Who isn’t distracted during prayers by what’s happening in his life? Here are some strategies to maintain focus during prayer.
In Parsha Vayishlach, Yaakov engages in a titanic wrestling match with an angel and emerges victorious. The commentaries state that the angel represents his Evil Inclination. We too are engaged in a lifelong struggle with our own Evil Inclination. What can we do to prevail? A key strategy is presented by King David in Psalm 16 when he states, “I have set Hashem before me always; because He is at my right hand I shall not falter.”
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch traces the root of the Hebrew word for “I have set.” It means to smooth or to even out. David declares that he has leveled out any obstructions to his clear, straight vision of Hashem’s presence.
Our Sages say that a person sins only when one is engulfed by a spirit of foolishness. Rabbi Shalom Arush equates this with forgetting about the presence of Hashem.
King David says, “I will not falter.” According to Metzudah David, he says this because “I never cease to concentrate my thoughts on Hashem. He in turn never leaves me and He is always at my right side, assuring me that His support will prevent me from every fall.”
This is a powerful and proven strategy, however, it’s anything but easy. Throughout the day, we tend to be distracted by things happening around us or we become so immersed in our daily tasks that we neglect to think about Hashem. What techniques can we use to ensure that Hashem stays on our radar screen?
I asked this question to guests at our Shabbat table and here are some of the suggestions:
1. Set an alarm on your cell phone that will go off periodically during the day to remind you to think about Hashem and talk to Him.
2. Take time to thank Hashem throughout the day for things you might otherwise take for granted.
3. Set aside times for reflection and contemplation.
4. It’s not what you think about, it’s how you think about these things. In other words, we need to bring Hashem into each experience and recognize that everything that’s happening is from Him and not a random occurrence. We need to connect what we are doing to our service to Hashem. We should also contemplate the message from each experience.
5.Say a prayer to Hashem before undertaking any task, whether large or small, and then thank him for the results whatever they may be.
Each of these techniques seems very promising. They all have in common the need to stop and think. Taking time to think and thank is of paramount importance. We get so caught up in the urgency of something that we often neglect to focus on what’s truly important — that’s our relationship with Hashem.
Ironically, I have found that the time of prayer is a time when I frequently get distracted from thinking about Hashem. After talking with others, I found that I’m not alone. This is not surprising. The power of prayer is so great that the Evil Inclination makes extra effort to trip us up and derail our train of thought.
Periodically during my prayers, I’ve been taking a few seconds to close my eyes, reflect, and remind myself that I am standing in front of Hashem. I try to do this regularly at set intervals and as needed when I catch myself drifting during a prayer service. I’ve begun to put yellow sticky notes in two different places of the siddur to act as reminders. I change the page location of the notes before each service to prevent this from becoming a rote, mechanical exercise. So far, I’ve found this technique to be successful in getting back on track. Even if you get back on track for just a few seconds, it’s extremely valuable as every moment of focused prayer is of infinite value.
Beginning your focus campaign with each daily prayer service will establish a successful period of concentration and devotion. Success always breeds success. It will help generate momentum as you work to expand this holy focus throughout your day.
Each of us needs to develop our own customized strategy to make Hashem’s presence up close and personal. By making it a consistent practice to take time to focus and get our thought train back on the rails, we can be successful in keeping Hashem on our radar screen.
Maybe we won’t be as successful as King David who was always able to keep Hashem in front of him. However, by keeping Him in our hearts and in our minds a greater percentage of the time, we are going to be more successful in our lifelong wrestling match against the Evil Inclination. Moreover, we will have a closer and more fulfilling relationship with our Father and King.