From a paper I presented on prayer, various quotes from various writers on this difficulty:
But there is another side to prayerâ¦ In the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian: âWhenever you wish to make a beginning in some good work, first prepare yourself for the temptations that will come upon you, and do not doubt the truth. For it is the enemyâs custom, whenever he sees a man beginning a good mode of life with fervent faith, to confront him with diverse and fearful temptations, so that he should be afraid, his good intention should be chilled, and he should lack the fervor to undertake this God-pleasing work.â
âThe demon will suggest to us that reading Holy Scripture is a worthless, boring, time wasting and tiring effort that we could best do without. He will make us yawn, cause our eyelids to become heavy, make us burp, hiccup, sneeze, cough, cause our stomach to rumble, give us itches, pains, restlessness, lack of attention, daydreams, temptationsâ¦ ideas that there are more important things we must think about or do etc., etcâ¦.â
Concerning the difficulties of prayer, Tito Colliander writes: âSome time you must take the first uncertain steps - if you wish at all to draw near to God. Do not be anxious about your clumsy beginning; do not yield to shyness and uncertainty, and the mocking laughter of enemies, who try to persuade you that you are behaving ridiculously and that the whole thing is only a child of fantasy and meaningless... The childâs desire to read increases as he learns to read; the further one gets into a language, the better he speaks it and the more he likes it. Enjoyment increases with proficiency. Proficiency comes with practice. Practice becomes more pleasant as proficiency increases.
âDo not suppose that it is otherwise with prayer. Do not wait for some extraordinary divine inspiration before setting to work...â
âYou 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.â (Saint Isaac the Syrian)
And back again to Tito Colliander: âA person standing at an open window hears the sounds from outside; it is impossible not to do so. But he can give the voices his attention or not, as he himself wishes. The praying person is continually beset by a stream of inappropriate thoughts, feelings and mental impressions. To stop this tiresome stream is as impracticable as to stop the air from circulating in an open room. But one can notice them or not. This, say the saints, one learns only through practice.â
On this matter of distractions Father David and Presbytera Juliana Cownie similarly write: âKeep in mind that many distractions will occur just as the prayers begin. The phone will ring, salesmen and neighbors will come to the door, dogs will bark, etc. Anything that can be disruptive always seems to come along at prayer time. At such times, persevere! Do not be discouraged or dismayed. âResist the devil, and he will flee from you.â These distractions will become less frequent with the passage of time.â
Though of course they may never go away entirely in this life - as the desert father Abba Agathon taught: âI think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.â
But donât let that put you off and never (no matter how tempted) give in or give up. âSometimes, completing the reading of prayers in a prayer book becomes toilsome. We must force ourselves (The kingdom of heaven is taken by force) to complete them. This is especially so in the early stages of the development of our daily prayer ruleâ¦â
âWhen praying with a set rule of prayer, the spiritual teachers tell us to put our whole mind and heart into the meaning of the words... They tell us not to allow our mind to wander from the words of the prayers... They also tell...never to go back and repeat prayers done poorly. They tell us rather to put ourselves at the mercy of God, and to try to do better the next time. This method reduces the possibility of thinking that God hears our prayers according to the perfection of our performance and not according to the greatness of His mercy, and safeguards against both pride and despair. It gives humility and hope, and keeps us always forging ahead...
âThus when one finishes his rule of prayer, however well or poorly he has done it, he should say Amen, and go about his business of living in Christ, remembering God and doing His will until the next time comes for the rule of prayer to be done. Then he should do it as well as he can, beginning all over again.â