like a Catholic,” which begins August 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST. This five-week course will explore St. Teresa of Avila’s famous analogy of the “four waters” – or four stages of prayer – which will introduce students to everything from vocal prayer to infused contemplation. During this time, we’re going to “focus like a laser” on our prayer life and deal with all of the issues that accompany this sacred sport from distractions and consolations to learning how to discern God’s voice and dealing with the “demons” that try to keep us from connecting with God. Click here to register!